SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — Kevin Costner, star of the hit Paramount series Yellowstone, is planning to shoot his five-film, roughly $50 million Western cinematic universe called Horizon in Utah.
He just wants one thing — the Utah Legislature to pass Senate Bill 49 (SB49).
Sponsored by Republican State Senator Ron Winterton, whose district covers Summit County, the bill exempts rural film productions from limits on the total amount of refundable motion picture tax credit incentives from the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.
“Rural” is defined as primarily filmed outside of first and second-class counties — Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber, Washington, and Cache counties.
Roughly 75% of the first three seasons of Yellowstone were filmed in Utah, contributing almost $80 million to the state’s economy, specifically in filming locations like Oakley, Kamas, and Heber City. One of the most frequently used locations for Yellowstone was Thousand Peaks Ranch in Oakley, where Park City Powder Cats operates. It’s also the main location for the film Wind River.
The show moved to Montana for its fourth season, due to a smaller tax rebate, which was capped by Utah law.
The state offers up to $8.3 million in tax rebates annually to film productions in-state. Projects can get returned 20-25% of the taxes they pay on direct production expenditures, which includes goods, services, wages, and income. In Montana, the cap is $12 million. Both pale in comparison to New Mexico’s $130 million.
According to a study published by the consulting firm Olsberg SPI, film and television productions spent $48 million in Utah during fiscal year 2021. Since 2016, 25% of filming days in the state were in rural areas.
From 2018 to 2020, Utah missed out on productions with a combined production budget of nearly $500 million due to the lack of tax incentives.
“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 told the Deseret News.
Per Deadline, the project, which focuses on 15 years of expansion and settlement in the West during the Civil War era, is set to start filming in Utah on August 29.
“America’s expansion into the west was one that was fraught with peril and intrigue from the natural elements, to the interactions with the indigenous peoples who lived on the land, and the determination and at many times ruthlessness of those who sought to settle it,” Costner told Deadline. “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.”
Roger Armstrong, Costner’s lawyer and current Summit County Councilmember, told the Deseret News that “state film incentives are very much a critical element for financing virtually all films, regardless of the budget — whether you’re talking about a $200 million production or a $2 million independent feature.”
SB49 was passed by Utah Senate on Tuesday by a 20-7 vote, and now moves to the House.
“We do have good support in the public,” Winterton told Deseret. “In the Legislature, it seems like we need some help convincing them this is a good thing to do.”