Fantastic films will begin screening on Monday during FilmQuest, now the second-largest film festival in Utah with nearly 200 films showing at the Megaplex Gateway Theatre in Salt Lake City.

The six-day film festival opens three days prior to FantasyCon, which will host the inaugural festival featuring science fiction, fantasy and horror films by Utah filmmakers and more from around the world. The Beehive State has long been a destination for film projects, and gained an early reputation in the industry with its unmatched Western scenery and iconic mountain landscapes.

“There's true value in shooting here on a budget that will give you back $0.25 on each dollar you spend,” said Marshall Moore, director of the Utah Film Commission. “You can look at other states with bigger numbers, but then you have other inherent costs that you have to factor in.”

Film projects can apply to receive cash rebates or tax credits of up to 25 percent of dollars spent by production companies in the state. In 2011, Utah legislators updated the incentive program to include the higher 25 percent cap, and the current budget year has appropriated $6.79 million to the motion picture incentive account.

Moore said locations in other states may lack the infrastructure to support certain productions. Having access to local resources such as rental equipment and an experienced labor pool to draw from can ease restraints on out-of-state filmmakers’ travel budgets.

“All those costs factor in, so all of a sudden when somebody does their homework, they realize if (they’re) working on a 5 million dollar budget, Utah's the right place for this budget, and it's been proven over and over again,” Moore said.

Utah locations have been the backdrop in movies including “Billy the Kid” (1941) to Robert Redford playing the Sundance Kid in 1969 and more recently in “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which opens Friday.

Michael Bay directed the "Transformers" sci-fi action movie, and his team spent only a few days on location in May 2013 to shoot a part of the film in Moab. The production team spent approximately $800,000 in the state, but didn’t qualify for Utah’s motion picture incentive program since it failed to meet certain minimum local labor use and in-state spending requirements, Moore said.

"We have so many filmmakers planning to attend the festival from out of state,” said Jonathan Martin, director of FilmQuest, “(and) we can really show them what we're all about, that we make great movies here. That will hopefully encourage filmmakers to come back, not just for future festivals, but (to) also make their films here and participate."

Film festival screenings will include Oscar-nominated films as well as several world premieres. 

The festival targets fantasy fans and will host a series of panel discussions addressing the rise of the popular genre among audiences. Panels discussing the benefits of filming in Utah also will be open to attendees.

"FilmQuest is really a festival for the fantastic. So that means sci-fi, fantasy, horror -- the best in the world. And these are things that are actually at the top of the box office today," said Martin, who also serves on the board of directors for FantasyCon.

Martin approached Provo-based production company Arrowstorm Entertainment to partner with the festival to work with aspiring filmmakers. FilmQuest recently announced the top 10 finalists to a promotional event that called for unproduced screenplays from local artists.

Arrowstorm co-founders Jason Faller and Kynan Griffin will meet with up to three of these screenwriters and discuss potential development deals.

“We do science fiction and fantasy, and FilmQuest is of course focused on that genre,” Faller said. “It's of real interest to us to meet with these writers and find other projects that they're conceiving now … and find some new talent in the writing space.”

Faller and Griffin have been making films together in the valley for more than a decade now. After the duo finished film school, Griffin said there was an information vacuum on the business side of filmmaking.

“It was extremely frustrating, because we couldn’t get any data,” Griffin said.

He said part of Arrowstorm’s mission is bringing aspiring filmmakers in contact with professional opportunities. The FilmQuest unproduced screenplay competition is one avenue to fulfill that philosophy, and the local production company also has given feature film projects to a handful of first-time directors in the past.

“We love to help them out, share ideas with them, and let them know exactly how to get a film to the marketplace and even finance them if it’s a good fit (with Arrowstorm),” Griffin said. “That's what we do as Arrowstorm, we find young talent and nurture that talent.”

FilmQuest is said to be the only major festival event in the heart of summer. This event, along with an annual film festival held in Park City during winter months, potentially marks Utah as a virtual hub for developing major motion picture opportunities, particularly in-state filming projects.

“If Arrowstorm made one movie every year, it wouldn’t be hard to find that handful of people each time and work,” Faller said. “When we're making a new movie every other month, it's really crucial to us to have a community of filmmakers that's strong, that we have talent that's constantly being looked at and sourced and coached and mentored.”

Daily Herald reporter Casey Adams can be reached at cadams@heraldextra.com or (801) 344-2544 or on Twitter @casey907.

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