Making movies: Incentives provide boost to Utah's film industry

Since 2005, more than 5,800 jobs have been created

Published: Sunday, July 1 2012 10:55 p.m. MDT

Film crews work on the set of "Three Days in Vegas," in Skull Valley Thursday, May 10, 2012.

The Movie Company, Utah Film Commission

SALT LAKE CITY — This past week the "Lone Ranger" is riding again into Utah's adventure capital as shooting for the film version of the popular television show is under way in Moab. The movie stars Johnny Depp and brings with it exposure for the state and revenue for local and state coffers.

"As the economy goes, so goes the film industry," said Utah Film Commission Director Marshall Moore. The state's "sweet spot" is typically independent films, cable and network television, with the occasional blockbuster like the "Lone Ranger" shooting here.

The film is just the latest to take advantage of a decision to provide monetary incentives to those who choose to do business in Utah. "It's where we've been making our living for the last few years," Moore said.

The film commission offers up to 25 percent in post-performance incentives — essentially a rebate — to production companies for shooting in the Beehive State. And it seems to be working.

During the past 14 months, the number of film incentive applications approved has jumped to 34 productions.

In just a year, the number of production companies filming in Utah has risen from 13 to 29.

During fiscal year 2011-12, 30 projects have applied and qualified for incentives, compared to 12 projects the year before.

The minimum spending amount for any incentive-approved project is $200,000. Companies receive a 15 percent rebate based on expenditures between $200,000 and $1 million, with higher incentives up to 25 percent offered for projects above $1 million.

"The purpose (of the program) is to create economic development, jobs and promotional opportunities for the entire state," Moore said. "(Also) to benefit the economy, the Utah taxpayer and to make sure our local talent and crews are being used."

The program is administered by the Governor's Office of Economic Development. Thus far in fiscal year 2012, approximately 1,300 crew jobs have been created working nearly 1,000 production days.

A Russian film entitled "Three Days in Vegas" recently concluded shooting in West Valley City. The production included locally hired crew members and some local acting talent.

"(It equaled) over $2 million in cash that is spent over a six-week period," said line producer Terry Spazek. "So, it's a heavy infusion of capital in a very rapid style."

Since the incentive program started in 2005, more than 5,800 jobs were created working nearly 3,200 production days. Projected spending was more than $215 million and included more than $37 million in incentives.

"Our job is to create kind of a pipeline of production that, in essence, creates full-time jobs for our film industry," Moore said. "Not stop and start, stop, start, but one to the next, one to the next."

Moore said the fact the Utah has two full-service equipment rental companies, is within close proximity to Los Angeles and has "an unparalleled crew base" allowing production of up to four movies at a time gives the state a distinct competitive advantage over neighboring states.

"Of course, the variety of locations within an hour of an international airport all work together to make (Utah so attractive)," he said.

Producer Don Schain moved to Utah 20 years ago and has been involved in the completion of more than 40 films in the state during that time, including all of the "High School Musical" movies as well as a new film called "Nightlight" that concluded production last week.

He was also president of the Motion Picture Association of Utah and was instrumental in developing the state's current incentive program.

Schain said the idea of offering incentives to production companies began more than a decade ago when Canada implemented programs to bolster its film industry. Since then, competition for film industry dollars has increased, he said.

He said some states like Iowa and Michigan have tried to offer higher incentives, but their programs were unsustainable. Utah, however, took a more conservative approach that has yielded mostly positive results, he said.

"We built our incentives for the long haul," Schain said. "We had to lay out a program from day one that makes (fiscal) sense … that will last and continue to grow."

He said that for the foreseeable future, Utah should remain among the most sought-after destinations for filmmakers, resulting in a long-lasting economic impact.

"We've made a lot of progress and we're bringing a lot of dollars into the state," Schain said.

Contributing: Carole Mikita, KSL/Deseret News

Email: jlee@desnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1

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