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As Competition Stiffens, Utah Film Commission Invests in a Reboot

Utah Film Commission

The bad news recently, for Utah’s film economy, is that the popular cable-TV series “Yellowstone” has left the state.


The good news is that the state is continuing to announce film and TV projects that are receiving financial aid from Utah’s incentive program.


“Yellowstone”, a series starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of a Montana ranching family, has completed three seasons, filming around the Wasatch Back with production based at Park City’s Utah Film Studios.


But for the fourth season, the production decided to move to Montana.


Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission, said the state’s incentive program didn’t have enough funding to further support the series.


“When the time came to look at Season Four, we were not able to provide the funds that they had been getting for the first three seasons. So they qualify for our top end of our program, which is 25 percent back on what they spend in state. So anything that is paid to a Utah vendor or Utah crew counts toward that incentive. But as I said, it’s a large production. They’re spending $30 million a season in Utah. And we have a finite amount of funds, so unfortunately, we were not able to sustain that level of support. And at the end of the day, they had to go looking elsewhere for that.”


She said the amount of money in their incentive program is set by state law.


“So in the statute, it caps the program at $6.79 million a year. And that’s a fiscal year which starts in July for us. And then we also have a small cash program which usually helps the local film-makers. 


We have a program called the Community Film Incentive Program that’s specifically built for local productions. And that is about a million dollars a year. All in, we’ve got close to $9 million dollars.”


Pearce said this comes while New Mexico has increased their incentive program to $100 million annually; California offers $330 million a year; and Montana itself just approved a program offering up to $10 million.


But the state is continuing to offer incentives for productions, ranging from independent films to a new “High School Musical” series from Disney.


“It’s always a balance to try to figure out the most sustainable approach to the incentive program, and show a balance of how to stay in local productions that can use the incentive.”


Pearce said that direct spending from TV and film production increased 24 percent from 2018. Employment in that sector increased 27 percent. And they calculate that a dollar spent for those activities generates $14 for the state’s GDP.


Of course, Covid brought production activities to a halt this spring. Pearce said filming activity is beginning to resume, especially with independent productions.


“We are pretty much up and running again with the smaller film productions. It is easier to get up off the ground. We’ve got smaller crews. They’re able to distance themselves a little bit more. We have some really great recommendations on our website for film-makers. And we’ve been working really closely with the Department of Health to make sure that we’ve got some good standards and policies for people to follow.”


For September, the Film Commission approved five projects spending a total, Pearce said, of about $6 million. The state is providing funding incentives adding up to $1 million.


She said three of the film projects are financed under the Community Film Incentive Program.


Funding also went to the CW Network fantasy/adventure series “The Outpost”. Pearce said the show divides its production between European locations and Utah, in particular Utah County.


Finally, they’re assisting a Biblical series, “The Chosen” normally filmed in Texas. Pearce said filming will take place in Goshen, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a Jerusalem set.


Pearce said the productions are a big contributor to the state’s economy,


“In the past three years, we’ve had about somewhere between 60 and 80 million dollars spent by film productions in the state. And we’ve had such great success bringing obviously the larger productions like “Yellowstone”. And I hear from Park City residents and Summit County residents of really how they benefit from that, whether it be their renting out rooms or hotel, or spending money in restaurants and that trickle-down effect.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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