In Hollywood parlance, Utah has risen to blockbuster status, having crossed the $100 million mark for money brought into the state by movies and television shows filmed here.
A record $132 million was poured into the state's economy from film productions during the 1996-97 fiscal year, which ended June 30. That figure nearly doubles the previous year's record-setting $74 million, placing Utah squarely in the No. 6 spot for film production in the country."It's cyclical, of course," said Leigh von der Esch, director of the Utah Film Commission. "But in the Rocky Mountain area, we're in an enviable position. We're not totally dependent on outside production but have a balance with indigenous productions."
And neither local nor incoming Hollywood productions show any signs of slowing down, though the cutback on commercial network made-for-TV movies may affect the future. "All three networks have eliminated one movie night (for next season). But we are fortunate that cable came on line with original productions, so that picks up the slack on NBC, ABC and CBS cutting back."
A recent USA Today story ranked Utah sixth in the nation for film and TV production. No. 1 is California (which brought in $19 billion), followed by New York ($2.4 billion), Florida ($500 million), North Carolina ($391 million) and Texas ($146 million).
And von der Esch says that half of last year's movies, TV shows, TV films, music videos and commercials were brought in by producers who had been here before. "That's why it's so important to get repeaters. They love it here. They cite the work ethic we have, and they come back because of the outstanding talent, and the crew and support services."
The two popular CBS series that film every episode in Utah, "Touched by an Angel" and "Promised Land," contribute greatly to Utah's success, of course. And another CBS series, "Walker, Texas Ranger," shot two programs here last year.
In addition, the hit films "Con Air" (which has earned $85 million in five weeks and is still going strong) and "Breakdown" (which took in $50 million in 10 weeks) were also filmed here.
A number of made-for-TV movies, music videos and an amazing number of automobile commercials were also produced in the state. "One of the greatest things to happen for us," von der Esch noted, "is that the second family car has become a four-wheel vehicle, an all-terrain vehicle - and what better place to show it off than in Utah?
"One day I was having lunch in Exchange Place (in downtown Salt Lake City) and a Jeep Cherokee commercial was shooting there, and then it moved to the red rocks in Moab."
Contributing to last year's record economic numbers were 10 feature films, 10 TV movies, 11 TV miniseries and 96 commercials, videos and documentaries.
Programs already on the docket for the next fiscal year - currently in production, just completed or about to start - include:
- "No More Baths," a local production by Feature Films for Families.
- "Clay Pigeons," a feature film starring Janeane Garofalo.
- "Meet the Deedles," a family picture starring Dennis Hopper.
- "Zack and Reba," with Debbie Reynolds, Michael Jeter and Martin Mull, an independent feature.
- "Marabunta," a Fox network TV movie.
- "No Laughing Matter," a USA cable movie (which begins shooting July 15) starring Suzanne Sommers.
- "Midnight Man," an ABC TV movie (which begins shooting July 28.)
- And "Touched by an Angel" and "Promised Land" are scheduled to start up their next season's episodes July 16.
And, of course, von der Esch and her team - marketing director Saun-dra Saperstein, producer services director Lawrence Smith and producer services executive Chris Sleater - are busily soliciting new productions and scouting locations with potential Utah customers.