Is The Utah Film Industry Getting A Second Act?

During the last legislative fight over tax incentives for Utah film productions, Kevin Costner tipped the scales by promising to shoot his forthcoming movie Horizon: An American Saga in the Beehive State if the Utah State Legislature sweetened the deal. The legislature bumped the tax incentive cap in the end, and Horizon began filming in Utah at the end of August. One can’t help but admire Costner’s play here. He’d already proved he meant business by moving production of Paramount’s Yellowstone from Utah to Montana after Yellowstone shot its first three seasons in Utah (reportedly bringing $80 million in local revenue). 

It wasn’t a coincidence that Montana had just raised its filming tax incentives to $12 million, and at the time Utah film incentives capped at $8.3 million. Now, incentives as part of Utah’s Motion Picture Incentive Program are on par, capped at $12 million for productions based in rural areas. And the Utah Film Commission is trying to draw more film productions to Utah to show it was all worthwhile. 

For the past year, the Commission reports it has been working with city and county officials to enable more rural areas to support productions filming in their regions. The Commission created “The Film Ready Utah” designation as a way to signal to would-be Utah film productions that the designated community can provide a “local support network, access to resources, and…that these communities are ready to support their work.”

The list of “Film Ready” communities already included Kanab, Moab to Monument Valley, Ogden, Park City, Utah Valley and Salt Lake City. This month, 12 other communities joined their ranks, including Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Davis, Emery, Garfield, Heber Valley, Juab, San Juan, Tooele, Uintah, Washington and Wayne.

“Utah’s film industry is expanding to every corner of our state,” said Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission, in a statement. “The Film Ready Utah program gives rural communities resources to match local businesses and unique locations with production-related needs.” 

Horizon will shoot on location in Grand, San Juan, Emery, Kane and Washington counties, according to the Utah Film Commission. It’s slated to be a sprawling, epic Western that spans multiple movies. The cast thus far includes Sienna Miller, Jena Malone, Jeff Fahey, Thomas Haden Church, Sam Worthington, Luke Wilson, Jamie Campbell Bower, Isabelle Fuhrman, Michael Rooker and Tatanka Means, with Costner himself starring and directing. There’s no official release date as of yet. 

The Commission announced the production was approved to shoot in Utah back in June, along with 12 other projects, estimated to have an impact of $142.5 million on Utah’s economy with about 90% of the projects shooting in rural Utah. Last year at this time, the Commission announced just 7 projects approved to film in Utah. “We’ve seen increased interest for filming in Utah from filmmakers and rural community stakeholders,” said Pearce. “This new rural film incentive allows Utah to attract more film production and remain competitive.” According to the Commission, in the last 10 years, Utah’s Motion Picture Incentive Program generated $463 million in economic impact and created more than 34,600 production jobs across the state. 

The new Utah film productions are a mix of features and episodic series with distribution to platforms like Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, FX/Hulu, Nickelodeon and Paramount+ as well as theatrical releases. In addition to Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga, there’s Joy to the World, a new feature from Jerusha Hess, co-writer of Napoleon Dynamite, and an untitled limited series from the creator of Yellowstone, Taylor Sheridan. 

Here is the list of approved 2022 productions:

Alma Richards: Raising the Bar
Estimated Utah Spend: $879,108
Distribution: Independent
Locations: Utah County
Logline: “Alma Richards, a lanky, unassuming Parawon, Utah farm boy seemed an unlikely competitor in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.”
The family feature from Traverse Films is about real-life figure Alma Richards, a Mormon high jumper.

Cub Scout
Estimated Utah Spend: $1,107,114
Distribution: TBD
Locations: Sanpete County
Logline: “Scout, a teenage boy mysteriously living alone in the woods, is harboring a monstrous secret.”
Cub Scout is set to be a short film, following a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign by Matt Heder (youngest brother of Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame, who is listed as a producer). 

The Chosen: Season 3
Estimated Utah Spend: $1,400,327
Distribution: Self-Distributed
Locations: Utah County

Dark Highway
Estimated Utah Spend: $4,004,367
Distribution: Independent
Locations: Emery County, Juab County, San Juan County
Summary: “Dark Highway is an intense thriller about four friends who go on a ghost town adventure to record and “get famous” on Social Media…but it goes terribly wrong.”

Estimated Utah Spend: $10,271,416
Distribution: Amazon Prime Video
Locations: Tooele County
Summary: “Hondo is a collaboration between Big Indie Pictures and Amazon Studios. The series is currently in pre-production, but the details are being kept under wraps.”
It’s reported to in fact be a cover for the series Fallout, based on the mega-popular Bethesda video game series of the same name.
Logline: “The world of Fallout is one where the future envisioned by Americans in the late 1940s explodes upon itself through a nuclear war in 2077. In Fallout, the harshness of the wasteland is set against the previous generation’s utopian idea of a better world through nuclear energy. It is serious in tone, yet sprinkled with moments of ironic humor and B-movie-nuclear-fantasies.”

Horizon: An American Saga
Estimated Utah Spend: $53,925,008
Distribution: TBD
Locations: Emery County, Grand County, Kane County, San Juan County, Washington County
Logline: “Horizon chronicles a multi-faceted, 15-year span of pre-and post-Civil War expansion and settlement of the American west. Horizon tells the story of that journey in an honest and forthcoming way, highlighting the points of view and consequences of the characters’ life and death decisions.”

Joy To The World
Estimated Utah Spend: $8,300,000
Distribution: TBD
Locations: Salt Lake City
Logline: “Joy is an angel that “welcomes” the recently deceased to the afterlife. Even though she is extremely good at her job she wants to become a “Guardian Angel” so she can help Chad, a lost soul.”
Joy to the World is slated as a comedy feature from Jerusha Hess

Emma Corrin in Retreat (2022)--a Utah film production--(photo via IMDB)
Emma Corrin in Retreat (2022) (via IMDB)

Recipe For Love
Estimated Utah Spend: $328,268
Distribution: Independent
Locations: Salt Lake County, Utah County

Retreat: Season 1
Estimated Utah Spend: $1,407,920
Distribution: FX/Hulu
Locations:  Emery County, Grand County, Tooele County
Logline: “The mystery series follows Darby Hart, a Gen Z amateur sleuth, as she attempts to solve a murder at a secluded retreat.”

The Streak
Estimated Utah Spend: $183,500
Distribution: Independent
Locations: Salt Lake County, Weber County
Summary: A documentary about the 1987 Salt Lake Trappers. The single-A baseball team won 29 games in a row, the longest winning streak in professional baseball history. 

Unnamed Green Beans Show
Estimated Utah Spend: $10,700,000
Distribution: Apple TV+
Locations: TBD

Untitled Movie
Budget: $9,966,336
Distribution: Nickelodeon
Locations: TBD
Logline: “Movie musical about best friends stuck in a time loop on the first day of summer break.”

Untitled Taylor Sheridan Series
Estimated Utah Spend: $40,000,000
Distribution: Paramount +
Locations: Summit County, Wasatch County
Summary: Slated as a true-crime series about the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey. 

Among past Utah productions, here are some upcoming releases:  

Deadstream – October 6 on Shudder
V/H/S/99 – October 20 on Shudder
American Murderer – In select theatres on October 21
A Cozy Christmas Inn – October 28 on Hallmark Channel
Falling for Christmas – November 10 on Netflix

See Salt Lake magazine’s list of some of our favorite films shot in Utah.

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
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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