The growing film industry in Utah

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With the vast painted deserts, majestic mountains and breathtaking rock formations and canyons, Utah has been called the land of variety. However, the gorgeous landscape is just one of the many reasons why the lucrative film industry is growing in Utah.

As the industry increases with the addition of new film studios, employment opportunities in the industry are also increasing — and this is good news for BYU students.

The growing industry

According to Film Fund of Utah, the industry hauls in over $160 billion in wages every year through 2.9 million jobs. Over 296,000 of these jobs are in the core business of producing, marketing, manufacturing, and distributing motion pictures and television shows.

There are projects in the works that will increase awareness and credibility of the film industry in Utah, such as the construction of two new film studios. One is the transformation of Granite High School in South Salt Lake to a movie and television production facility, and the other is the new site of Raleigh Studios, a major motion picture studio, in Quinn’s Junction. Katy Wang, executive director of the Park City Film Series, said this motion adds to the locally grown initiative of the Utah film industry.

“It really is opening and expanding possibilities,” Wang said. “Getting the film studio here was very controversial, but the industry is growing, and we want people to know and be aware of the art of film and appreciate it.”

Granite High School in South Salt Lake is under construction to be remodeled into a film studio. Bryan Clifton, owner of Redman Movies and Stories, told Deseret News, “We’re excited about working to revitalize the industry … and provide opportunities where kids can get their first experience or internship on a movie.”

According to Deseret News, “The project also is expected to act as a catalyst for future investment and economic development in the community surrounding the landmark site. The project will be an economic stimulus to the city and the state while retaining the classic character of the campus.

Along with the developer, Woodbury Corp., Redman Movies and Stories formed a joint venture that will renovate the historic Granite High School buildings to be used for settings in future films by constructing 90,000 square feet of new motion picture sound stages, along with office and retail space for the entertainment industry.”

What the industry offers 

Scott Winn is a director and cinematographer based out of Orem. He has always loved photography and transformed that love into the art of filmmaking. He recently finished a large mini series called “Dr. Fabulous.” The mini-series featured celebrities such as Flavor Flav, Danny Trejo, Jon Gries, GloZell, Miranda Sings, Atoine Dodson, Wheezy Waiter and several others. The more projects he does, he only continues to feel the growth of the industry.

“I’ve only worked on a handful of full-scale productions, but there are more and more coming through Utah,” Winn said. “I’ve mainly focused on the social and digital side of filmmaking, which is growing faster than ever. The online side of filmmaking is so completely different from the standard/original filmmaking approach, but more and more opportunities are coming from it. YouTube is honestly becoming the future, and it’s extremely beneficial to so many future filmmakers and artists.”

Winn is working on a separate project that has started to gain traction online. He is working on a YouTube channel with short comedic videos. So far, he has made two videos, and each hit over one million views in a matter of weeks. Because of this success he is now working with some large sponsors to continue making videos.

Winn has benefited from filming in Utah. He could have filmed the mini-series in Los Angeles but chose instead to film in Utah because of all the opportunities afforded to him.

“It made the most sense to film in LA because most of our cast was from there,” Winn said. “But we ended up staying in Utah solely because of the amazing incentives and rewards from the Film Commission.”

The Utah Film Commission offers the Motion Picture Incentive Program (MPIP), which provides “a post-performance financial incentive to production companies in order to help develop a strong motion picture industry presence in the state, that will contribute substantially to improving Utah’s economy.”

According to the Utah Film Commission’s website, “The MPIP is a post-performance, fully refundable tax credit or cash rebate of production dollars spent in the state of Utah. An approved production will be rebated 15 percent to 25 percent on every dollar spent in the State of Utah. A production must spend a minimum of $200,000 in the state for the 15 percent cash rebate and a minimum of $1,000,000 in the state to qualify for up to 25 percent tax credit or cash rebate.”

Marshall Moore, director of the Utah Film Commission, said the industry has seen growth specifically through this program. “It is a consistent, stable and fair program,” Moore said. “It’s ongoing, not just from year to year, so that opens up a variety of possibilities for projects in Utah. It allows producers to be competitive, and the results have proven it. It has helped build up and support the infrastructure and talent locally. In the 90s, projects were drawn across the border into Canada because of the incentives offered there, but in 2002 LA began offering domestic film incentives, and it worked.”

Moore believes that the incentive program will only continue opening up a pipeline of production opportunities for students. “There are several key factors about Utah that make it perfect for aspiring film professionals,” Moore said. “The location — its proximity to LA and the variety of scenery — the crews available here, the talent on and off screen, and the incentive program.”

What this means for BYU students

At BYU students have the luxury of taking classes that prepare them to enter the lucrative market upon their graduation. Theatre and media arts professor Thomas Russell said the education received at BYU gives students a strong foundation.

“Most media arts students choose to take our production management courses,” Russell said. “These courses prepare them for occupations within the industry and outside of the industry, because the courses essentially focus on managing budgets, scheduling and calendaring the completion of small and large tasks, verbal and written communication, problem-solving, and a host of other skills applicable throughout the business world.”

The job opportunities for film students are not as abundant as in LA, but the growing field is a major exception to that trend.

“For those interested in pursuing opportunities relative to film production, Utah has a solid advertising production community; so some students gravitate toward the advertising industry,” Russell said. “But for feature film production, Utah isn’t the most ideal place to build a stable and steady career, with some important exceptions. Utah has some great post and FX facilities. This isn’t to say there aren’t any feature film employment opportunities for students in Utah. There are some great filmmakers living in Utah. And by filmmakers, I mean much more than just directors. Utah has solid producers, cinematographers, editors, FX supervisors, artists, designers, etc. And the pool of terrific performers is more abundant than many people realize, and the Utah Film Commission is right up there with the best film commissions in the country.”

Joshua Dunn is a senior studying film at BYU. He was drawn to film from the time he was little. The more he studies, the more he is enthralled with its possibilities. However, he his fearful of the growing implications social media has for independent film productions.

“I see the film industry either declining a lot or forcing itself to adapt,” Dunn said. “Right now there’s a lot of panic because people are seeing more and more movies on their phones, at home, or on their computers. So the industry will either change a lot, or it will become much smaller than it is right now. The industry has to adapt itself to home viewings, or start making movies that are so good that people feel obligated to see them in theaters.”

Dunn said for now he is working on his own projects for sheer enjoyment, learning and growth. Eventually he would like to find a job in Utah, LA or New York.

Steven Roper is also a senior studying film at BYU who has felt the benefit of the film industry in Utah despite being a student.

“As students, we usually work on a very, very low budget (if any budget at all), and most of our funding comes from the school,” Roper said. “There aren’t really many financial benefits that we personally experience. However, we have been able to train and work with professionals that come to Utah specifically because of those benefits. So in that sense, we do get benefits.”

Micah Clemence wants to study film at BYU and is enrolled in the prerequisite classes. This is the best way for him to get his foot in the door of the industry. He feels lucky to be attending BYU because the university offers a film program. Other schools only offer a minor or select classes. Upon his acceptance into the program, he knows he will gain the knowledge and expertise to make it in the industry.

Clemence says he would like to further his film career in Utah because of the picturesque scenery, the incentives offered, and his familiarity with it.

“The industry is definitely expanding,” Clemence said. “That excites me, firstly, economically because I would like to graduate with job possibilities, but also because Utah is so pretty. That means there are going to be a lot more beautiful films out there. Movies have the far-reaching power to help people, and I want to be a part of that.”

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