SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's film industry is currently riding a boom time, with permits issued to film crews almost doubling from 2016 to 2017 and the state's entire incentive budget getting tapped out just a couple of months into the 2018 fiscal year.
The Beehive State is continuing to draw interest and investment from entertainment behemoths like Disney Studios and HBO, which, respectively, shot "Andi Mack" and "Westworld" in the state in 2017, as well as smaller productions which, all told, spent some $64 million last year and kept more than 2,400 Utahns working.
In an effort to keep Utah's film mojo rising, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, on Wednesday pitched a Senate legislative committee on his SB185 aimed at boosting the state's current motion picture incentive program by $5 million.
While Anderegg noted he is not typically a big fan of incentive programs, which he described as a game of picking winners and losers, he was willing to make an exception in this particular instance.
"Yes, this does pick winners and losers, but in my mind, the winners are Utahns and the losers are people from L.A. and Hollywood," Anderegg said. "Which I am OK with."
Anderegg's bill is specifically aimed at boosting an interest in production companies coming to Utah, or staying in Utah, to execute post-production work, which encompasses film and sound editing, special effects insertion and other tasks that are necessary after a project's principal photography is completed. Anderegg said while Utah's unique geographic and resource assets continue to draw filmmakers, that state was not having as much success at being a destination for the post-filming work.
"They film here in Utah because we have fantastic scenery, it's a great place to work, highly educated workforce and a really good collaborative environment," Anderegg said. "But then they take all their film back to L.A. By and large, Utah is not competing in post-film production."
Under Anderegg's proposal, the $5 million would be available only as a post-performance incentive and be managed in the same manner as the current film production program. That plan makes about $6.8 million in tax incentives and $1.5 million in cash incentives, both post-performance, available in the form of a 25 percent payback on money spent in Utah.
The Utah Film Commission oversees the state's motion picture incentive program, working under the umbrella of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. Utah Film Commission Director Virginia Pearce said while the state's film industry languished a bit during the economic recovery, the new slate of content creators like Netflix, Hulu and others were helping drive more interest in Utah-based projects.
And, she added, even though the state has a relatively modest program compared to places like New Mexico, which spends about $50 million a year to attract filmmakers, or Vancouver, British Columbia, which has a film incentive budget that registers in hundreds of millions, the economic impacts have been robust.
"Yes, we have a pretty small program but we are still able to compete," Pearce said. "We want to be able to grow the industry, and that’s part of our mandate and part of our statute. Utah's economy has been doing very well, in part because of its economic diversity … and the film industry has been a great part of that diversity."7 comments on this story
Pearce also highlighted another high-profile production that was shot last fall in Utah, the new TV series "Yellowstone." The show stars Kevin Costner and was mostly filmed at Utah locations and on soundstages built in the new Utah Film Studio in Park City. Pearce said the first season of the show is being directed by Taylor Sheridan, who fell in love with Utah while shooting "Wind River," a feature film he wrote and directed.
Members of the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee gave SB185 the equivalent of a five-star review, passing the bill out on a unanimous vote. It now moves to the full Senate for that body's consideration.