Utah’s growing film industry brings economic benefits to the state

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From “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “Indiana Jones” and “Yellowstone,” Utah has been home to many popular films and TV shows due to its unique locations and beautiful backdrops.

These major film and TV productions have generated millions of dollars in economic activity across the state as they create jobs and business for the local communities, according to the Utah Film Commission.

With the introduction of a new film incentive program, Utah has seen its film industry grow and impact the state’s economy over the last 12 years.

Additionally, according to the Utah Film Commission, the program allocated $6.7 million for all film productions in Utah County that exceeded $500,000 and granted the productions a 20% tax credit or cash rebate.

The UFC states that for every $1 spent on film incentives, $7 goes back into Utah’s economy through direct, indirect and induced spending.

This graph is a timeline that highlights the growth and reduction of the Utah film industry. The tax incentive program plays a key role in getting filmmakers to come to Utah. (Graph courtesy of the Utah Film Commission)

According to Virginia Pearce, the Utah Film commissioner, the growth of the incentives program in the early 2000s has become a major part of the decision-making process for filmmakers when deciding where to shoot.

New Mexico offers nearly $100 million a year in film incentives, California offers $400 million a year, and Canada doesn’t have a cap on their film incentives,” Pearce said.

According to Pearce, Utah has continued to stay competitive despite its lower film incentives — Utah’s superior infrastructure and beautiful locations continue to attract filmmakers to Utah.

“We look at it as a three-legged stool. There are three components that make the state appealing for production. Locations and infrastructure — including crews, support services, equipment rental houses — and the film incentives,” Pearce said.

In 2021, the Motion Picture Association of Utah released an economic impact study that outlined the impact of the Utah film incentive program.

The results of the study showed that 86% of all films produced in Utah reported they would not have done so without the incentive, and 100% of out-of-state producers reported they would not have come to Utah without it.

According to Brooke Redmon, the vice president of the Motion Picture Association of Utah, the incentive program is vital to the film industry.

“Continuing to reinforce the Utah Film Incentive Program is the single most important thing we can do to attract talented filmmakers to Utah,” Redmon said.

On March 24, 2022, Utah approved a new film incentive law that added $12 million for rural parts of the state.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ronald Winterton after he was made aware of the limitations of the film incentives program in Utah.

“Nobody had addressed the film industry in a while and Park City had recently lost ‘Yellowstone’ to Montana,” Winterton said.

“Yellowstone,” the popular TV series helmed by Kevin Costner, had been shooting in Utah and Montana for three seasons before leaving Utah due to the increased film incentives in Montana.

According to Winterton, “Yellowstone” had a massive impact on the Utah film industry over the three years it was in the state, and it is estimated that the production spent nearly $80 million during filming.

Winterton feels confident the incentives will be renewed in the upcoming sunset review later this year as it is designed to evaluate the need for the continuation of the program.

“We had really good participation and results from the productions in San Juan County and Graham County that were spending nearly a half million dollars a day,” Winterton said.

According to Pearce, the additional $12 million has had a major impact on Utah’s economy.

“From that $12 million we saw an estimated $143 million in production this last year, so it has been really successful,” Pearce said.

According to Lee Adamson, the executive director of Explore Utah Valley, the various landscapes in Utah have continued to make it an attractive place for filmmakers to shoot their productions.

“We can go from ‘The Chosen,’ which looks Middle Eastern, to doing scenes for ‘Yellowstone’ at Sundance or Provo Canyon or places like that that will look totally different,” Adamson said.

Attracting film productions that will keep Utah-based crews on set is an important aspect when bringing new filmmakers to Utah because it provides local jobs, according to Adamson.

“If they film here, it’s great. If we can get them to base their film it’s even better because then we get the economic impact of their film here while they are producing it,” Adamson said.

This dataset highlights the 10-year impact of Utah’s film industry on the state’s economy. The Utah film industry is a multi-million dollar industry that has provided thousands of jobs and capital directly to the Utah economy. (Utah Film Commission)

According to Redmon, the film industry is an incredible economic stimulus plan because it gives local businesses a large influx of cash in real-time.

“The film industry ‘takes pictures and leaves a pile of money’ is one of my favorite quotes, and it came from a Moab ranch owner,” Redmon said.

According to the Utah Film Commission, the industry has provided $463 million in spending while creating nearly 35,000 jobs and over $6 billion in film tourism over the last ten years.

Jeff Parkin, a BYU theater and media arts professor, saw this growth in the film programs at BYU, Utah Valley University and the University of Utah when many of the students decided to stay and get jobs in Utah.

“It’s not just stuff you see on Netflix or in the movie theaters, but it’s a lot of corporate work and marketing,” Parkin said.

As the Utah film industry continues to grow, it will continue to impact the economy by providing more job opportunities and local spending each year.

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