Next Level

The Next Level Grant Program kicked off in November 2018. Since then, we’ve supported local filmmakers through project funding, production assistance, and industry connections.

The Next Level Grant Program provides funding for local directors and producers that are currently working on a project in the state of Utah. The Utah Film Commission seeks to cultivate original storytelling by providing the extra push for filmmakers to get their film to the “next level”. This program is built for projects between $500 – $20,000. Larger budget projects can apply for our Community Film Incentive Program ($20,000 – $500,000) or our Motion Picture Incentive Program ($500,000+).


Want to learn more about the Next Level Grant Program? Check out our FAQ’s for additional information.



With the passing of SB5001, the Utah Film Commission’s available funding for sponsorships and grants was reduced for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1, 2020. Due to this reduction, we are reevaluating our Next Level Grant Program, but we hope to be able to reinstate the program in the future.


The Next Level Grant Program provides support and funding for local directors and producers to take their projects to the next level. Read through our frequently asked questions (FAQs). If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for, email film@utah.gov.

Learn more about the Next Level grantees

ROUND 1 – January 2019

Alex Woods and Shawn Saunders

Alex Woods was born in Bellevue, WA and grew up playing music. In college he studied theater and now he makes movies. He likes character-driven drama, whether it’s in a good movie, or a high-stakes NBA game.

Shawn was born and raised in Utah. He studied theatre at UVU where he first met Alex. He’s a videographer during the day and works on his personal theatre and film projects in the evenings.

The Wreath is a strange surreal tale about Genji, the main character (played by Morgan Gunter) who feels trapped in what he sees as a dead-end monotonous job. He cannot understand why others in his workplace do not share his desperate yearning to escape the soul-draining ennui. Each day, Steve, a colleague (Tyler Harris), who says he loves his assignment, looks forward to the break at noon, and seems oblivious to the man’s dire words. Genji dreads the entrenched ennui of his daily shift – the hours between noon and 5 p.m. are frozen in an excruciating repetition that apparently only he senses. But then he meats Ayla (Haeleigh Royall) who may know a way out.

Alex Woods and Shawn Saunders
Angela Rosales Challis and Conor Long

Angela and Conor come from very different backgrounds. As an immigrant from Bolivia, Angela has thrived in the United States as dance educator. In 2014, Angela received the “Art Educator of the Year Award.” She eventually fell in love with Screendance and has since focused her career on putting dance on screen.

Conor has spent his entire adult life working in the film industry as an independent writer/director, and has been lucky enough to shoot films all over the world. Conor has directed two feature films.

Manusa is a Screendance celebration of humanity, showing how far we’ve come and where we might be going. It is a journey through time that will immortalize the diverse people and landscapes of Utah, preserving the range of cultures and choreographies forever onto the screen.

Angela Rosalles Challes and Connor
Connor Rickman

Connor Rickman enjoys riding his bicycle, wearing hats, over-dressing for every occasion, eating all types of food, and traveling. He believes luxury is a state of mind and is fascinated by the mathematical concept of diminishing returns. His favorite thing to do is to make people laugh. Connor is a co-owner of Overcranked Pictures, a production services company that is part of the “Film Shop” Co-Op at Redman Movies along with Parking Garage Pictures, Owl Eyed Productions, CameraJack and Strawberry Sound.

The Whole Lot: After their father’s death, two estranged siblings meet to decide the fate of his estate, which includes an impressive collection of classic cars.

Connor Rickman (2)
Rylee Syme

Rylee is an aspiring filmmaker from Utah. She is a co-founder of a filmmaking collective named Nighttimer Productions, a group of mostly women and LGBTQ Folk interested in creating narrative film. For 6 years they’ve been making films as an attempt to learn and grow. Rylee has been using her time to hone in on her craft and figure out what kind of stories she wants to tell. Rylee has learned that it’s better to not wear every hat and trust talented people and that getting people excited and passionate is the most important thing she can do.

Casey is the story of David and Keith, two men taking their long-distance relationship to the next level when David moves in to Keith’s home. The house feels cold and surprisingly unwelcome to David, evidenced not only by new tension between the two but also by strange occurrences suggesting the presence of a third man in the relationship: Casey, the partner who went missing five years before. As the specter of Casey seems to grow stronger, the strength of David and Keith’s bond is tested to the near breaking point.

Rylee Syme

ROUND 2 – May 2019

Arthur Veenema

Arthur Veenema is a Utah-based director and screenwriter. He specializes in science-fiction and magical-realism narratives, and he is known for producing a series of short films examining the personal impacts of new technology. Arthur graduated from the University of Utah in 2015 with an Honors BFA in Film & Media Arts. He currently lives in Salt Lake City, UT working in the local film industry.

The Atomic Spawn is set in 1952 on a nuclear testing site in the west desert. We meet John Nguyen, a scientist who finds an irradiated egg out on a survey. During a fallout accident, John is sent into an underground bunker where the egg hatches into a baby monster. Now John is trying to hide the creature’s presence from his cruel boss, Director Pierce, while also dealing with the monster growing larger and more dangerous while he’s stuck with it in the fallout shelter. This film is a throwback to those fun drive-in sci-fi films about a boy bringing home his new pet with an apocalyptic diesel-punk vibe. 

Arthur Veenema Image
Dana Ware

Dana Ware is a Latina filmmaker and media artist based in Salt Lake City. Dana grew up on the east side of Los Angeles and holds an undergraduate degree from UCLA. She is currently pursuing two masters degrees from the University of Utah in film and electronic arts and engineering. Dana’s current focus is film and virtual reality experiences. Her work has been recognized by Google, the Los Angeles Times, as well as several other national and international organizations.

First Night is a virtual reality project that provides the opportunity to enter an abandoned house and view the life a disenfranchised Latina teenager on her first night squatting. The user is able to rewrite their memories as they interact with their environment.

Dana Ware
Morgan Pitcher

Morgan Pitcher is a 24-year-old visual artist, musician, and filmmaker from Park City, UT. He is a devout fan of cinema and all things animation. In middle school, Morgan was known for his YouTube success making dance videos to 2008 Britney Spears songs. Morgan just wrapped up his third year as an after-school student mentor in the Salt Lake City School District, but you may recognize him from any number of the silly customer service jobs he’s worked across the valley. Morgan’s dream is to one day earn the directorial drag nickname, “The Silver Queen.”

Show Me Your Teeth is a call-to-action drag dance video with design inspired by dystopian science fiction and information age technology. It examines corporate narcissism, neuromarketing, artificial intelligence, and technological dependence.

Morgan Pitcher
Sohrab Mirmont

Sohrab is an Iranian born filmmaker living in Salt Lake City. Sohrab has a film degree from Full Sail University and began professionally making films at age 20 in 2005. His first film was made at age 14 and when Sohrab was 21, his student film, ‘The Beautiful Wind’ won The New York International Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award. Since then, Sohrab has won 18+ awards and owns a small production company. Sohrab produces many projects including films and commercials.

Green Flake is about a southern slave who treks thousands of miles to become a Western hero.


ROUND 3, Pre-Production Phase – November 2019

Caitlin Burris

Caitlin Burris is originally from a small country town called Tehachapi, California. She attended UCLA, where she studied communications, film, and television. Upon graduating, she packed her skis and moved to Utah. Her first job was at Park City Television, where she wrote a commercial campaign that was awarded a regional Emmy for craft achievement in writing. Today, she serves as a copywriter at MRM/McCann. 

Keepsake is a narrative short film following high school student, Sophie. It’s been nearly ten years since Sopohie’s mom died, but her basketball legacy lives on. As high school tryouts are fast-approaching, Sophie is desperate to make the team. Along with the help of her dad, she must face her grief in order to better understand her mom and find her own voice along the way. 

Joshua Aukai Ligairi

Joshua Aukai Ligairi is a documentary filmmaker and podcaster. Ligairi began his award-winning directing and producing career with the documentary Cleanflix. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. Ligairi has launched the Movie Podcast Network and multiple podcasts including, The Documentary Blog Podcast and Horror Movie Podcast. From 2013 to 2019, Ligairi was honored with Utah Valley University’s “Distinguished Alumni Award” for his work in Journalism, served as Assistant Director on the HBO documentary Believer, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and was a Consulting Producer on the recently-released Long Gone Wild

Ligairi is currently in post-production on Northern Light, a feature-length documentary that he directed over several years, working with indigenous communities in the Interior of Alaskan. He has been focusing efforts toward future projects related to his Pacific Islander heritage.

Owyhee, covers a little-known true story about Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) working in the North American fur trapping industry in the early 1800s when three of the men mysteriously turned up dead. The film reflects some of the issues that our Pacific Islander people are facing today but does so through the lens of the true-life unsolved murder, and within the framework of a genre film. 

Joshua Ligairi Handheld
Taylor Graham

Taylor Graham is a multimedia storyteller and National Geographic Explorer based in Salt Lake City, UT. He has produced award-winning documentary films about the impacts of melting glaciers in the Indian Himalaya, the role of women in collecting water in Rajasthan’s urban slums, and the impacts of climate change and the history of water infrastructure development in the Southwest. Graham aims to use storytelling to explore the impacts of climate change on water resources and advocate for the protection of the world’s last free-flowing rivers.

Cooley is a short documentary film that focuses on Colleen Cooley, a Diné (Navajo) river guide on the San Juan River who works to share native perspectives and issues through her work. The film features Colleen’s personal journey in order to highlight native views on issues of water resource management, which are often missing from mainstream discussions of Western water challenges. 

Zeppelin Zeerip

Zeppelin Zeerip is a filmmaker, snowboarder, and conservationist. He knew that he wanted to pursue filmmaking when he was in the midst of an undergraduate degree in International Business at Westminster College. Zeppelin and a few friends teamed up to create the documentary film Far From Home, which was Red Bull TV’s first-tier A release.

Joint Effort: At 12 years old, Zeppelin’s sister, Zoe, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and though 50 million Americans live with an autoimmune disease, far fewer are willing to talk about it. The prognosis was disturbing, and beyond the comprehension of a 12-year-old Zoe as she struggled to understand the disease that she would have to live with for the rest of her life. Joint Effort is an ode to Zoe and her ability to wake up every day and defy a disease that conspires to hold her down. 

Through a narration, written to her arthritis as if it were an abusive ex, Zoe poetically details her relationship with arthritis. Her story is one of resilience and strength, the story of a young girl who refuses to be stopped. Zoe’s goal is to leverage her story as an opportunity to show that an arthritis diagnosis doesn’t mean life ends; it simply means you’ve got to adapt and move forward. 

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 11.23.35 AM

ROUND 4, Principal Photography Phase – March 2020

Cody Petersen

Cody Petersen has been in the industry for about ten years working as a camera operator. Cody was most recently the in-house DP for Vivint Smart Home but recently left to focus on building his own business.

The Hitchhiker and the Cowboy: Two men are stranded in the desert when their car breaks down. One, a rough looking “cowboy” type, the other a hitchhiking hipster. If being stranded in the desert with gruff stranger who isn’t one for conversation isn’t enough, when Hitchhiker searches the car for something to drink he makes a discovery that strikes fear about Cowboy’s true intentions.

Cody photo
Danny Schmidt

Danny Schmidt is a full time documentary filmmaker and Salt Lake City native. Danny works primarily as a DP, but several times a year, he has the privilege of directing/producing short nonfiction films. Traveling frequently for production, Danny works for major outlets like PBS, National Geographic, Netflix, and Smithsonian. 

Janwaar Castle: Skate. Educate. Build community. These are the pillars of Janwaar Castle – the greatest skatepark you’ve never heard of. In the small village of Janwaar, India, the skateboard is more than four wheels and a board. Here it is a vehicle for social change, gender equality, and education. Janwaar Castle follows the of kids of Janwaar whose lives are being transformed by skateboarding. The kids are navigating new territory as they defy the patriarchy, walk away from arranged marriages, and start to see beyond their village walls.

Maxim and Lucy Nebeker

Maxim and Lucy Nebeker are a twin brother and sister filmmaking duo. Maxim and Lucy are Salt Lake natives and have been interested in filmmaking since they were young. After finishing college, they rejoined forces to create the production company Castor & Pollux Studios. The two are full-time filmmakers who hope to create a new lexicon of folklore in the Rocky Mountain region in order to add their voice to the already vibrant Utah arts community. 

The Dowager: In order to stop her dead husband from abandoning her and their farm, an elderly woman shoots her husband’s wing off as he ascends to heaven in the form of an angel. Unable to come to terms with his death she locks him in the chicken coop and attempts to restore his humanity. 

Max and Lucy Nebeker Photos
Sabi Lowder

Sabi Lowder (pronounced like “Abby” with an “S”) is a writer and filmmaker with a passion for social justice and long drives through the desert. Prior to entering the doc world, Sabi was a leader in her community as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence and community organizing. She’s most driven by her desire to tell engaging stories for marginalized audiences rather than about them.

Like Home is a short film profiling four first generation immigrants as they navigate coming of age in the U.S. With parents from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, these young adults work to find their own voices in a world between East and West. Like Home is a story of survival as they learn to thrive in the tension between cultures.

Sage Bennett

Sage Bennett is a filmmaker from Chicago and currently resides in Salt Lake City. Sage works primarily as a commercial director with Namesake Content, a Salt Lake based production company, along with Boogie Nights, a company based in Paris. Sage is passionate about telling stories that make people feel a little less alone in this shared human experience. 

Sisterhood: Two sisters must learn to reconcile their differences or be forced to deal with the collapse of their family and their parents divorce all alone.

Sage Bennett_Photo

ROUND 5, Post-Production Phase – June 2020

Brady Perron

Brady Perron grew up in New Hampshire and moved to Utah to go forward with a pro skiing career and to attend Westminster College. After winning two X Games gold medals, Brady channeled his creative energy from skiing into a career in video production. Brady has developed, shot, marketed and edited films/braded content for Armada Skis, Elaine Hersby, Monster Energy, Treefort Lifestyles, Full Tilt, etc.

Ball of Wax: An old Utah man, Jube, reflects on his past and heritage with his friend/filmmaker/neighbor, who works with him on a small city farm plot. The filmmaker friend reveals the man’s growing age, youthful tendencies, strong spiritedness. He is eager to pass the torch. The film follows a wholesome relationship built between grandfather, grandson, and filmmaker.

Brady Perron Headshot
Isaac S. Cole

Isaac Cole’s filmmaking passion started at the Tower Theater in his hometown of Salt Lake City and eventually lead him to study film production at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating in 2012, he went on to work for acclaimed NYC documentary filmmakers, Jules and Gideon Naudet. Isaac then moved to The Zapata Ranch, a 103,000 acre Bison ranch in Colorado, where he created short documentaries for their blog “The Ranchlands Review.” Shortly after, Isaac returned home to Utah where he started working as a fly fishing guide and continued to make and work on films. His most recent short film “Lucy In The Morning” premiered at the 2019 Davey Foundation Film Festival and is now streaming online at Nobudge.com.

Cast. Mend. Set: A jaded fly fishing guide who went to a fancy photography school in New York, thought that he was destined to be a famous artist. He is reminded by his elderly client to appreciate how good he has it, right now, despite not being the famous artist he once dreamed of being. It’s a bittersweet story of life and dreams and appreciating the present.


“The Next Level Grant Program is our way of giving a small boost to emerging filmmakers. We strongly believe in developing careers for our Utah filmmakers here at home.”

– Virginia Pearce, Director, Utah Film Commission