Imagine this weekend watching the latest Indiana Jones movie and seeing Harrison Ford dash from some dank, dark cave and emerge into a bright Utah landscape.

Well, imagining is all you'll be able to do. The producers of that flick — as well as the makers of "Wild Hogs," "3:10 to Yuma" and "Transformers" — bypassed Utah during production, although they had considered the Beehive State as a location.

Some Utah officials want to lure those kinds of films by removing a cap of $500,000 per project that now exists for the state's Motion Picture Incentive Fund. Removing that cap will help Utah compete for big-budget movies and TV series, rather than just lower-budget productions, they say.

A legislative committee on Wednesday greenlighted a move to accommodate them. A pair of legislators will work with government and industry officials to prepare draft legislation that would alter the film-incentive fund.

In the past four years, 53 percent of films receiving incentives from Utah spent between $1 million and $5 million in the state. Thirty-three percent spent less than $1 million. Any blockbusters shot in Utah only used the state for a small slice of the film.

"We know what our sweet spot is currently," Marshall Moore, director of the Utah Film Commission, told the Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee on Wednesday. "We're trying to get, in terms of economic development, to the next level and we're trying to figure out what that is...and what it's going to take for us to be attractive to those kind of productions."

Moore said Utah's incentive cap of $500,000 played a part in Utah losing out on the upcoming "Indiana Jones" movie and those three other blockbusters that each had budgets between $90 million and $125 million.

Bill Borden, executive producer of the "High School Musical" series, told the committee that Utah nearly lost out on "High School Musical 3."

"Disney Studios told us to go make 'High School 3' in New Mexico," he said, "and we would have come to the state for one or two days to film the outside of East High. And partly because of my relationship with the governor and partly because we jumped up and down in the office of the chairman of Disney and partly because we have an incentive that wasn't matched but came closer to New Mexico...we ended up in the state."

Terry Spazek, a partner with Borden in The Movie Co. and a producer of films made in Utah, said he constantly faces pressure to shoot in other locations.

Productions getting incentives in Utah must spend at least $1 million in the state but can get a rebate of up to 15 percent of their in-state spending. Utah is among 40 states with film incentives, and one of six states offering a 15 percent incentive. Most offer more, including Michigan, which is offering 40 percent.

But Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, said he sees states "kind of playing a game of chicken" with the incentive percentages. "That's my only concern: Where is it going to end?"

Moore said Utah's 15 percent incentive is adequate because Utah has a strong film production infrastructure that is attractive to movie-makers — something a state like Michigan lacks.


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