Lawmakers may expand incentives for companies to film in Utah

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Utah legislators on the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee are considering expanding the state’s film incentives budget to bring more production companies into Utah. The bill, H.B.49, was introduced in the state Senate on Jan. 18.

The sun sets behind the Little Hollywood Museum & Trading Post in Kanab, Utah. The museum commemorates the early film industry that inspired film incentives across Utah and across the nation. (Evadne Hendrix)

Film incentives bring production companies to Utah by offering 20–25% tax credits. Eleanor Jubb, a senior consultant of the Olsberg SPI economic research team, reported a variety of ways film companies bring money into Utah. Some of these include hiring film crews, boosting the hospitality business and promoting tourism in Utah. 

“For each $1 spent on the tax credit, $5.10 is returned to the Utah economy,” Jubb said at a committee meeting on Oct. 22.

Jeff Johnson of the Motion Picture Association of Utah described the process production companies use to qualify for and receive film incentives. (Graphic made in Canva by Evadne Hendrix)

According to the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee, rural productions will not have an annual limit on motion picture credit incentives if the amendments are passed. The limit now is $8.4 million a year. 

Jeff Johnson, president and political strategist of Motion Picture Association of Utah, said increasing the film incentives budget will bring bigger-budget production companies into the state.  

“The biggest thing about this incentive is it’s really good for rural Utah,” Johnson said. “It really helps build infrastructure … and it helps promote Utah across the world by sending out movies that are shot here.”

How do film incentives help BYU students?

According to Brad Wilson, president of Keslow Camera, these film incentives help students by providing more local jobs for graduating students. Productions that usually film in Utah like the “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and “Dwight in Shining Armor” are filming in other states now because of lower production costs. 

“We need all the students to be emailing and calling their local representatives so that they are motivated,” Wilson said. 

Legislators will discuss the bill’s final approval at the legislative session this month. Students who want to get involved can find out who their local representatives are on the Utah Legislature website and contact them.

Incoming production companies spend 43% of their budget on Utah crew wages. Olsberg SPI originally researched this data and presented it at the committee meeting on Oct. 22. (Graphic made by in Canva Evadne Hendrix)

Utah’s film incentive history 

According to Ben Harry, curator of audiovisual materials and media arts history from BYU Special Collections, Utah has the oldest film commission in the country and was the first state to offer film incentives. As Utah landscapes attracted western productions, Kanab in southern Utah became famously known as “Little Hollywood.”

However, in the 1970s, the popularity of westerns died down. Around the same time other states started offering film incentives and the competition for production companies became more stiff, he said.

“People often wonder why Kanab is no longer a hub for film production,” Harry said. “The truth is there are a number of factors that were specific to the time.”

Tom Forsythe, an owner at Little Hollywood Land, said today Kanab doesn’t see as many film productions as in the past, but it still benefits from film productions. Tourists visit southern Utah to see the filming locations of their favorite movies.

“I like to say that when you think of Mars, it’s really part of Kane County,” Forsythe said. “Not because it looks like Mars as much as it is because Hollywood shoots movies set on Mars out there.”

This map shows the annual film incentives budget by state. Utah’s film incentive budget falls in the middle around $8.4 million. (Graphic by in Canva Evadne Hendrix with data from Film and Productions Services Website)
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