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Local senator hopes new bill will entice film industry back to Summit County

Utah Film Studios, located off Kearns Boulevard near Quinn's Junction, is the largest movie and television production facility in the state.
Ben Lasseter
A new bill from Sen. Ron Winterton (R-Roosevelt) proposes to expand the state's film incentive program to entice more productions to rural Utah. One of the beneficiaries could be the Utah Film Studios at Quinn's Junction, pictured above.

One of Summit County’s state senators has introduced a bill to help rural counties compete for film productions. Now he has to convince the state Legislature it isn’t a handout to Hollywood.

The Utah Film Studios were a bustle of activity last winter. But it was shots in arms, and not shots for the silver screen, that brought people to the facility.

Sen. Ron Winterton, a Republican from Roosevelt and one of two senators who represent Summit County at the Statehouse, has introduced a bill to try to entice more film production to rural Utah — including Summit County.

He said when the filming of the television drama “Yellowstone” moved its production base from Utah Film Studios to Montana, it hurt the local economy. Winterton said one local hotel that had a long-term contract with the production lost $300,000 in bookings.

“It generated a lot of activity for Park City, whether it's the restaurants, the bars, the motels, the transportation people, they all thrived from this activity. And now we don't have it,” Winterton said. “I want to get that back.”

Utah currently incentivizes film production to the tune of $8.4 million annually. That was $6.8 million last year, but Winterton said he’d gotten the Legislature to raise the limit. Incentives are paid to productions that meet the requirements in the form of tax credits or cash rebates, but once the cap is hit, that’s it for the year.

This year, Winterton introduced S.B. 49, which would remove the $8.4 million cap entirely if the majority of a film is produced in a rural Utah county.

Summit County Councilor Roger Armstrong is also an attorney who works in the motion picture industry. He said tax incentives are regularly factored into film budgets for productions that can reach $200 million or more.

“We compete regularly with New Mexico and Montana for those big Western landscapes the filmmakers need, and it's a critical part of funding,” Armstrong said earlier this year.

The way Winterton’s program works is the state would reimburse 20% of the taxes levied on purchases a qualifying production makes.

A fiscal note attached to Winterton’s legislation said it might cost the state $12 million annually in lost revenue. But Winterton said the film productions wouldn’t come here in the first place without the incentive, so the state would still be making more money than it would have otherwise.

“0% of nothing is still nothing,” he said. “And 20% of 100% is still a really good deal for the state of Utah, because we have brought people and industry to the state that's now spending money in the state which, without this, they're going to other states like Montana, New Mexico, Georgia, there's a lot of states that have it uncapped. There's some that have $200 million and they're seeing this industry just explode in their states.”

The bill was introduced on the first day of the Legislature’s general session, but hasn’t moved out of committee. Winterton said it was an “uphill battle” to convince his fellow legislators this wasn’t a blank check for big Hollywood studios.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.