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Utah Business

film industry, real estate

Shooting On Location

When Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ characters finally unite in Sleepless in Seattle, the beloved 90s rom-com moment takes place atop the iconic Empire State Building. Some of Tom Cruise’s most harrowing stunts as Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt take place on skyscrapers like Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower.

Whether in a starring role or part of the supporting cast, commercial real estate plays an important part in cinema. Especially in Utah’s thriving film scene where local properties have had notable roles in over 1,000 movies, television productions and advertisements, according to the Utah Film Commission. The film industry’s symbiotic relationship with the commercial real estate market has even brought additional revenue streams and notoriety to Utah.

Come For The Views, Stay For The Location

From 1940s John Ford westerns to HBO’s current series, Westworld, Utah’s vistas have long been famous as a cinematic backdrop. Jeff Johnson, a Utah-based casting director, indicates the natural landscape may be an initial draw, but filmmakers quickly learn that Utah offers much more. “Filmmakers come here wanting the southern Utah look or the mountains,” says Mr. Johnson. “Then they find out they’ve got a city, small towns—there’s an all-encompassing diversity for filming in Utah you can’t get anywhere else.”

Marshall Moore, vice president of operations and marketing at Park City-based Utah Film Studios, affirms that Utah fills a variety of filmmaking needs. Prior to his role at Utah Film Studios, Mr. Moore served as the director of the Utah Film Commission for several years.

He points out that towns like Magna have become a kind of “backlot for Salt Lake City.” With a population of nearly 25,000, Magna is just 15 minutes from downtown. At its center is a classic main street with storefronts that have been tailored for productions as different as the sunshine-bright Disney series Andi Mack, and Ian McShane’s bleak cartel thriller, The Hollow Point.

Downtown Salt Lake is also an in demand location, according to Derek Mellus, production manager at the Utah Film Commission, with spots like 222 Main as a go-to location for interior shots of a modern office space. As for stunning exterior shots in a city environment, Mr. Mellus says the Natural History Museum of Utah “takes [filmmakers’] breath away when they first see it. The scale is impressive. It can pose for something futuristic, or something ultra-modern.”

Just a few miles away, The Gateway entertainment center “has been cheated as the Las Vegas strip,” said Mr. Mellus. He added the contemporary City Creek Center, with its upscale ambiance and narrow streets, has attracted shoots for many car commercials.

But locations for perfect for filming don’t end with Salt Lake City or our national parks, Utah’s suburban areas have also hosted major film productions. The original Footloose featured a young Kevin Bacon dancing at Lehi Roller Mills. East High School was the setting for Disney’s record-breaking High School Musical franchise and will welcome film crews again for the musical’s upcoming reinvention as a Disney series. The old Provo high school, now vacant of students, is the setting for scenes in Dwight in Shining Armor, a new series for the BYUtv family entertainment network. In Utah, the options for potential filming locations are endless.

Constructing The Scene On Leased Property

“Most directors like to film on location to get authenticity, to capture that real-world feel. But that’s not always practical,” said Mr. Moore. In those instances, film crews often lease a warehouse for a few weeks or months to build a set and shoot their production.

James Franco filmed several gripping scenes for 127 Hours in a setting that looks like an authentic canyon floor—but was actually a temporary sound stage built in a former Salt Lake City furniture warehouse.

For longer-term productions like the Warner Bros. series Everwood and several independent films, Mr. Moore says the “one place that has really cracked the code in the film industry is Silver State. They’re a textile business in South Salt Lake, and they have kept part of their warehouse space available to the film industry since about 1996. Andi Mack is using it right now.”

At 91,000 square feet, Utah Film Studios is dedicated entirely to supporting the film industry. The space has been home to several productions since it opened in 2015, including the ABC series Blood & Oil, Jeremy Renner’s crime drama, Wind River, and the Sundance Film Festival breakout, Hereditary. Yellowstone, Paramount Network’s series starring Kevin Costner, has recently returned to shoot a second season at the studios.

Doing Business With Show Business

Admittedly, it’s not always easy for commercial properties to host a film or television production. If the space is occupied, tenants need to find alternate places to work (or keep impossibly quiet and out of the way during filming).

Productions can also extend far beyond the actual space where the director, cast and crew are shooting. They typically establish a base camp adjacent, or near to the primary shooting location. Depending on the size of the project, this can include a fleet of technical trucks, cast trailers, catering services, as well as parking for cast, crew, and transportation vehicles.

So why make room for the sprawling, protracted distraction of a film production? You could say that it’s all about the Benjamins. “Location fees can run about $5,000 a day for commercial property,” says Mr. Moore. “For warehouses, leases that are month-to-month typically start around $12,000 a month for a basic office, warehouse and parking combination.”

“There’s also a sense of pride,” adds Mr. Mellus. “Being able to see your location on the big screen, seeing the work you’ve put into your business or home to have a certain look that’s appreciated by a film director or production designer is rewarding.”

For more than eight decades, Utah has built a strong reputation throughout Hollywood and the international film community. The state’s concerted effort (including tax incentives and outreach by the Utah Film Commission) continues to open the door for commercial real estate to take part in the business of show business.

The site rentals can provide significant additional revenue streams for property owners. And for many, the stardust left in the afterglow of the big lights is also a plus. After all, when A-listers like Reese Witherspoon are forever captured in front of the Utah State Capitol (which served as a doppelganger for the nation’s Capitol in Legally Blonde 2), a little of that Hollywood glamour tends to rub off on the rest of us.