SALT LAKE CITY — From Butch and Sundance to John Wayne’s cinematic debut in “Stagecoach,” Utah's rich history in the realm of film production was on full display as scores of people celebrated Film Day on the Hill Wednesday in the rotunda of the state Capitol.
Over the years, the Beehive State has been the backdrop for some of the most iconic movies of all time, including the aforementioned films along with others like "Thelma and Louise" and "127 Hours," as well as television shows such as "Touched by an Angel," "Andi Mack" and "Westworld." Many of those projects have been funded through the state's incentive program that provides tax breaks for productions that meet specified criteria, explained Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission.
The film industry’s contribution to Utah's economy includes more than 4,700 employees and over $110 million in Utah wages and salaries generated in 2017, she said. That number grows to $229 million in total annual economic impact when including education, movie theaters and film production, she added.
"Utah is kind of on the map now again," Pearce said. "We've been in the industry since the '30s and '40s Westerns, but we're back and have a couple of years of really strong production and growth."
She noted that three television series were shot in Utah during the past year, which has "really helped (to) spread the word."
"Now we're just trying to figure out, 'What does growth look like?'" she said.
There are 13 public and private universities that offer some kind of film and digital entertainment program, and more than 3,000 students currently enrolled in some kind of film or digital entertainment field, she said. Building a "smart, sustainable" long-term program is among the top priorities for the commission this year, Pearce said.
"Utah's economy is growing and film is a part of that," she said. "We're looking at how we continue and sustain the momentum that we have."
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, Utah ranked No. 1 in percent of adults who go to the movies. In 2017, an estimated $73 million was spent in the state by productions and more than 2,000 locals were employed as a result, a news release stated, with three major network TV series shot in Utah last year, including Disney Channel’s "Andi Mack" and Kevin Costner’s new series, "Yellowstone."
With the film industry's impact on the state increasing of late, now is the time for the state to make a pledge to keep the progress going, said Jeff Miller, president of the Motion Picture Association of Utah.
"An expansion of the (incentive) program is necessary in almost every aspect," he said. "The film program (attracts) a lot of 'soft' money into the state. A lot of companies come into the state and it takes a few years to (get established)."
He said those companies eventually contribute to the state's tax base and overall economic growth.
"There's an immediate impact on the areas where a film production lands," Miller said.Comment on this story
Noting that "Andi Mack" used the Utah Schools for the Blind and the Deaf and Wasatch Junior High School for location filming, along with downtown Magna being a location site for Netflix's "Granite Flats," he said those areas saw an economic benefit from the productions being there.
"There's a lot of positive feedback from having film and television here in the state," he said.
"The (film incentive) program is working. We still need to work on and still need to expand it," Miller said.