Is Utah’s Film Industry in Trouble?

Is Utah's film business really 'vulnerable' as the new law suggests?

Epic valleys, grand rock canyons, vast plateaus, shooting mountain ranges, and miles of sandy desert ecosystems are all features that contribute to the perfect backdrop for a Western epic.

This is Utah, a landlocked state in the Western United States that is bordered by Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nevada. And it's also home to the struggling film industry.

Utah lawmakers are hopeful that a new bill will help revive the state's motion picture production sector. The proposed law would give productions a 20% tax credit on all money spent in the state, with a $500,000 cap per production.

The bill is modeled after a similar program in Louisiana that has resulted in more than 11,000 jobs and brought in over $1.5 billion in economic activity to the state since its inception in 2002.

Utah's film industry has been hit hard in recent years. In 2014, the state lost its film incentive program, which had offered a rebate of up to 25% of production costs. The loss of the incentive led to a drastic drop in film activity in the state, from 48 productions in 2013 to just 12 in 2015.

Incentivizing film

"A lot of Utahns don't realize that our film industry has become quite vulnerable in the past few years," said Alecia Williams, executive director of Cinema Slopes. "The tax incentive that we offer for productions to come to our state is significantly lower than other states."

Cinema Slopes is a nonprofit organization of film enthusiasts, with many of them having considerable expertise in the field. They are calling for more state funding for Utah's film industry.

Utah's film incentive program allows qualifying movies to receive a 20 percent to 25 percent tax rebate if they fulfill various criteria, including spending at least $500,000 in the state. The program has an annual $8.3 million cap - a pittance compared to states like California and Montana, which have $330 million and $12 million caps.

"Utah, at $8.3 (million), it's making it very difficult for us to compete," Williams said.

The incentive to lower taxes for two years was why Costner eventually relocated production of Paramount's successful series "Yellowstone" to Montana. For three years, the production generated almost $80 million in economic activity for Utah, with most of it spent in towns like Heber City, Oakley, Kamas, Grantsville, and Morgan.


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