Lights, Camera, Utah: The Film Industry in the Beehive State

The apocalypse is over and the human race is reduced to an agrarian society trying to survive alongside a mysterious creature called “the Galyntine,” which lurks on the outskirts of…Alpine, Utah?


It’s true. Actually, Alpine isn’t really called Alpine in AMC Network’s pilot production of the original TV series, Galyntine, which just finished three months of production in Utah. The show stars Peter Fonda and Amy Madigan and is produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Greg Nicotero.

Galyntine is one of hundreds film projects, which span movies, TV shows and commercials, shot in the state every year, generating millions of dollars in economic impact. During initial filming, Galyntine execs hired more than 200 locals to work as extras and crew and had a projected in-state spend of about $7.1 million. The final spend won’t be determined until after a CPA audit to ensure the projected expenditures actually occurred in the state.

Utah Film Commission Director Marshall Moore hopes the Galyntine pilot will become a TV series with continued production in Utah. “We won’t know until the end of this calendar year, but if it does, AMC will come back and start preproduction of the show’s first season in January,” he says. “The goal of Utah’s film incentive program is to attract a major network television series to the state because they provide consistency. They help build infrastructure quicker than one-off movies, which have a start and end date, whereas, a series can go on for multiple seasons.”

The 1990s hit, Touched by An Angel, still ranks as the most successful TV series to be shot in the state and included 215 episodes over nine seasons, bringing about $225 million to the Utah economy. That’s not to say the state doesn’t welcome feature films. John Carter, released in 2012 and filmed in Moab and Millard County, generated about $19 million for Utah’s economy over 45 days of production. Nonetheless, the difference between the long-term spend of a TV series verses a one-off movie production can be significant.

Utah was selected as the location for Galyntine, says Moore, because the state stood out topographically and creatively. AMC needed mountainous areas with evergreens as well as talent to build original sets and wardrobes, the crew base and the equipment. Utah has all of that, but the state also has a film incentive program.

“We were able to combine the creative elements they needed with an incentive and a local crew base that could support this type of production,” Moore notes.

Since the inception of Utah’s film incentive program in 2005, the state’s film industry has generated an economic impact of more than $113 million total dollars. Several productions are still spending money in the state, and those aren’t counted in that total. Nonetheless, in terms of job creation, the film industry has created more than 11,194 production jobs over 6,173 production days. Thanks to the incentive program, Moore says the Utah film industry is generating about $13 million annually in economic impact, on average, but more recently the impact has been as much as $30 million per year. Fiscal year 2013-2014, which just ended, looks to be one of the best years ever for the industry.

While direct job creation is the major focus of the incentive program, other benefits include money spent on vendors, hotels, materials and equipment rentals. “Our incentives are offered in the form of a rebate,” says Moore. “No money is given back until money is spent in the state, but it is our incentive program that helps put us on the radar. I have heard it over and over again from producers, executives at the networks and executives in the studios. No matter how beautiful your mountains are or how stark the Bonneville Salt Flats, you are not going to get a lot of consistent work without some type of rebate program in place.”

Utah’s government leaders have embraced the industry. “The Governor and Legislature have seen that vision, too,” Moore continues. “Utah’s incentive program is doing exactly what it was designed to do, provide jobs for Utah film crews, talent and support services.”

Back on the set, numerous other films are in various stages of production in Utah. Moore says independent filming goes on nearly year-round. Independent films Don Verdean: Biblical ArcheologistH8rz andRosemont were recently shot in Utah and will likely make the festival circuit. Big productions with a Utah presence include Your Right Mind, starring Kathryn Heigl as a country singer fighting for custody of her daughter, and literary classic The Giver, which stars Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and Taylor Swift. Other films shot here include Need for Speed,Transformers 4The Cokeville MiracleSaints and Soldiers III and The Adventures of Roborex, among others.

“There is always something going on,” he adds. “TV series, cable movies, feature films and reality TV, not to mention the commercials, are constantly being filmed in Utah.”

The construction of the privately-funded Park City Film Studios is the latest addition to Utah’s film industry infrastructure and is scheduled to open in November. When complete, the $125 million studio will have three adjoining 16,000 square-foot sound stages to shoot motion pictures, television shows and commercials.

One of the ambitions for the studio was to form a partnership with the Sundance Film Festival to serve as a destination venue for festival parties, screenings and sponsorships. Park City Film Studios, Moore says, will offer the amenities found in a major production facility, including sound proofing, a lighting grid and the ability to expand and contract the stage.

Utah’s film infrastructure also includes dozens of camera rental companies, a film crew base large enough to support three simultaneous projects, depending on the size of those projects, film schools and a digital media education system turning out skilled animators and gamers.

“That is happening every day here and Utah’s competitive incentive program is giving [those graduates] places to work,” he says.

Moore says the film industry is perfect for Utah because it is so diversified. One day a production can be in a major metropolitan area and the next day could be filming in a rural community. There are also promotional benefits from the industry. Not all films offer it, but many include credits such as “Filmed entirely on location in Utah.” “We [get credit for] our ski resorts’ on the Disney Channel’s Cloud Nine, our deserts in The Lone Ranger or East High School in High School Musical. Film is forever and so are the promotional opportunities,” he continues.

While the Utah Film Commission represents the business and political side of Utah’s film industry, Moore hopes the commission also represents the good entertainment being made in Utah as people see the state on the big screen and on TV. He also hopes production companies will experience Utah’s friendly business and film environment and keep coming back.