By Brice Wallace
After a bit of a dry spell due primarily to coronavirus impacts, five productions — in the categories of “Hallmark” and “horror” — were approved for state film incentives this month.
While the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) approved four incentives in January, it approved only three from February through June. The productions approved for incentives in July are estimated to have a total economic impact of $4.2 million and create approximately 300 local jobs.
“The goal of the film incentive program has always been to create Utah jobs and provide an economic boost to local communities while developing more opportunities for our film industry here at home,” said Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission. “After a halt in production this spring due to the pandemic, we are excited to revive film production in our state with the approval of incentives for these five productions.”
Pearce told the GOED board that COVID-19 caused six major productions to be put on hold this spring and 25-30 commercials were postponed of canceled. That impact equates to 1,100 local jobs and 220 local businesses were affected, she said.
“Some of those businesses and employees were able to take advantage of the resources which we did our best to get that information in the hands of the right people so that they were able to kind of weather the storm, and we’re hopeful that things are going to start to ramp up this summer,” Pearce said.
Still, interest in shooting in Utah did not wane. This spring, the film commission handled 184 project leads, up 43 percent up from the 2019 fiscal year.
“I think people were at home and trying to figure out where their next project was going to be and so they did a lot of research,” Pearce said. “So it was good to know that Utah was still on everyone’s radar, and we were very busy throughout the spring trying to get locations and permit information and just talk producers through what it would be like once things got open again.”
The two Hallmark Channel productions approved for incentives in July are Christmas-themed movies — long a Utah staple — undertaken by 3483 Inc. A cash rebate of up to $289,821 was approved for its production of “Holly and Ivy,” based on expected in-state spending of nearly $1.45 million. A cash rebate of up to $210,179 was approved for “The Christmas Concert,” based on spending of a little over $1 million.
“Holly and Ivy” is expected to employ 18 cast, 68 crew and 300 extras during shooting through Aug. 7 at locations to be determined.
“Holly and Ivy” tells the story of neighbors helping Ivy make room for neighbor Holly’s three children after Holly is diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer, all taking place under a threat by the state to place the children in more-appropriate accommodations.
Utahn David Wulf is the producer for both Hallmark productions. A director has not been determined for “Holly and Ivy.”
Clare Niederpruem will direct “The Christmas Concert,” which is expected to have 23 cast, 63 crew and 350 extras. Principal photography is scheduled through November at locations to be determined.
The film’s summary, according to GOED documents is: “When an accident puts her lifelong dream of playing in the Boston Symphony Orchestra on hold, once-promising musician Kate Lord finds a way to let music back into her life through music in the lives of others; particularly a young inner-city boy nicknamed Wonder, with pluck and passion for the cello and life.”
“I remain committed to bringing film to Utah,” Wulf said in a prepared statement. “It’s my home and my community and I love any opportunity work here in film. Utah’s crews, landscapes and business-friendly community is the perfect place to film.
“I continue to believe with the proper commitments between government and private enterprise, Utah can be a film epicenter and bring significant business and jobs to the state.”
Two of the three horror productions approved for incentives will air on Crypt TV. One is “Mira Mira,” an episodic production. Mira Media LLC was approved for a cash rebate of up to $158,701, based on expected in-state spending of $793,504.
Directed by Chelsea Stardust and produced by Buz Wallick and Jeremy Elliott, “Mira Mira” is expected to employ five cast and 45 crew. Principal photography is scheduled for August through November at locations to be determined.
According to GOED documents, “Mira is a ‘light demon’ who travels from mirror to mirror, attaching herself to specific humans that can be any race, age or gender and are gifted with the innate ability to communicate with demons and creatures from the Under-Side. More than anything she wishes to become human, but this ill-fated pursuit of belonging leaves only death and destruction in her wake.”
The other Crypt TV production is the series “Kinderfanger.” Kinderfanger Media LLC was approved for a cash rebate of up to $165,650, based on spending $828,252 in Utah. The company is expected to employ four cast, 45 crew and 50 extras. Shooting is scheduled through Sept. 19 at locations to be determined.
The series focuses on a deaf teacher who uncovers clues to the disappearance of one of her students “who has mysteriously vanished and discovers something more sinister is at hand,” which is an ancient demon that is luring vulnerable children.
“Kinderfanger” is directed by Bridger Nielson and produced by Trent Atkinson and Jeremy Elliott.
“Crypt TV is thrilled to call Utah home for these productions,” Elliott, executive vice president of television production for Crypt TV, said in a prepared statement. “With a seasoned and skilled crew base, spectacular scenic backdrops and tremendous support from the state’s film commission, we anticipate making something truly special in Utah.”
The other horror production approved for an incentive is “Deadstream,” a feature being made by Winterspectre Entertainment LLC. The company was approved for a cash rebate of up to $23,600 under the Community Film Incentive Program — supporting smaller, local projects — based on expected Utah spending of $118,000.
Directed and produced by Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter, “Deadstream” is expected to employ 14 cast, 15 crew and six extras. Principal photography is scheduled through Aug. 15 in Utah County.
The plot of “Deadstream” focuses on disgraced YouTube sensation Shawn Ruddy, who stages a comeback by announcing his biggest stunt ever: livestreaming himself provoking ghosts in a haunted house called Death Manor.
“Our film, ‘Deadstream,’ is a love letter to ‘80s horror cinema,” Joseph Winter said in a prepared statement. “During my time in BYU’s Media Arts program, I built a network of Utah cast and crew that I’ve wanted to continue working with on every film project since. That network keeps growing, and I’m constantly amazed at the quality of talent here in Utah. It was a dream to make my first feature in Utah and I’m grateful for the support of the Utah Film Commission for helping make that dream a reality.”
In addition to the five new productions receiving incentives in July, the GOED board increased the incentive for a production because of increased in-state spending. Saurus City LLC was approved for an incentive of up to $128,000 in December 2018 for the stop-motion family feature “Saurus City,” based on expected in-state spending of $640,000. The incentive was increased to up to $196,920, based on revised spending of $984,598.
Directed by Nathan W. Smith and produced by Bradford Johnson, the production is expected to have six cast and 30 crew. Principal shooting will take place through March 20, 2021, in Utah County.
“Saurus City” will tell the story of an outcast knight who seeks redemption for his broken oath “as he escorts common folk and a baby identified as the royal heir through a fantastical land inhabited by dinosaurs.”