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Lawrence Kasdan, the director and screenwriter of Hollywood hits such as "The Big Chill" and "Body Heat," has a vacation home in Telluride, Colo.

But when it came to making a movie, "Darling Companion," inspired by an incident that happened to him and his family in Colorado, he came instead to Utah.

For an independent movie with a budget of $5 million, it all comes down to money. "We came to Utah, where there are nice rebates, and we needed them," Kasdan said in a recent phone interview.

Utah is a player in the national game of luring Hollywood film productions to distant locations. When Kasdan shot "Darling Companion" in the fall of 2010, the state's tax incentive for movie and TV production was a 20 percent tax rebate. Now, the incentive can go up to 25 percent under certain conditions, putting it equal to neighboring New Mexico.

The movie — which Kasdan co-wrote with his wife, Meg, and directed — stars Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline as Beth and Joseph, a married couple drifting apart. Joseph is a surgeon obsessed with his work, leaving little time for Beth. Beth rescues a dog abandoned on the side of the highway and bonds with the animal, naming it Freeway.

A year after the rescue, when the couple are in the Colorado Rockies for the wedding of their daughter ("Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss) — to a veterinarian she met in the course of rescuing the dog — Joseph takes Freeway out for a walk in the woods and loses him.

Kasdan made the most of the Utah locations. For the couple's vacation home, two cabins at the Sundance resort were used. When several characters have coffee at a Telluride landmark, it's actually a restaurant in Park City. Locations around American Fork doubled for a wooded hiking trail on which Beth and Joseph get lost.

With a cast of familiar Hollywood faces and indie actors — including Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer ("Angels & Demons") — Kasdan filled in some smaller roles with Utah actors.

One of those was Anne Cullimore Decker, a local stage veteran.

Decker's agent told her there was a role available and called her in to audition. "They did not tell me it was Larry Kasdan," Decker said. "They said, 'We didn't want you to get nervous.' "

Decker read for two roles. One was a red-headed woman whom Jenkins and Duplass encounter during the search for Freeway. The other was the role of Kline and Wiest's mother.

"They told me, 'You just don't look old enough' " to play the mother, Decker said. (For the record, Decker is 76; Kline and Wiest are both 64.)

"[Kasdan said] 'I want to see her again, want to see what the makeup people could do to age her,' " Decker said. After that test, Decker got the part.

It's only one scene and was supposed to be a one-day shoot, Decker said — but because of bad weather, it was stretched to three days.

In the downtime, Decker said, she had "great conversations" with the stars, particularly Kline and Jenkins. "Both men are very interesting human beings who go far beyond being actors," she said.

For Utah actors, Decker said, film work is a gift that keeps on giving. "I'm still getting residuals for 'The Capture of Grizzly Adams,' " she said, of a film that was shot 30 years ago.

Kasdan's career has been firmly within the Hollywood studio system (his first two screenwriting credits are for co-writing "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). "Darling Companion," which was picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classic, was his first independent film.

"The surprising thing is there's very little difference," Kasdan said. "Essentially it's the same activity every day. There's still a lot of trucks there, and people there to do the work. You never have enough time, just like a studio movie."

Kasdan used a mostly local crew and said he "was surprised about how deep [the talent] is."

"The spirit is fantastic," he said. "People live in Salt Lake City and drive to the locations. They're great people. Everybody entered into it in the best kind of spirit."

Decker sees "Darling Companion" as an example of what Utah can offer Hollywood.

"We've got so much going for us," she said. "We've got the scenery, we've got technical people that know the business, we have the equipment. We also have a work ethic. Maybe it's the Mormon pioneer heritage or whatever. People are reliable, and they do what they're supposed to do."

'Darling Companion'

Now playing • Lawrence Kasdan's comedy "Darling Companion" opens today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas, 111 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Review • on page E2

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