Utah sees rapid growth in film and television productions
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s tree-lined suburbs and sweeping landscapes of red bluffs, deserts and lakes have increasingly dotted the silver screen in recent years, serving as the backdrop for several popular movies and TV shows including “Hereditary,” ‘’Westworld,” and the Disney Channel series “Andi Mack.”
The Beehive State has seen considerable growth in its television and film productions since 2015, with total dollars spent by productions more than doubling to about $87 million, according to a recent report from the state-sponsored Utah Film Commission.
That growth can be credited to an aggressive strategy by state officials to court bigger production companies and promote scouting locations for TV series that provide more jobs and longer economic investments than movies, said Virginia Peace, the director of the Utah Film Commission.
“We had to ask ourselves: How do we make the most of what we have, get the biggest bang for our buck?” Pearce added.
Still, Utah struggles to compete with British Columbia and New Mexico, locations with similar looks that can offer better tax breaks for productions.
The state currently offers up to a 25% tax credit or cash rebate on money spent by productions in the state, with the program capped at about $8 million each year. The program is considered conservative compared to other states such as Illinois and Georgia with larger breaks and no cap.
Utah enjoyed steady success in the entertainment industry throughout the 20th century as the site of the Sundance Film Festival and several high-grossing films including “Footloose,” ‘’The Sandlot” and “Forrest Gump.”
But production slowed in Utah during the early 2000s as other states introduced more competitive incentive programs.
State legislators initially balked at incentive packages that required significant front-loading of state funds to support tax breaks and incentives for production companies. The stronger, revised incentive program proposed by Republican Rep. Greg
Hughes was finally put in place in 2012.
Pearce, who began leading the film commission in 2014, leveraged Utah’s proximity to Los Angeles and its unique scenery to attract more producers to the state.
Her strategy helped cultivate a strong partnership with Disney, which has filmed at least 20 movies in Utah and recently wrapped up filming its show “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” set to premiere next month.
Susette Hsiung, the executive vice president of production for Disney Channel, has worked on productions in Utah for about 20 years.
She said Disney has benefited from Utah’s family-friendly atmosphere and diverse filming locations.
In this Jan. 24 file photo, Matt Arnett of Atlanta, producer of the Sundance Film Festival narrative short “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship,” takes a picture of the Egyptian Theatre marquee on the first day of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.