Wildcats, Unite! We’re (Still) All In This Together

By Elizabeth Latenser
Photo courtesy of Billboard Magazine: The stars of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” – (L – R) Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Vanessa Hudgens, Lucas Grabeel and Ashley Tisdale.

The first High School Musical film premiered on the Disney Channel more than 10 years ago but for many, Troy, Gabriella and the gang are still rocking out at East High. No one could have predicted years ago that the story would be a mainstay in our culture for high schoolers and beyond.  In fact, High School Musical is still so popular that the Utah Office of Tourism created an itinerary guiding fans who want to visit  areas in which each of the movies was shot, as well as the favorite haunts of the cast and crew.

Filmed all over Utah but mostly concentrated at East High School, the film follows  star athlete Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) as he falls for nerdy Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens). Troy and Gabriella audition for the upcoming school musical. Meanwhile, the jealous Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) conspires to squelch their chances. The two must struggle to make it to auditions while also meeting their existing obligations to the basketball team and the academic decathlon. It is full of funny, heartwarming moments and valuable friendship lessons.

The original film was nominated for more than 18 awards and won 10 including an Emmy for Best Choreography and a Teen Choice Award for Best Comedy/Musical Show.  Salt Lake actor KayCee Stroh who plays the quirky, hip hop loving brainiac Martha Cox said after reading the initial script, “I felt like this could be the next generation’s version of Grease, but with a family friendly tone. Looks like I nailed it! I knew it had the potential to be great but never would have predicted its worldwide success.”

Supporting actor and Utah native Ryan Templeman, said he remembers being at a table reading at Little America and thinking, “it was easy to envision the appeal of the final product.” Utah was the perfect place to cast and film many of the supporting roles in High School Musical because, “Utah is teeming with young talented dancers and singers.”

Templeman’s most memorable (and challenging) days on set were trying to learn skills that were maybe a little outside his regular repertoire. He said, “As a non-singing, non-dancing actor, I was totally a fish out of water. I struggled mightily, but many of the other dancers were so patient and supportive; many willing to work with me through breaks and lunches to help me to get it right. To my mind, the true collaborative nature of filmmaking was on display. When that happens, it’s always special.”

Stroh remembers in the casting process feeling a little self conscious that maybe she didn’t fit the Hollywood mold.  Thankfully she auditioned anyway because director Kenny Ortega saw her work and said, “I love you, you’re different!”

Stroh has so many warm memories from filming and commented that filming was, “like a real life summer camp for a lot of us. The main cast all had connecting casitas which made for great pranks, making each other dinners and even teaching some how to do their own laundry!”

After filming the cast would hang out and explore Utah together.  According to Stroh a few of their favorite spots were: “the Alpine Slide in Park City, late night Denny’s visits (you can imagine peoples faces when we all walked in), camp fires up Millcreek canyon, Classic Skating in Orem and Red rock hikes in St. George.”

Being from Utah, Stroh was the go-to for the out-of-town cast. She said, “I will never forget the day that some of the cast asked me if Utah was always this clean?! I remember laughing about it but later that night I had an epiphany and felt really lucky to have been raised in a place that takes such pride in the little things.”  Stroh credits High School Musical for putting her career on the map.  After the show’s release her agent’s phone began ringing off the hook.  She is now married, the mother of two girls and splits here time between Los Angeles and Holladay, Utah.

While we would love to see a  High School Musical 4, Utah is  thrilled to welcome, Andi Mack, a new Disney Channel production to the Beehive state, and we hope this one is just as big of a success story as High School Musical!

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

Utah’s Emergence in VR

By Elizabeth Latenser
Photo courtesy of THE VOID

The largest virtual reality expo, VRLA took place this last weekend and it clear that VR has grown in leaps and bounds in the past few years. Everywhere you look (pun intended) it’s working its way into our lives from entertainment to healthcare. Utah is at the VR forefront and the Film Commission is integrating the emerging media into its mission of marketing the state as destination for content creation.

Danfung Dennis, filmmaker, and Founder/CEO of Condition One  based in Park City, Utah eloquently shared his thoughts saying, “The power of virtual reality is its command of presence — its ability to transport the viewer into another world, and have him feel present in it. These experiences are technically difficult to create, but once achieved, it’s breathtaking.” At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Dennis released a short documentary style virtual reality short called Melting Ice to compliment Al Gore’s sequel to Inconvenient Truth.

If you have attended the Sundance Film Festival in the last 10 years, chances are you have played around with the mind-bending VR technology in their New Frontier section. Sundance Institute added a virtual reality residency program to empower artists as they experiment with creating cinematic virtual reality work.

Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival New Frontiers section,

Because VR is so multi-faceted, production company’s and studios are able to create experiences for different purposes and needs. Jarom Sidwell has been doing visual FX work for years in Los Angeles and overseas, working on such titles as Avatar, Man of Steel and The Avengers. He ultimately landed in Utah because of the large talent pool of artists and developers that live here. His company, 4th Wall FX still works on film and television productions, but VR technology has given the opportunity to create for other areas, Recently 4th Wall created a virtual reality educational tool of the human body, exploring the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems, reaching all the way down to the cellular level.

4th Wall FX virtual reality medical visualization educational tool

Companies that delve in VR, have greater options on what to make and show. In the town of Lindon, Utah digital creatives at THE VOID are hard at work making VR adventures. In an excerpt from the New York Times we learn that at a first glance “THE VOID’s invention looks like nothing special. Four black wooden walls form a 30-foot square. But everything changes when you put on a special virtual reality headset, pick up a rudimentary plastic gun, slip into a snug vest and strap on small backpack, which has a lightweight computer inside: You and your friends instantly become Ghostbusters.” You can now try this experience out, with THE VOID’s doors now open.

With a huge crop of local digital creators already in Utah adding to their current scope of work to include virtual reality, it’s clear that there is money to be made and space to grow in the industry. The Utah Digital Entertainment Network (UDEN) exists today because of a belief that Utah is a leader in the visual effects and gaming space and with a little collaboration could easily be a leader in virtual reality too. Jon Dean, chair of UDEN says the skills needed to make virtual reality films and games are transferrable across the different sectors that already function in Utah.  If you can make a virtual reality film, you have the technical skills needed to make a virtual reality game and vice-versa. By sharing the innovation and creativity, you can do both and help other creatives trying to do the same.

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

Living it Up in Utah with ‘Andi Mack’

By Elizabeth Latenser
Photo courtesy of Just Jared Junior: The four stars of Andi Mack (L-R) Sofia Wylie, Joshua Rush, Peyton Elizabeth Lee, and Asher Angel

There is no doubt the cast members of Andi Mack are enjoying the lead up to the show’s big premiere on the Disney Channel App this Friday March 10.  Need proof? Just check out their bright smiling faces as they took over Just Jared Junior’s instagram story. This premiere date couldn’t come soon enough because according to Bustle online many people are looking for Andi Mack to fill the Girl Meets World shaped hole in our hearts and give us Lizzie McGuire throwback feels.

Andi Mack is Disney’s newest series which follows main title character Andi Mack (played by Peyton Elizabeth Lee) who is trying to find her way in the world with the love, humor and support of her friends and family.  According to ET Online, viewers are in for a ride when Andi’s “life goes from routine to rollercoaster overnight.”

The series includes 13 comical and heartwarming episodes all filmed in locations throughout Utah like Liberty Park, Sugarhouse, the Avenues, Wasatch Junior High and Magna’s Main Street. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “the production team has spruced up Magna, adding awnings and signs and turning an empty storefront into a cool restaurant.” Plus, the production brought in an estimated $9 million to the state.

Three quarters of the crew who worked on the show are local.  But for those who did travel to Utah – perhaps for the first time – they all left impressed. Michelle Manning, Paramount’s former president of production told the Salt Lake Tribune, “I’ve shot around the world. The one place I had never shot in my entire career is here. It’s amazing here. Probably the most film-friendly place I’ve ever been.”

And lead actor Peyton Elizabeth Lee who had only been to Utah once before said, “it is so beautiful. Every day when I wake up everything is so pretty.”

Though the filming schedule was jam packed for these actors filled with five day a week sessions followed by school work, they did manage to break away to explore. From a local’s perspective it never gets old seeing a visitor’s reaction to Utah’s unique weather and landscape. Check out the cast’s fun-filled day complete with a snowball fight at the Olympic Park filmed by KUTV.

Disney star Sabrina Carpenter lent her voice for the Andi Mack opening sequence titled “Tomorrow Starts Today.”  She said, “I’m very proud to contribute even a small part to a show that has such a valuable message and what feels to me to be something really new. The message of ‘taking whatever comes your way with a positive attitude, and sticking by the ones you love’ is something I really connect with.”

On Friday March 10, check your favorite Disney Channel streaming app for the new show that is sure to be nostalgic for some and fun for all. While you’re watching, keep an eye out for special glimpses of the Utah’s Wasatch mountains in the background (especially the scenes when Andi is in school.) The series will make its television broadcast debut April 7 at 8:30 ET on the Disney Channel.

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

 

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.

 

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.

Come Check Us Out!

By Elizabeth Latenser

Photo: Utah Film Commission on Main/ Courtesy of the Utah Film Commission

And While You are Here, Ask Me Anything!

In a new twist, artists were asked to join Robert Redford on stage during the Sundance Film Festival’s opening day press conference to discuss the impact Sundance Institute’s labs have had on their career.  One of those artists was Sydney Freeland who is back in Utah with her film Deidra & Laney Rob a Train which was filmed in Heber City.  We had the pleasure of working with her and supporting the project though our film incentives program so naturally it was exciting to see her film get into Sundance.

Earlier this month, Freeland told the Deseret News about filming in Utah:
“We looked all over the country and even in Canada, but ultimately Utah was the one place that had all the elements we were looking for.”

We agree that Utah is a great place to film and we are focusing our efforts during the Festival to sharing our story. Today through January 26, we will be hosting a series of discussions on timely industry topics and resources we offer artists.  Everything is on the table for discussion: finances, locations, casting, digital creators, equipment and more. Plus it’s a chance to connect directly with the Film Commissioner Virginia Pearce.   For those who are in Park City, stop by our space at 625 Main Street to have “Coffee with the Commish” or start your own conversations with other artists or attendees in our venue.  For a full schedule of events, visit our activation page: http://film.utah.gov/2017sff/.

Utah Film Commission on Main will transport you to far corners of the state and conjure up nostalgic feelings for Utah’s rich cinematic history. The wall graphics were designed by Shaylee Read, Creative and Design Lead for the Utah Office of Tourism who researched museum displays for inspiration.  Playing off the Film Commission’s tagline “The Story is Utah” she created a meandering timeline of some of the most iconic movies filmed in the Beehive State from 1920’s Westerns to the films screening at the Sundance Film Festival today. The black ink helps the colorful film stills pop and the retro typography helps start the walk down memory lane.  

When asked how the design looked when built to scale Shaylee said, “I was excited to see the final design and surprised to see how large it is in real life.  The whole space is very striking but when people enter the room you can see their eyes immediately go to the wall.”  She also elaborated on why she loved this project, “Leading up to Sundance I was surprised to learn just how many films were made in Utah.  It makes me proud of where I live.  I love helping promote Utah through my work and overall love promoting unique experiences through tourism.”

For those of you who are not at Sundance but want to follow the action, check out the Utah Film Commission’s Facebook page, Instagram and Snapchat. Or if you are curious about how we might be able to help your next project, review our incentives page here: https://film.utah.gov/incentives-information/

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

Thelma & Louise

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.

Somebody said get a life…so they did

The story of meek housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) and her independent friend Louise (Susan Sarandon) who embarked on a road trip that turned into a run from the law, took critics and audiences by storm in 1991.  Not only was the story line a little radical for the time, it had two female lead characters who were slightly older than what Hollywood typically featured and a bold ending that many didn’t see coming.  Check out the original trailer for a walk down memory lane.

Thelma and Louise is one of the most iconic films to be shot in Utah.  Along with early Westerns that courted the movie industry for a specific look at the West, this groundbreaking film solidified the Beehive state as a place to create a different type of film with the help of Utah’s scenic versatility and production power.  New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote in 1991, “‘Thelma and Louise’ is greatly enhanced by a tough, galvanizing country-tinged score, and by Adrian Biddle’s glorious cinematography, which gives a physical dimension to the film’s underlying thought that life can be richer than one may have previously realized. At the story’s end, as Thelma and Louise make their way through Monument Valley and to the Grand Canyon, the film truly lives up to its scenery.”

The scenery and setting of the gorgeous Southwest is a constant presence once the friends hit the road.  Sarandon told Harper’s Bazaar about filming in Utah, “It was a beautiful, beautiful place to be working. I felt like John Wayne. And we didn’t shoot at the Grand Canyon—it was in Utah, in Moab. The joke for a while was that there was only going to be a voice-over of us because of these amazing shots they were getting all the time.”

The film’s poster features Monument Valley and key scenes were filmed in the La Sal Mountain, Arches National Park and Canyonlands.  The final scene which is supposed to take place in the Grand Canyon actually takes place at Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah.  People flock to Southern Utah to take a “Thelma and Louise selfie” and even organize their own version of the infamous road trip with friends.

Critic Roger Ebert reviewed the film, gave it 3 and a half stars and said, “When I saw the movie, about seven weeks ago, I reacted to it strongly. It had the kind of passion and energy I remembered from the rebel movies of the late ’60s and early ’70s.”  Audiences can agree that ‘almost’ getting 4 stars from one of the most well respected critics is high praise and the mark of a great story.

Thelma and Louise was and is a great story and one that was written at odd hours by a tenacious music video line producer. Callie Khouri was 30 at the time and had never written a screenplay.  She was working in Los Angeles and after being the victim of two violent robberies channeled some of her personal experience and personality into the story.  On a drive home one evening she had a stroke of clarity where the story of Thelma and Louise came to life.  

The film’s writer Khouri told Vanity Fair: “Out of nowhere I thought, Two women go on a crime spree. That one sentence! I felt the character arcs—I saw the whole movie, I saw, in a flash, where those women started and where they ended up. Through a series of accidents, they would go from being invisible to being too big for their world to contain, because they’d stopped cooperating with things that were absolutely preposterous, and just became themselves.”

Khouri wrote the screenplay in her off hours and typed it out on her office computer during the day.  All that hard work paid off.  According to the Atlantic: In 1992, screenwriter Callie Khouri became one of a handful of women to win an Academy Award for best original screenplay, and Thelma & Louise earned more than $45 million at the U.S. box office. Sarandon and Davis were each nominated in the Best Actress category, and director Ridley Scott was nominated for Best Director.

Thelma and Louise just celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016 and Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon reflected on the impact and making of the film. The duo cover female representation in Hollywood, the surprise reactions to the film and some scoop on that infamous ending. For true fans this reunion will feel like having coffee with an old friend. And for people who just can’t believe the film ended the way it did, check out James Corden’s alternate endings to the film.

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

Footloose in the Beehive State

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.

“All he wanted to do was dance…”

In March of 2014 Kevin Bacon visited the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and proved he’s still got the moves he flaunted in Footloose filmed 30 years earlier in locations all over Utah.  Though dancing and gymnastics doubles were used for some of the complicated scenes, audiences can all agree the guy’s got moves.  The film tells the story of a teenager who moves to a small town where rock music and dancing has been banned.  But his rebellious spirit shakes up the town and makes him some friends along the way.

That famous mill:
In addition to launching Kevin Bacon into the spotlight, Footloose made a grain mill in Lehi, Utah a tourist hot spot.  Sherm Robinson, the owner of Lehi Roller Mills told the Deseret News he was approached by the film’s executive producer, Daniel Melnick, who often drove by the mill at sunset on his way to his home in Sundance and noticed the glow around the building.

“He said he’d always wanted to film a movie here, so he stopped in and spoke to me directly,” Robinson said. “I said, ‘Sure.’ ”

At the time of filming there was nothing around the mill though now the growth of Lehi has drawn in plenty of neighbors.  And Robinson says tourists come by regularly to stand where Kevin Bacon stood or dance where Ren McCormack danced.  They occasionally sell bags of flour to people who don’t intend to bake but want a memento from the iconic filming location.

You can see shots of the scenic mill while it was still in a relatively rural spot in Kenny Loggins’ very catchy Footloose music video.

School’s out:
To really get into character, Kevin Bacon spent a few days shadowing at Payson Utah High School. Once filming in the school began, many of the students served as extras in the film and got paid a cool $3.50 an hour to do it.

“We would have done it for free, so we thought it was pretty neat that we got paid!” says Stacey Measom, an extra and a member of Payson High School’s 1983 cheerleading squad. “Kevin Bacon and Sarah Jessica Parker were so nice to us. They posed for photos and signed autographs. We thought we were hot stuff!”

A regular in Utah:
Kevin Bacon returned to Utah many times after filming Footloose in 1984 for appearances at the Sundance Film Festival.  Audiences may remember him in early films like Lemon Sky that premiered in 1989 or in films as recent as 2015 when he starred in Cop Car.  He and his wife Kyra Sedgwick regularly share their time and talent with emerging artists that come through the Sundance Institute artist development labs at the Sundance Resort.  Plus he tours with his brother for their band The Bacon Brothers and has played a few gigs in Utah. 

The Song:
You can’t talk about Footloose without giving props to the famous Kenny Loggins hit. “Footloose” created for the film has been so wildly popular even the singer credits the film with sustaining his career.  It spent 3 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 list and is still a party starter today.  Earlier this year Kenny Loggins released a children’s book based on the tune. 

Utah is the story:
Footloose is another shining example of Utah’s contributions to movie history. Filmmaker Herbert Ross set the film in a fictional town called Bomont which is “somewhere in the Midwest” though when you see the gorgeous outdoor shots, Utah’s beauty is hard to miss.

 

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