The state will use $500,000 to ensure that production of the next "High School Musical" made-for-TV movie high-steps its way back to Utah.

The Governor's Office of Economic Development Board on Friday choreographed a move of up to $500,000 for Salty Pictures Inc./Walt Disney to shoot "High School Musical II" at East High School — the location for the immensely popular original movie — and St. George.

While high-schoolers across the country have been smitten by the DVD version of the original film, the older board members nonetheless were aware of its success. Amy Rees Lewis recounted how, like many parents across the country, she has been exposed to repeated viewings because of her children's love of the DVD original.

"It is quite the phenomenon across the country," she said. "I have to say, it really has gotten amazing exposure. It's unreal."

Board member Gerald Sherratt joined the chorus of praise for the first "High School Musical." "It's an incredible movie, and people have picked up on it all across the country, and now they're going to have a television series about it."

But the incentive approval Friday was for a sequel that is expected to have a budget of about $7.7 million — with nearly $4.8 million of that being spent in Utah. After a 23-week production schedule, with shooting beginning March 5 and ending April 16, "High School Musical II" is expected to air on the Disney Family Channel.

At a meeting of television executives in July in California, Rich Ross, the president of Disney Channel Worldwide, uttered a seemingly sour note locally when he told the Deseret Morning News that Salt Lake City appeared to be out of the picture for the sequel because the production needed a warm-weather location for its early 2007 shooting. "We'll see what happens," he said at the time.

Apparently St. George happened, and producers are now singing a different tune.

"There was competition," board member Mark Howell said about location options for the company. "Originally, they had talked about doing it in Palm Springs (Calif.). They're actually pulling it back from where they originally planned on doing it."

The incentive money will come from the state's Motion Picture Development Fund. But that $1 million fund for this fiscal year already had been depleted, so the board voted Friday to move $500,000 to that fund from the Industrial Assistance Fund, with the expectation that funding will be returned later.


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