The State of Utah’s Film Industry

In the May/June 2022 issue of Salt Lake, we’re celebrating the legacy of Utah’s movies. Read our 10 favorite Beehive State films. Revisit Utah’s dances with the devil with beloved (and less beloved) horror movies. Celebrate the iconic film history of Monument Valley’s magnificent landscapes.

It’s hard to miss something you’ve never really had (and Utah hasn’t had it since the days of John Wayne). But Utah got a taste of the big time when a prestige television show—Paramount’s Yellowstone—filmed its first three seasons in the state, reportedly bringing $80 million in local revenue. It was short-lived, however, when the series, starring Kevin Costner, moved production to Montana. While 2021 saw a small rebound from an abysmal 2020 and Utah’s film industry has shown overall growth since 2005, this growth has leveled off. Film industry professionals have blamed Utah’s cap on film incentives. 

The idea of Utah’s Motion Picture Incentive Program is to give film productions enough tax credits to make filming in Utah worthwhile, especially compared to places that have a more established infrastructure, like L.A. or Georgia. But to lose a big production to Montana of all places? Ouch. Of course, Montana just raised its cap on film tax incentives to $12 million in 2021, and local industry professionals fear Utah could lose out on more productions if the state doesn’t keep up. 

It could be time, however, for a second act for Utah’s film industry. Going into the 2022 Utah Legislative Session, Utah’s film incentives capped at $8.3 million, one of the lowest annual caps in the U.S. Then the legislature passed S.B. 49, raising the cap to $12 million for productions based in rural areas. Originally, the bill removed the cap for rural productions entirely, and Kevin Costner threw his weight behind it. The Yellowstone star promised to bring five feature film productions, a series called Horizon, to Utah if the cap went away. Time will tell if simply raising the cap will be enough.

Even though it just applies to rural Utah, film production in rural areas represented one-fourth of all filming days in Utah over the last five years and, between 2017 and 2020, there were more permits granted for rural areas than urban ones, according to data from the Utah Film Commission. 

While it might cost the state more up-front to raise the cap on film tax incentives, the same report found that, since 2014, for each $1 spent on the tax credit, on average, $5.10 is returned to the Utah economy. 

That doesn’t include the ripple effects, either; the study shows that film tourism led to 2.2 million Utah trips and $6 billion in value for the state over the past 10 years.

UTAH IS HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (Movies, That Is)

Not every film production is passing on Utah. There are a swath of Hallmark-style holiday movies filming here, like Netflix’s Best Christmas Ever and Falling for Christmas (starring Lindsay Lohan), both awaiting 2022 release dates, and other such 2021 titles as:

A Picture Perfect Holiday on Lifetime

Candy Coated Christmas on Discovery+

Mistletoe Mixup on Amazon Prime

Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday on Hallmark Channel

Sister Swap: Christmas in the City on Hallmark Channel

A Fiancé For Christmas on Lifetime

The Housewives of the North Pole on Peacock

Hot Chocolate Holiday on Lifetime

As the old adage goes, if you’ve seen one of these movies, you’ve seen them all: A career-oriented woman leaves the big city and her job as a reporter (or baker, or writer, or small boutique shop owner) and comes to a small town to rediscover her humanity, her capacity to love and the true meaning of Christmas. 

UTAH’S DISNEY REIGN WANING? 

Olivia Rodrigo in "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series"
Olivia Rodrigo in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” (Photo by Natalie Cass/Courtesy Disney+)

Once upon a time, Utah was also the go-to production home for Disney TV movies and series, but those days could be over. Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series filmed its first seasons in Utah at a fictionalized East High (the original High School Musical movie was shot at the actual East High in Salt Lake City), but it’s moving the production of the latest season to L.A. The show Andi Mack started filming in Utah in 2017 but wrapped production in 2019, and there hasn’t been much movement since. The pandemic could be partially to blame, of course. As of this publication, the Utah Film Commission hasn’t revealed any Disney productions for 2022, but it’s still early in the year. Here are some more filmed-in-Utah movies that you can likely stream on Disney+:

Don’t Look Under the Bed (1999)

Johnny Tsunami (1999) 

The Luck of the Irish (2001)

The Poof Point (2001)

Double Teamed (2002)

Right on Track (2003)

Going to the Mat (2004)

Halloweentown High (2004)

Buffalo Dreams (2005)

Go Figure (2005) 

Life is Ruff (2005) 

Read It and Weep (2006)

Return to Halloweentown (2006)

Minutemen (2008) 

Dadnapped (2009) 

Hatching Pete (2009) 

Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas! (2011)

Cloud 9 (2014)

Christie Porter
Christie Porterhttps://christieporter.com/
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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