WELCOME TO WESTWORLD

By Elizabeth Latenser

This is part of an ongoing series featuring iconic projects filmed in Utah.  Projects and artists mentioned in the series filmed here for inspiration, a strong sense of place or to recreate otherworldly experiences.

According to HBO, Westworld isn’t your typical amusement park. Intended for rich vacationers, the futuristic park — which is looked after by robotic “hosts” — allows its visitors to live out their fantasies through artificial consciousness. No matter how illicit the fantasy may be, there are no consequences for the park’s guests, allowing for any wish to be indulged. “Westworld” — which is based on the 1973 Michael Crichton movie of the same name — features an all-star cast that includes Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and more.

The show tackles some classic sci-fi themes like consciousness, artificial intelligence, the danger of technology and the nature of free will.  Those deep topics, coupled with rave reviews from critics and immense passion from fans, have led to a spring of podcasts, fansites, an outpouring of fan art and numerous award nominations for the show.  It is being hailed as HBO’s new Game of Thrones though fans will say it now sets its own benchmark for storytelling.  The intriguing opening sequence alone captures audiences by bringing together the contrast of traditional western terrain with the creation of futuristic robotic hosts in the park.

UTAH SETS THE SCENE:

The stellar casts draws in fans but according Craig Fehrman, of Outside Magazine, “What holds Westworld together, though, is something more surprising: its landscape. In fact, many of the show’s stunning exterior shots were filmed near Moab, Utah—which means the terrain you may love from your own adventures stands as the unsung hero of this show.”

When writer and director Jonathan Nolan was considering his filming options southern Utah was top of his list.  He traveled frequently in his younger years and told Scott Pierce of the Salt Lake Tribune: “the place that I always was drawn back to was southern Utah. It has these landscapes that don’t look like anywhere else on the face of the planet. That geography is exquisitely, exclusively American.”  By filming in the region he felt he was hearkening back to the famous days of John Ford in Monument Valley though much of Westworld was filmed in Castle Valley, Moab.

Actors take a break while on set of “Westworld” in Southern Utah. Photo courtesy of Westworld Daily.

Virginia Pearce, Utah Film Commissioner worked with the Westworld team before they began shooting.  She believed Utah was the perfect place to film this unique story that brings together historic wild west themes that collide with futuristic concepts.  She said, “Utah has a long history of being the backdrop of the ‘iconic west,’ and there is a reason it still calls to tourists and filmmakers alike. Those sweeping landscapes give a look and feel you can’t get anywhere else.”

The sense of place not only transports viewers to a rugged and wild place, it also gives the actors a chance to ditch the green screen and truly live the experience. Actor James Marsden who stars in Westworld told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Shooting there, it honestly felt a little bit like I was actually getting to be a guest at Westworld. I got to full-on don the suit and the hat and practice with the gun and ride the horses, and it was all very real.”

HELICOPTERS AND HIKES:

Anyone who has visited southern Utah knows, in between the brilliant vistas and breathtaking buttes there are lonely expanses of desert that extend past the horizon.  So as you can imagine the crew had to use just about every tool in their arsenal to truly capture the majestic scenery.  Helicopters were used to engross the viewer in expansive valley shots.  And for closer details, cameramen floated the Colorado River and hiked through many of the more desolate or delicate red rock formations.

Paul Cameron, the director of photography said the remote nature of many of their shoots proved to be challenging. “Practically every area was a walk-in area,” Cameron told Outside Magazine.  So the crew did plenty of hiking. With ALL of their gear.

Cameron let fans in on some scoop about the scene where James Marsden is riding in on a train looking out at his dusty kingdom.  The train car was reconstructed and built to sit on a semi flatbed.  Then the crew drove State Route 128 in southern Utah to see the scenery cross his field of vision. So the red rock dust, Russian thistle and rugged terrain in that sequence are real.

DISCOVER WESTWORLD:

Condé Nast Traveler packaged a few beautiful shots of remote but iconic Westworld locations for those travelers looking to visit the enchanting places in person. Bring a camera because the route is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.  Stops include State Route 128 outside Arches National Park in Utah to Castle Valley, Utah which has served as backdrop to many great films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Stagecoach.

For those who are fine to stay at home and wait patiently for a second season (in 2018!) you can always visit the interactive Discover Westworld site.  Visitors will appreciate chatting with travel agents who can prepare you for your stay at the park.  I was both welcomed and warned about the park by a travel agent named AEDEN:

The train will deposit you in the bustling town of Sweetwater upon arrival. Here, you will meet people from all walks of life, engaged in all matters of trade. But keep your eyes peeled…

…this vibrant center has been known to attract the attention of the occasional bandit or ne’er-do-well.

Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.

 

Utah: A State Full of Film Scouts

By Elizabeth Latenser

Find Inspiration All Around You With #UtahIsRad

2017 has been a skier’s dream! It has been snowing on and off for the better part of the New Year in Utah which is amazing for tourism and recreation but for the seasonally affected, you may be looking for reminders of blue skies and warm temps.  

Look no further than Instagram and type in #UtahIsRad.  Here you will find all the ways real locals celebrate the breathtaking beauty of Utah and all the things that make this state so special.  The hashtag gives you an idea of just how vast and diverse the landscape and entertainment is here.  Plus, you can revisit some of the most gorgeous summer weather scenes to warm your soul.

When scrolling through those photos I can’t help but marvel at the talent Utah residents have for capturing and sharing Utah’s beauty.  At the risk of sounding really old, I can’t believe most of these photos are taken with a cell phone!

So film scouts, take a look! Utah has just about every scene you can imagine and the locals have done the legwork to get you tons of beautiful shots.  Oh and if by chance an actual film scout is reading here is a Film Directory of Utah locations. 

Thank you to all the instagrammers for letting us repost your images:

Spots to relax? Of course!

Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.

 

Celebrating Film & Digital Entertainment in Utah

By Elizabeth Latenser

On February 1st  we gathered with film and digital industry members for Film Day on the Hill in Salt Lake City to showcase the incredibly diverse entertainment industry brewing locally. The industry is comprised of 450 companies that employs at least 4,300 workers and pays more than $100 million in wages and salaries. Not to mention, it keeps the world endlessly entertained! From traditional production companies to game designers and virtual reality creators, Utah truly is a hotbed for creativity across many sectors.

Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert & Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox at Film Day on the Hill.

Check out this video featuring Utah Film Commissioner Virginia Pearce from Film Day on the Hill. I would encourage you to watch it twice. First, listen to what she is sharing about the industry in Utah which is uniquely positioned to compete with other states for film production due to our iconic landscapes, experienced crew and established infrastructure.
Then take a look at all the activity in the background, including intricate set designs, groundbreaking technology, fantastic costumes and innovative companies. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what these groups can do!

 

I learned a few things from Film Day on the Hill:

The Utah Film Commission’s Motion Picture Incentive program has been making an incredible economic impact on the state and employs a variety of recruitment strategies to bring projects here. Those efforts have resulted in 146 films in the state, 13,830 jobs created and $239 million in direct Utah spending since 2005.
The future is bright! In 2016, more than 3,000 students were enrolled in a film or digital media program at 13 of Utah’s higher education institutions. I can’t wait to see what these students cook up.
The industry is going digital. More than 80% of film production is done digitally so it’s crucial for artists to stay on top of new technologies.
Legislators are proud of the strong film and digital entertainment industry we have in Utah and see it as an incredible asset to our cultural landscape and bustling economy.

Thank you to all the creative companies who joined us and to those who couldn’t come but continue to pour their heart into creating the best work possible in Utah. Here is a list of a few who made it. Make sure to check out what they are up to:

Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.

Talking About a Little Place Called Utah

By Elizabeth Latenser

This is part of an ongoing series featuring iconic projects filmed in Utah.  Projects and artists mentioned in the series filmed here for inspiration, a strong sense of place or to recreate otherworldly experiences.

If they each had half a brain, together they would still only have half a brain.

Dumb and Dumber is just as quotable today as it was when it was filmed in Utah 22 years ago. The film follows Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) as they set out to return a briefcase full of money to its rightful owner.  Along the way these two friends find themselves in some hilarious and precarious situations.

From the movie, we will forever have gems like “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” and “welp, big gulps huh.”  While the film did give us serious #squadgoals we are still a little hazy on some life rules.  Can we triple stamp a double stamp? When is it OK to quitsie a startsy? We may never know.

Much of the film was shot in Salt Lake City, Sandy, Heber and Park City, Utah but disguised as other places in the United States.  According to City Weekly, when Director Bobby Farrelly was asked about his time in Utah he said:

“We had written the story where the two guys go from Providence to Aspen, and being in Los Angeles when we wrote it, we were trying to think where could we go to shoot this that’s not Aspen. We didn’t think they would let us into Aspen. And so, one of our producers said, ‘You know, a great place to shoot this would be Utah because it has so much to offer. It has flatlands. It has mountains. It has snow.’ We went and took a look and, low and behold, he was right, so we shot it all there and we had a fantastic time. I dunno, I always had a soft spot in my heart for Salt Lake City after that.”

Aww, well the feeling is mutual! Utah residents certainly love spotting their local hangouts in Dumb and Dumber.

Utah residents, hop on your vespa and follow along as we revisit some of the most memorable Utah landmarks (disguised as other places) seen in Dumb and Dumber:

Salt Lake City International Airport as the Providence Airport:
Your first stop on the tour is the notorious spot that puts Lloyd in the whole briefcase mess.  The Salt City International Airport is the right where Lloyd drops Mary Swanson off and she apparently steals a piece of his heart.  “Goodbye my loooooove…”

Harry and Lloyd’s apartment on the East Coast but really in downtown Salt Lake City:
Harry and Lloyd share an apartment that has carpet stains and wall art you may commonly find in a young bachelor’s place.  Their quaint homestead apartment is located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. Farrelly told City Weekly, “Believe it or not, we had to re-create that [For Dumb & Dumber To] because the guys haven’t grown up at all, and they’re still living in the same place, and so we actually had to rebuild it in Atlanta. It might have made more sense for us to just fly out and do it there.

Mary Swanson’s East Coast Mansion is really in Sandy, Utah:
Mary Swanson’s East Coast Mansion is actually a cleverly decorated restaurant building called La Caille in Sandy near Little Cottonwood Canyon. Another La Caille building was used as Mary’s parents house in a fantasy cooked up by Lloyd.  

Aspen Snow Owl Benefit exit via the Devereaux Mansion:
The horse drawn carriage Harry and Lloyd use to leave the esteemed Aspen Snow Owl Benefit is actually parked outside the Devereaux Mansion. (Too bad they didn’t use the Mutt Cutts van)  The mansion has all kinds of fun history and it’s a favorite for local SLC ghost hunters.

The Second Best Motel in Heber City:
You may recall Harry and Lloyd sharing a bath along their journey at the Second Best Motel.  The exterior of the hotel was redecorated slightly but the building is the modern day Heber Inn in Heber City, Utah.  City Weekly caught up with the location scout Lee Steadman who mentioned the heart shaped tub itself was actually filmed at The Osmond studios in Orem, which is now the Cirque Lodge rehab clinic.

Meet the parents in the Deer Valley Resort Area / Park City, Utah:
Mary’s parents enjoy the finer things in life and their East Coast mansion is actually a cozy but large cabin in Deer Valley. Which one?  We are not totally sure.

Harry and Lloyd enjoy 7-Eleven:
This is a hotly contested 7-Eleven location where Lloyd very famously declared “big gulps huh?” Side note, apparently that line was ad libbed by Jim Carrey.  According to City Weekly,  this is a big gulp shop in Heber City though some residents firmly believe it was a 7-Eleven in Ogden.

“I’m talking about a little place called Aspen”
Portions of the famous scene where Lloyd and Harry ride into Aspen on a mighty vespa with ice crystals hanging from their noses were filmed in Park City.

We know there are more glimpses but those are just a few from the famous 1994 flick. If you’re really adventurous check out Ski Curbed for the route that begins on the East Coast before finally arriving in the Beehive state.

Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.

Sundance Film Festival: A Blizzard of Creativity

By Elizabeth Latenser

Just like that, the hustle and bustle of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival concludes.  We agree with Festival Director John Cooper when he said, “This has been one of the wildest, wackiest and most rewarding Festivals in recent memory. From a new government to the independently organized Women’s March on Main, to power outages, a cyberattack and snow at record levels, the work of our artists rose above it all and challenged and changed us these last 10 days. I am most proud that, through it all, we have formed a community that is bound tighter by the art we make and the ideas we support.”

The Utah Film Commission team is giving Sundance Institute, the Festival team, all the artists and all the volunteers a standing ovation for making this incredible event happen.  And now we also wish you all a good night’s rest for the first time in weeks!

Our team had a great Festival experience and by measuring the energy of the over 2,500 people that came through our space on Main Street; filmmakers, industry and festival-goers did too. We got a chance to connect with artists, share our story and hear their ideas.  Our panels included in-depth discussions with LMGI location managers from across the country, a deeply moving conversation with Latino Reel, documentary film director Peter Bratt, and Delores, the subject of his film, Delores. UVU organized two incredible panels for their students with filmmakers from Litte Hours, The Hero, Nobody Speak, Patti Cake$, Strong Island and Trophy around the future of storytelling, the importance of diversity in art and more.  If you want to see more check out our Sundance photo album.

Utah Valley University students pose for a photo with directors and producers of Sundance films after a panel at Utah Film Commission on Main

The four movies that were filmed in Utah premiered for audiences for the first time ever which is exciting but also sometimes scary for an artist.  Though we know Cooper would caution these filmmakers from taking a  critic’s review to heart, it is nice to catch someone saying something positive about your project. Here are a few of our favorite quotes from the trades about those Utah-connected films:

Brigsby Bear was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics during the Festival and made Variety’s top 13 list. Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman said:

“This sweet, super-creative comedy is pretty much exactly what you’d want from a bunch of ‘Saturday Night Live’ talents — not another one of those lame Lorne Michaels-produced features that stretches a popular sketch too far, but a zany comic premise that delivers steady laughs and social satire in a disarming new way.

Wind River was Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut and the Salt Lake Tribune said:

With “Wind River,” screenwriter and now director Taylor Sheridan completes a trifecta of deeply layered, character-driven neo-Western crime dramas, and one that tops the other two, “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water.”

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train premieres on Netflix on March 17. Robert Abele of The Wrap said:

“…because Freeland and Farrell keep close tabs on how the good criminal fun starts to affect Deidra and Laney as turbulent adolescents in dire straits, the movie always feels socially conscious and smartly sympathetic, even when it’s effortlessly humorous.

The movie also does well thoughtfully addressing the complicated feelings stressed kids have for their struggling parents and, in a late confrontation scene, it finds a touching way to re-examine what sparked mom’s breakdown, a scene initially played as comedy. Also, the fact that the Tanner family is biracial adds a welcome tinge of modern reality, even with a dusty rural backdrop (Utah for Idaho) usually associated with ethnically homogeneous casts.”

Snatchers will be available online sometime this Spring on the new streaming service, Stage 13, a division of Warner Bros. Fred Topel from Bloody Disgusting said this about the horror comedy flick:

“There’s clearly more to Snatchers. The origin of the creature has not entirely been confirmed by the end, and there’s a big teaser. I already want to see more Snatchers and these first eight play well as a standalone movie.”
For a full recap of the Festival award winners take a look at the Sundance Film Festival live blog or watch the award ceremony live stream.

Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.