Kevin Costner hopes to bring back Utah’s little Hollywood

SB49, a legislative bill nicknamed the Kevin Costner bill, passed the Utah Legislature by slim margins after being approved in the senate, voted down in the house, amended in the house, and then sent back to the senate before finally being approved.

Film set in front of the iconic Parry Lodge hotel during the glory days of little Hollywood in Kanab, in 1957. Photo courtesy of the Utah Film Commission.

The bill was nicknamed the Kevin Costner bill for his efforts in lobbying the Utah legislature for increased tax incentives after filming three seasons of the hit series “Yellowstone” in Utah, before leaving to film the rest of the series out of state due to cost reasons, leaving millions in potential tax revenue on the table for the state.


During his time in Utah, Costner spent time in southern Utah scouting locations for an upcoming western epic movie series called “Horizon”. The initial film will set the foundation for a yearlong cinematic project, amounting to five movies, and dumping upwards of $50 million into whatever rural economy Costner settles on.


Before the bill was passed, Costner commented, “I’ve dreamed for a long time about making my movie in Utah and scouting the state has been an incredible experience. My biggest hope is that the state backs SB49 and that dream becomes a reality. I don’t really want to go anywhere else with these five movies.”


Costner visited Kanab, and other southern Utah hot spots and picked a prime location on the Utah/Arizona border near Kanab, for production slated to begin in August. There are other factors still in play, but SB49 has opened the door for Kanab’s little Hollywood to become a little bigger if Costner selects Kane County.


Kane County Film Commission Director Kelly Stowell said, “We didn’t want this to be known as the Costner bill, but without SB49, Utah didn’t have any chance for consideration and hopefully now we are a major contender for an anchor location for Costner’s film series ‘Horizons’.


“There’s a process each production must follow to be considered for a film incentive starting with an application through the Utah Film Commission. Hopefully, we’ll have several more productions shot in Kane County due to the legislation.”


Movie productions that meet several requirements, including spending a minimum of $500,000 in Utah, are eligible for a 20 - 25 percent tax rebate as part of Utah’s film incentive program that is already in place. However, the program had an annual $8.3 million cap, which is small when compared to New Mexico’s $130 million. SB49 increases that rebate to $12 million dollars and adds a rural incentive.


To be defined as a rural production, it must be state approved, and filmed primarily in third, fourth, fifth or sixth-class counties. That would exclude Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber, Washington, and Cache counties. Rural Utah, especially the southern reaches of the state with its unique geography, is often the draw for productions.


The film incentive program saw pushback in the legislature. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, called it “a handout to Hollywood millionaires and billionaires,” quoting an email he received from a constituent.


According to Jeff Johnson, president of the Motion Picture Association of Utah, “One of the biggest problems for the state’s film incentive program is that people don’t understand that it’s not a Hollywood handout,” he told the Deseret News. “Instead, the production must submit its budget for the Utah Film Commission to review — it then gets recommended to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which approves the budget.


“Once the production actually spends the money, it’s subjected to an audit before it’s eligible for the rebate. The rebate covers expenses for things like hotels and long-term rentals, production materials like lumber, rental cars, trailers, restaurant bills, catering costs and more. It’s designed to help locals and to help put money into rural communities.”


The state isn’t using tax dollars unless it sees that tax revenue first. True, it won’t be receiving the full amount it could without the incentive, but the proof is clear, that large productions are bypassing Utah, to find locations in states with larger tax incentives.


“It was amazing to see rural interests from across the state come together to support the bill and we’re excited to see the results of the program over the next two years,” Stowell commented. “We especially appreciate all the legislators who supported and voted for the initiative, especially our local southern Utah legislators, Representatives Phil Lyman, Rex Shipp, Lowry Snow, Carl Albrecht, Brad Last and Walt Brooks, in addition to Senators David Hinkins, Evan Vickers, Derrin Owens and Don Ipson.”


Utah’s little Hollywood may not stay little much longer and hints of the glory days returning may be on the “Horizon”. It may not be Charlton Heston, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Clint Eastwood, or Don Knotts, but Kevin Costner, Nicolas Cage, William Dafoe, and other Hollywood stars are finding their way back to Utah’s little Hollywood, and it could be a great economic boost for Kane County.

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