UTAH (ABC4) – The saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
However, in the case of film and television projects that leave Utah in search of greater tax breaks and incentives, industry experts know exactly what the state is missing out on.
Lots of money and jobs, especially for Utahns in rural areas.
“When they go away because we don’t have any incentive to keep them here it’s devastating,” Brooke Redmon, who works as a freelance line producer for film projects in the state, tells ABC4.com. “It’s devastating for the crew and it’s devastating for the state. Once they leave and go to another place, they get settled there, they get comfortable, they know the local crew, they have their line producer out there, they don’t come back.”
Redmon knows exactly how much the impact can be, even down to the dollar amount. Recently, she worked – for free, hoping to be contracted upon the project’s arrival in Utah – on a $5 million budget for a Hollywood producer exploring the state for his projects. In the end, though, the producer ended up moving his projects to Austin, Texas, due to a shortfall in Utah’s film incentives.
Not only was it a missed opportunity to put Utah on the big screen, but it was also a huge loss for the local economy. When film and television projects are kept in the Beehive State, the payoff is enormous for everyone around, especially in rural Utah. A study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of Utah (MPA Utah) and the Rural Utah Film Coalition found that for every tax dollar spent on the tax credit, seven dollars is returned to the state’s economy.
That can result in big money in small towns. Redmon describes a recently greenlit project that would plug $400,000 into a single hotel in Midway in the coming months. It’s not uncommon for communities in Northern Utah and especially Southern Utah to also see a major influx of spending on hotels, restaurants, car rentals, and other hospitality industries.
Having such a diverse range of backgrounds, from the red rocks of the south to the small town vibes of Northern Utah, can pay off big time when appealing to the film industry.
“People come to us because of the locations, and they do need that access to the entire state,” Redmon says. “Every little Utah community is a part of it because we have so many different visual looks in the state that we use every corner of it.”
The big pitch that the locals in the show biz industry are making is simple: the money spent on film projects in Utah comes back, seven-fold. A bigger pool of funding to draw more incentives from could make the payoff even better, they say.
Some government leaders know plugging more money into the film industry is worth discussing and considering. Work is being done at the legislative level to amend the state’s incentive program with the introduction of Senate Bill 49 last week, which would exempt certain rural film productions from limits on the amount of tax credit incentives available.
“The big thing about this is it’ll allow us to have some more long-term network television series that stay around and stay in Utah,” MPA Utah President Jeff Johnson says. “That will be more long-term employment, and great for the economy.”
One of the biggest television shows, Paramount’s Yellowstone, already came and left Utah due to better incentives in Montana. That, Johnson, says was a tough pill to swallow.
“One of the things people don’t understand is that they think all those incentives are going right back to Hollywood or right back to big movie stars. And that’s not how Utah’s incentives work,” Johnson explains. “You have to hire locally in order to get these incentives. So when a big company comes in, they hire as many locals as possible because they only get tax incentive based on local hires.”
So it’s not actor Kevin Costner who could use a bigger tax incentive in Utah, it’s “Kevin,” the freelance grip or production assistant from Kamas who would benefit the most, according to local industry leaders.
Having already lost Yellowstone, and other shows – including a couple of surprising ones such as BYUtv’s Dwight in Shining Armor, which moved its production to Georgia and Disney’s High School Musical The Series, which ended up moving to Los Angeles – it’s hoped that by raising the cap on incentives, the film folks in Utah can continue to have work all year round.
And plenty of dough to spend when the production wraps for the day.
“The program works, it really does. We’ve proven it over and over again,” Johnson says. “And if we get some more money in there, we can actually make it really worthwhile for the state of Utah and especially rural Utah.”