Costner’s ‘Horizon: An American Saga’ opens opportunities for students, pumps up Southern Utah economy

ST. GEORGE— The Kevin Costner series of films shot in scenic Southern Utah is leaving more than hoof prints on the red sand by offering students hands-on set experience and boosting the local economy.

This file photo shows a scene from Kevin Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga,” filmed in Southern Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, St. George News

The award-winning director and actor’s epic Western “Horizon: An American Saga” has recently been shooting in the area. The four-part series, “Chapter 1,” will be released June 28, and “Chapter 2” will land Aug. 16.

Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Sales and Events Manager Joyce Kelly told St. George News the productions provide a unique experience for film students at Utah Tech University and Dixie Applied Technology College.

“The films help us grow our colleges and the industry here and … try to keep those kids here,” Kelly said.

Kelly added that the students the residents are educating with their tax dollars usually have to find work elsewhere.

Horizons: An American Saga” promotional poster | Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures / New Line Cinema, St. George News

Utah Tech’s digital film program, along with Greater Zion, developed a pipeline with Costner’s “Horizon” productions, allowing many advanced students to get professional experience on set.

Patrick Smith, the program director for Utah Tech’s digital film department and co-director of Utah Tech Creative Studios, told St. George News that students have been hired for full-time and part-time positions. Students have also been employed as production assistants in various departments on the Horizon film sets of chapters 2 and 3, including the production, locations and camera departments.

Smith added that to ensure students can accept these positions, Utah Tech developed academic accommodations allowing them to complete their schoolwork remotely while employed on set and receive course credit for their work on set.

“This new approach aligns with our newly redesigned program, which focuses heavily on professional job placement, internships and paid professional set experiences during the final two years of studying within the digital film major,” Smith said. “This allows our students to graduate with a full resume of professional experience, reduced student loan payments, a network of professional references for future gigs, and inside knowledge of how current productions function. ”

Director and actor Kevin Costner’s in “Horizon: An American Saga,” filmed in Southern Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, St. George News

Smith said students bring their experiences on set back to the classroom and the advanced sets. The Utah Tech program produces about 80 films a year, each with crews between 15-25 students and real-world budgets of up to $100,000 in-kind, he added.

Utah Tech Creative Studios was launched to facilitate these types of professional learning experiences. Last year, the studio employed over 40 students on paid professional film productions, including commercials, television, feature films and social media.

The Southern Utah film industry tide is also rising with Cosnter’s upcoming Territory Film Studios, which he is building in St. George and potentially hosting many projects. Kelly confirmed that the studio will break ground in August.

The Territory Film Studios will feature two sound studios, a production warehouse, office space and a Costner-themed restaurant. The complex will be 150,000-plus square feet and is part of a collaboration with Development Solutions Group, Inc.

Kelly pointed out that the film series boosts the local economy and serves as “earned media,” attracting tourists to Southern Utah and contributing to its economic growth. Calculations show that the production of the two “Horizon” films in Washington County will generate more than $90 million in local economic impact.

Local lodging properties have experienced a significant boost in business with the film crew’s presence. Kelly anticipates their return in August, a typically slow season for the St. George area, which will further stimulate the local economy.

This file photo shows the film set for “Horizon: An American Saga 2,” directed by Kevin Costner (right), copyright Territory Pictures, Inc., Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Fred Hayes, St. George News

Wittwer Hospitality Group spokesperson Josh Sutton told St. George News that while it is hard to quantify the exact amount of the impact of the “Horizon” production, based on Smith Travel Research data, occupancy in the St. George area was up 12% over last year during the dates the production team was in town.

“The revenue generated on 12% more occupied rooms is substantial and flows beyond the hotel to other local businesses,” Sutton said. “We are grateful to have Horizon in Greater Zion and look forward to the film’s success.”

When the Costner crews were in the area during May and June, they were finishing the second installment of the film series. Kelly said Costner was very busy filming and editing the movie to make the August timeline. Some locations for the second film include the LaVerkin Overlook, Trees Ranch, which lies at the foothills of Zion National Park, and Apple Valley. Kelly said shots from these locations will be in the closing montage of the first movie to tease the second film.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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