Will proposed new law revitalize Utah’s ‘vulnerable’ film industry?
A cabin in Oakley, Summit County that belonged to fictional ‘Yellowstone’ character Rip Wheeler, played by actor Cole Hauser, is pictured inside the Thousands Peaks Ranch December 2, 2021. SB49 aims to raise the cap on tax incentives for film productions in rural Utah, a move that would help boost the economies of those areas. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)
Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY – Epic valleys, vast rocky canyons, vast plateaus, mountain ranges and miles and miles of desert ecosystems – all of which make the perfect setting for an epic western.
Kevin Costner would also agree, as he’s zeroed in on Beehive State as a potential filming location for his long-awaited Western epic “Horizon.” The Western Cinematic Universe envisioned by Costner would consist of five films and complement the rural economy that Costner chooses to film in, to the tune of $50 million.
Bringing a film project of this magnitude to Utah requires a financial incentive to attract filmmakers and make the state an attractive destination — beyond aesthetics — to produce films.
“A lot of Utahns don’t realize that our film industry has become quite vulnerable in recent years,” said Alecia Williams, executive director of Cinema Slopes. “The tax incentive we offer for productions to come to our state is significantly lower than other states.”
Cinema Slopes is a nonprofit group of moviegoers, many of whom bring extensive film experience, who advocate for increased funding for Utah’s film industry.
Film productions that meet several requirements, including spending a minimum of $500,000 in Utah, are eligible for a 20% to 25% tax rebate under the Utah Film Incentive Program. Utah. However, the program has an annual cap of $8.3 million – a drop in the bucket compared to states like California and Montana, which offer caps of $330 million and 12 million, respectively. millions of dollars.
“Utah, at 8.3 (million), it’s very difficult for us to compete,” Williams said.
This low tax refund was Costner’s driving force in eventually moving production of Paramount’s hit series “Yellowstone” to Montana. Over three years of filming, the production brought in nearly $80 million to the Utah economy, with the majority spent in cities like Heber City, Oakley, Kamas, Grantsville and Logan.
For Utah to be seriously considered for projects such as “Horizon,” Williams said, the Utah legislature had to pass SB49.
Sponsored by Sen. Ron Winterton, R-Roosevelt, the state film production amendments bill would exempt rural film productions from the limits of the state’s annual tax incentive program, making Utah rural a more attractive destination for filmmakers.
To be defined as a rural production, it must be state-approved and filmed primarily in Third, Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth Class counties, which would exclude Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber, Washington, and Cache counties. .
“I have long dreamed of making my film in Utah and exploring the state has been an amazing experience. My greatest hope is for the state to support SB49 and make this dream come true. I really don’t want to go anywhere else with these five films,” Costner said in a statement.
That’s exactly what the legislature did – with an adjustment to cap the rebate at $12 million for rural areas – and now the bill is being sent to the office of Utah Governor Spencer Cox for his signature.
Stimulate the economy
Any production coming to Utah must submit its budget for review by the Utah Film Commission. After review, it is then recommended to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, who approves the budget.
After the production has spent the money, it is vetted before it is eligible for the rebate.
Reimbursement covers expenses related to the production of a film, often for things like hotels and long-term rentals, production equipment, rental cars, trailers, restaurant per diems, catering and more – and it is often spent in small rural communities.
You start to hear enough of these stories and realize that this isn’t about protecting Hollywood, it’s about opening a door for Hollywood to bring in its lucrative budget and basically employ Utahns with money from the industry. out of state.
–Alecia Williams, Cinema Tracks
Williams said a lot of people assume that allowing big-budget movies to come to Utah only benefits Hollywood moguls like Costner, but she likes to think about it differently — like a cruise ship coming to Utah. town.
“Yes, it’s owned by Hollywood, yes, it’s funded by Hollywood, but when they get here they find a location and they crew the whole ship with Utahns,” Williams said.
Williams also noted that the film industry pays a much higher hourly wage than others. The average hourly wage for film production in the United States was $39 as of February 25, 2022, but the salary range is usually between $34 and $44, according to Salary.com.
“You compare that with Utah’s minimum wage, you can see why someone who lives in Duchesne is really excited about an opportunity that comes their way in their town where they can make $30 an hour for 80 days. That can change his life,” Williams said.
Speaking of Duchesne, Williams said Cinema Slopes started calling cities and towns where the films came to ask community members how the films impacted the community.
Duchesne is located near the filming location of the History Channel’s “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch”.
“Their community is literally thriving,” Williams said.
She told of a motel in Vernal that had been struggling for years to make ends meet. When “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” came to town, it housed that motel’s staff, causing the motel to hire more housekeepers to keep up with the business the production was bringing in.
Additionally, Williams said she’s heard of restaurant owners in Duchesne who are on a $50 per diem.
“You start to hear enough of these stories and you realize it’s not about protecting Hollywood. It’s about opening a door for Hollywood to bring in its lucrative budget and basically employ Utahns with jobs. money from out of state,” Williams said.
Although Cinema Slopes hoped the Legislature would agree to the proposed unlimited cap for rural film productions, Williams said she was happy to see the bill passed with a higher number of caps.
“Anything that makes us a little bit more competitive will be monumental, so we’re grateful for that,” Williams said.