Rural film incentives bill becomes law without Gov. Cox’s signature

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Bill 49, sponsored by state Sen. Ron Winterton, who represents parts of Summit and Wasatch counties, would exempt rural film productions in Utah from the current limits on the state’s tax incentive program.

To qualify as rural, projects must be state-approved and filmed primarily in third-, fourth-, fifth- or sixth-class counties, which excludes Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber, Washington, and Cache counties.

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.

“The tax incentive that we offer for productions to come to our state is significantly lower than other states,” Alecia Williams, executive director of the nonprofit Cinema Slopes, told KSL.

“Utah, at $8.3 (million), it’s making it very difficult for us to compete,”

S.B. 49 passed the House 50-22 and the Senate 22-7 earlier this month.

In Utah, any bill passed by the Legislature that is not returned by the governor within ten days, not including Sundays and the day it was received, becomes law without a signature.

Some lawmakers had argued that it was a handout to Hollywood, while reports highlighted the governor’s fundamental support for the rural parts of the state. Cox ended up not making a move on the bill, and it became law on Thursday.

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, where the state Legislature raised its tax rebate cap to $12 million in 2021.

The series’ star and film icon Kevin Costner has announced plans to shoot a five-film, roughly $50 million Western cinematic series titled Horizon in Utah. He expressed support for S.B. 49 during the beginning of the legislative session.

“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 said in a statement earlier this year.

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.”

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