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Thursday, 21 June 2012 08:35

Landing on Utah: A Film Destination That’s Out of This World

Written by  Dyana Carmella
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When Actor Taylor Kitsch agreed to be transported to Mars in this month’s epic sci-fi John Carter, there was no doubt that the production needed to be set in Utah. Directed by Andrew Stanton, the action/adventure/fantasy film explores the lush landscapes of a Martian civilization — and Utah’s stunning vistas suited the visionary production to a tee. Since the 1920s, Utah’s varied scenery has offered a wide range of options for filmmakers, serving more than 700 feature films and TV shows as well as an impressive lineup of commercials. And 2012 marks the second consecutive year in which a Utah film received an Academy Award Best Picture nomination, first with 127 Hours and now The Tree of Life, which shot in the Great Salt Lake, Bonneville Salt Flats and Goblin Valley State Park.

Utah’s current incentive program is funded annually at $6.8 million, and, with money carried over from previous years, nearly $10 million is available right now. Also, any approved production will be rebated 15 to 25 percent on every dollar spent in the State of Utah. The Utah Film Commission and the film industry have the support of the state’s legislature, which sees the film program as both an interest and revenue generator for the state. “Other states have 10 times more than we do, but, for a state, we are as good as we can be right now in today’s market and in today’s climate,” reports Utah Film Commission Director Marshall Moore. “The legislature is happy with that but realizes that they need to stay competitive.”

Since the launch of Utah’s production incentives in 2004, John Carter has been the largest-budgeted film to utilize the program. “John Carter was a much more extensive production for the state,” says Moore. “They had a residence here for over a year from the time they started scouting and permitting the location to setting up their offices. They ended up shooting a total of 63 days in the state including 2nd unit. They were in what I call the Southern Hemisphere of Utah. They were in Delta, Hanksville, Kanab, Big Water, Lake Powell and Moab. pre_utahspotlight_

“We visited the set of John Carter in Big Water and, honestly, it was one of the biggest on-location sets I’ve ever seen outside of a soundstage,” Moore continues. “They had a large green-screen arena set up and one of the Martian cities constructed. We were able to visit the set a few times and even brought Governor Herbert to the set. [‘A Princess of Mars’] just happens to be his favorite series of books. It was really an honor to be able to take him to the set at Dead Horse Point [State Park] in Moab and have him meet Andrew Stanton and Taylor Kitsch and get him excited about the film being shot in his state.”

While shooting in remote areas like Big Water, the big studio production had to figure out where its large cast and crew were going to live. Rooms had to be booked in advance, and, since there are a few thousand rooms in Moab, the production crossed the border to find lodging in Arizona. “All the John Carter locations were very remote, but visually they were stunning and that was the draw,” Moore says. “They had to put the convenience aside, so to speak, and work in the realm of creativity and use the landscapes that were unique to Utah.” 

John Carter isn’t the only big-budget film on Utah’s production slate. Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films are coming to the state with The Lone Ranger, which will shoot in Moab this summer with Actors Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. Utah is also gearing up for the sci-fi After Earth, starring Will Smith and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. For future Utah productions, the Film Commission holds an annual “Utah in Hollywood” event where filmmakers can mingle with the Film Commission staff and members of the Utah film community and learn more about the state’s stunning natural resources. Whether it’s hosting a TV series, commercial, independent film or big studio feature like John Carter, Utah’s captivating landscapes can be transformed to suit both real-world locations and the distant planets inspired by our imaginations.

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