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Utah will be stage for Mars in new Disney Pixar film

Published June 11, 2009 7:01 pm

Film » The deal will bring millions to the state and employ nearly 400 Utahns.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

First as the planet Vulcan and now the red rocks of Mars, Utah has become Hollywood's destination spot for depicting exotic intergalactic worlds.

Disney and Pixar, makers of classic animated movies such as "Toy Story" and the recent hit "Up," are expected to partly film the pulp science-fiction adventure "John Carter of Mars" in Utah from November to July 2010.

Portions of the Beehive State will double as Mars, including Lake Powell (where the original "Planet of the Apes" was partially filmed), Moab, and Kane and Wayne counties.

In exchange for filming here, the production will receive a tax credit through the state's film incentive program. On Thursday, the Governor's Office of Economic Development board approved an application for the credit submitted by the movie's production company.

"It's the biggest movie we've ever used incentives on," said Utah Film Commission executive director Marshall Moore. "We haven't seen these kinds of numbers since doing a TV series for a year."

The San Rafael Swell already doubled as the planet Vulcan in this year's summer blockbuster "Star Trek," but second-unit crews only shot for four days in Utah.

Disney is scheduled to shoot in Utah for 45 days. The story, based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs science-fiction book series -- which begins with A Princess of Mars -- is about an American Civil War veteran who is transported to Mars to face a series of adventures.

Burroughs, who was born in Chicago, was no stranger to Utah, working as a railroad police officer in Salt Lake City in 1904.

The movie has been in development for several years, and noted directors Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City") and Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") were at one time slated to direct the live-action film. The movie, which is planned for release in 2012, will be directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo," "WALL-E").

According to a GOED executive summary, the filmmakers are committed to spend $27.7 million in the state and employ 398 Utahns during the seven months of pre-production and shooting. In turn, the production would receive a $5.5 million tax credit under the state's incentive program.

In the past, the comedy "Unaccompanied Minors" resulted in $16 million being spent in Utah, while "High School Musical 3" resulted in $14 million.

Meanwhile, chances that a remake of the musical "Footloose" will be filmed in Utah are slipping away, Moore said.

The remake is based on the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon as a high-school student who learns his rural high school has outlawed dancing.

There were several reasons that Utah was the ideal place to shoot the new film: It is being directed by Kenny Ortega, who helmed all of the "High School Musical" movies here. The original was shot mostly in Lehi, while the film is set in a small, conservative rural town.

But Moore said it looks like the project may film in Georgia, which is offering a higher film incentive than Utah. "It's not as hot as it was for us," he said. "But I think we're still in the mix."

Chace Crawford ("Gossip Girl") has been cast in the lead; Utah's Julianne Hough and "Heroes" co-star Hayden Panettiere are being considered for the female lead.

About the books

While Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan series of books, he also wrote the John Carter of Mars stories, a pulp science fiction serial about a Civil War veteran who is transported to Mars. The first in the book series, A Princess of Mars, was published in 1917.