Fred Hayes, Disney Channel
Utah Film Commission wants to give $1.5 million to makers of a sequel to "High School Musical," which starred Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens.

The Utah Film Commission wants to eliminate a $500,000-per-project cap on film incentives as a way to lure more big-budget movie production to the state.

Speaking to a legislative committee Wednesday, Marshall Moore, the film commission's director, said a marketing trip to Los Angeles in September revealed that the cap was limiting the state to smaller-budget productions.

Currently, projects getting an incentive to shoot in Utah must spend at least $1 million in the state, and the incentive is in the form of a rebate of up to 15 percent of their in-state production spending.

"While we were in Los Angles on our marketing trip, meeting with the studios, they said to us that that's a hindrance to our program," Moore told the Economic Development and Revenue Appropriations Subcommittee about the cap. "And that's something we're going to change in terms of being able to attract larger-budget productions to the state...The studios keep saying, 'We want to come to Utah. Make it possible for us to come there, and we will have TV series back and we will have larger-budget productions back."'

TV series remains a trouble spot, he noted. After about a decade and a half with "Touched by An Angel" and "Everwood," the state has no current TV series productions.

In addition to a change in the cap, the commission also is looking for a boost in film-incentive funding. The commission had $4 million for the current fiscal year, and the 2008-09 request would boost the program to a total of $6 million, including a $1.5 million appropriation for "High School Musical 3."

Since the incentives program began in 2005, the state has awarded more than $6 million in incentives to more than 20 films, and those productions created more than 3,000 jobs, 1,200 production days in Utah and an overall economic impact of $84 million, Moore said.

During the past year, films shot in Utah had a total of 203 production days, 470 Utah production jobs and a total economic impact of $6 million. But those with incentives had much higher figures, Moore said — 290 Utah production days, 935 Utah jobs and an overall impact of $43 million.

"The economic impact, in the end, between films that receive our incentives and those that don't are $6 million to $43 million. We would probably stay around $6 million (or) $7 million a year if we had no incentive program, which would cause a lot of our crew to leave our state and our vendors to no longer operate," he said.

The $4 million incentives program for the current fiscal year already is depleted, demonstrating its popularity, Moore said. What's more, three films with incentives had their productions pushed back to the next fiscal year, and replacements quickly took their place in this year's program.

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