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Actor Lucas Grabeel, best known as the flashy teen thespian in "High School Musical," is based in Los Angeles, but he's spent a lot more time acting in Utah than in Tinseltown.
In the past three years, he's shot six films here, ranging from the Disney Channel's "Halloweentown High" to the recent smash TV movie "High School Musical 2."
And Grabeel perfectly understands why he and producers keep coming back to the Beehive State.
"It's an amazing place to film," he said on the set of his latest movie, a musical called "Lock and Roll Forever." "Not only are [filmmakers] getting tax breaks filming here, but 40 miles outside of Salt Lake there is every kind of geographical landscape to shoot in."
Grabeel's sentiments evidently are shared by a number of filmmakers who have turned this fall season into a veritable hive of filming activity in Utah, a stark contrast to the rather tepid summer, when only a handful of projects were made.
This month alone, four films were simultaneously shooting in Salt Lake County: "Lock and Roll Forever," a live-action/animated musical/comedy about six Japanese girl rockers who come to America; the Disney Channel comedy "Dadnapped," starring "Hannah Montana" co-star Emily Osment; the thriller "The Cusp," described as "Medium" meets "CSI"; and the Tom Arnold comedy "The Jerk Theory."
Last September, the independent film "Yankles," about an Orthodox Jewish baseball team, was shot in Utah, while the Disney Channel wrapped another shoot in Salt Lake County on "Minute Men." Meanwhile, filmmaker Dave Boyle wrapped shooting this fall on his Japanese culture comedy "White on Rice."
Going into the winter and spring, actor/director James Keach is expected to shoot "Waiting for Forever" here, and the producers of "High School Musical" will go to Provo in January to shoot the musical "American Mall." In the spring, they will return to East High School, of course, for "High School Musical 3."
"Without having a television series, our office is doing the best we can by bringing films here," said Marshall Moore, executive director for the Utah Film Commission.
Producer Don Schain and his Salt Lake City-based Salty Pictures have brought movie projects to Utah for years thanks in part to an unofficial partnership with the Disney Channel. He's shot 40 films in the state in the past 15 years, 19 for the network.
Just two weeks ago, his production was filming inside the Masonic Temple on South Temple and 700 East for "Dadnapped," turning one of the main rooms inside into a flashy hotel lobby.
He said he hardly had a one-day break between wrapping "Minute Men" and starting production on "Dadnapped."
"There are two reasons for [the film production increase this season]," Schain said. "These [Hollywood] strikes are having an effect - people want films in the can by June 30. And back in June, it became clear that Utah needed to do something more competitive with its incentives."
This fiscal year, the Legislature allocated $4 million to its incentive fund to bring film projects to Utah. And this summer, the governor's office increased the rebate filmmakers get for shooting here from 10 percent to 15 percent of what productions spend in the state.
"That 5 percent made a big difference," the film commission's Moore said.
The film commission, along with Schain, who is the president of the Motion Picture Association of Utah, has lobbied to increase incentives for filmmakers to shoot in the state after New Mexico, Louisiana and Massachusetts lured projects away with more lucrative deals. Filmmakers also can shoot in Utah with less money because the crews are nonunion.
Producer Barry Rosenbush, who brought "High School Musical" to the masses, has shot six movies in the state in the past 2 1/2 years, including an erotic horror movie called "Animals," which he shot last summer, and "American Pastime," a baseball movie about Japanese internees during World War II. His next two films after "Lock and Roll Forever" will be shot here, and he and his partner want to open a production office in Salt Lake City.
"I try to use the same people because I trust them," he said, sitting on the set of a Japanese music club built in a Salt Lake City warehouse for "Lock and Roll Forever." "That's why I come here all the time. It's my Utah family."
Busy film slate
These films were shot or will be shot during 2007 in Utah, according to the Utah Film Commission:
* HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2 - Troy, Gabriella and the gang return for the sequel to the hit Disney Channel made-for-TV movie musical.
* THE RISING - A zombie TV series set in an apocalyptic world. The first few episodes were shot in Utah.
* HOUSE OF FEARS - A mystery about kids who break into a supposed haunted house and find out it's really haunted.
* RED CANYON - Murder mystery about a group of friends who return to the scene of a crime that happened 20 years earlier only to find out the killer is still there.
* ANIMALS - An erotic horror thriller about werewolf-like creatures preying on humans.
* MINUTEMEN - Disney Channel comedy about high-school kids who discover they can travel back moments in time.
* DADNAPPED - Disney Channel movie with Emily Osment as the daughter of a kids' spy novelist who must save her father from evildoers.
* LOCK AND ROLL FOREVER - An all-girl Japanese band comes to America thanks to a music producer with big dreams.
* JERK THEORY - In this comedy, a guy has a theory that the more you act like a jerk toward women, the more the more they're attracted to you.
* YANKLES - New comedy about an Orthodox Jewish baseball team.
* A MONSTER IN THE ATTIC - Two kids are intimidated by unseen monsters in this family horror film.
* ADVENTURES OF FOOD BOY - Teenage boy discovers in this comedy movie that he can make food appear in his hands.
* THE CUSP - A thriller in which a medium tries to solve serial killings.