Movies, both big budget and independent, have been a part of Utah’s economy since Hollywood was enamored by the state’s rugged Western landscapes during the John Wayne era. As the recently appointed director of the Utah Film Commission, Virginia Pearce brings more than a dozen years of experience to her new role, as well as a plan to expand the local film industry’s horizons further than ever before.
Have you always been passionate about film?
I loved film growing up. A lot of my early memories are of seeing movies with my family and friends. I volunteered one winter at the Sundance Film Festival, which I had been attending for years, and that started a 12-year career there. I don’t think I purposely thought I was going into the film industry, but it definitely made sense once I did.
How did your experience working for the Sundance Film Festival prepare you for this new position?
My role was to ensure that all the artists who came to Sundance had what they needed to get the most out of their experience. I started the alumni network with the intent of keeping them engaged and interested in what the institute was doing. One of my favorite things was watching what happens when creative people are put together with the resources they need. I spent a lot of time nurturing communities of artists and audiences, both of which are equally passionate about film.
What draws filmmakers to Utah?
It pays to film in Utah. We have a fully refundable tax credit program that renews every year, and we have the support of the state Legislature to keep it going. Our local industry is very talented, and they’re experienced because we’ve been having film production in Utah for years.
Our location is obviously another benefit. When people think of Utah, they think of beautiful desert and desolate, wild spaces. But we also have the urban and small-town America locations that a lot of films are looking for, and they’re easily accessible by major airport. Plus, we’re close to Los Angeles.
What does film contribute to the state’s business economy?
Currently, we have over 2,000 people registered in our directory, so there’s a significant amount of people working in the film industry in Utah. In the last year, productions spent about $54 million total here. We do give a tax credit incentive to some of those, but not all. There are a number of productions that just come in, hire people locally and use our services, and they leave little impact on our state.
What are your plans for taking Utah’s film industry to the next level?
What’s great about the time we’re in right now is that we have all of the ingredients for a thriving film industry. There’s so much innovation and creativity happening here. What I feel I bring to the table is a new perspective on how to market the assets we already have. I’m looking at a long-term strategic plan that grows not only film production, but also industry employment, infrastructure, educational programs, new business development and film tourism. There’s so much that goes into helping create this united industry. It’s about creating the plan and getting the right partners at the table.