2023 Utah Business Leaders of the Year: Virginia Pearce
Director | Utah Film Commission
Utah Business is proud to present the inaugural cohort of our Utah Business Leaders of the Year award. These 12 honorees represent the greatest accomplishments of Utah’s business community in 2023 and were selected by the Utah Business editorial team.
irginia Pearce, the director of the Utah Film Commission, has a tenacious heart, mirroring the film-famous spirit of the Wild West. “I really love a challenge,” she says. That’s why she was the perfect person to lead Kevin Costner’s film series, “Horizon, an American Saga,” to Utah.
“We definitely played the long game,” Pearce laughs, but she never gave up on the project. “It was about selling the state, but it was also about making sure it was the right fit.”
While Costner loved the scenery in Utah, the deal was far from done in 2017 when he approached Pearce on the set of “Yellowstone.” Pearce built a “friend relationship” by keeping in touch with Costner and working with her production manager, Derek Mellus, to scout and photograph potential filming locations in Utah. When other states began to compete for Costner’s production with attractive incentives, Pearce engaged Utah legislators to pass an incentive program for rural productions in Utah. After the locations, timing and funding came together to guarantee that Utah would host Part 1 of the film series, the deal for Part 2 naturally followed with a big 2023 announcement.
Pearce’s love of movies began in her childhood when her dad took her to see “Charlotte’s Web.” Later, her career started with a seasonal job at Sundance, which quickly evolved into 13 years of building up the film festival. “I grew up there,” Pearce says.
“Regardless of who you are, there is always a film that has impacted your life—a lot of those films are Utah films.”
She then taught kids to use media as a tool at Spy Hop, and in 2014, she started with the Utah Film Commission, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of film in Utah in 2024. Pearce and the Utah Film Commission will commemorate that milestone with an exhibition in the Capitol building and several events. “Regardless of who you are, there is always a film that has impacted your life—a lot of those films are Utah films,” Pearce says.
In her many roles, Pearce has always taken the producer side of the effort. “I help people get things done. The best decisions come when they start in the community,” she says, mentioning each person who played a role in the “Horizon” deal by name: Bega Metzner in Moab, Kelly Stowell in Kane, Tina Henrie in Carbon, Adriana Chimaras in Emery and Joyce Kelly in St. George. She even mentions the “great leaders on the Hill on both sides” with whom she worked to pass the rural aspect of the Motion Picture Incentive Program. She is the epitome of a servant leader—organizing the strengths of others to get the job done.
“As my team will tell you, I have way too many ideas,” Pearce laughs. “I get excited about seeing filmmakers’ ideas come to life.” Pearce has spent her career behind the scenes, doing just that—amplifying filmmakers’ voices and adding to the rich legacy of film in Utah.