BEGA METZNER: "The Moab to Monument Valley region has an extraordinary diversity of dynamic landscapes that work for any number of projects".

04/30/2019

This month while she was visiting Barcelona, we took the opportunity to interview Bega Metzner, film commissioner of the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission.

This Film Commission is the oldest Film Commission in the world and was born thanks to the filming of the first western movies in search of spectacular landscapes. They have also served to host science fiction films such as Star Trek, series like Westworld or movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. What brought you to Barcelona?

Last summer, five boys from Moab were invited to train with the Barça Academy US and ISL when they went to a soccer camp in Salt Lake City. One of them was my son. We had to do a huge fundraising campaign to afford to get them all there. They (with help from parents and friends) baked hundreds of cookies and dog biscuits and made jam and sold them online and at the winter craft fair. They were able to raise money as well from generous donations on Gofundme to get to Barcelona! Two of the boys, brothers of Mexican heritage, had never been out of the US or on an airplane! Another boy had never been out of the US. It was pretty amazing! They had a fantastic experience and learned so much! 

 

You began working as an assistant at the film commission. When did you become Film Commissioner and could you describe your role at the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission?

I first visited in Moab in 1989 on a photo shoot. I was captivated by the spectacular scenery and years later returned to live and work in the area, where I was hired as the assistant director of the film commission. I soon after became the Director of the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission in December of 2015, where my role is as the key contact for the film, television and production communities. Those communities bring jobs and services to the local area - as well as provide lasting, positive images, for the regions captured in their projects. I work as a behind-the-scenes facilitator in the production process (overseeing everything from liaising with local authorities on issues of policing, permitting, and traffic management, to set safety), in order to ensure a smooth and efficient filming process throughout.

The film commission also provides information about local resources, including locations, crew members and business services. Keeping business locally-based serves to bolster the professionals based in our area, and brings valuable revenue that benefits a wide range of businesses and helps stoke the economy.

 

Established in 1949, the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission is the longest running film commission in the world. Thanks to western films and John Ford. Your iconic landscapes are perfect for westerns, but for sci-fi and adventure films too. Star Trek, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Hulk, Westworld, 127 hours are just some of the projects that have shot in your territory. Is diversity one of your best assets?

Yes, the Moab to Monument Valley region has an extraordinary diversity of dynamic landscapes that work for any number of projects. Our red rocks (full of caves, canyons, tunnels, and arches) are well-known; and while they have been attracting film makers since the earliest days of the Western genre (the impetus for our 70 year-old film commission), many people don’t realize we also have mountain ranges with alpine lakes, fall foliage and snowbound yurts, or sand dunes, ghost towns, and expansive lakes. Every cliff and canyon has something new to offer.

In addition to westerns, our arid deserts have made countless appearances as Mars or other galactic destinations (for example, John Carter and Transformers 4), as well as backdrops for adventure sports dramas, high-end fashion shoots, and music videos. Our endless miles of desolate roads range from newly-paved highways to rugged four-wheeling roads, and have featured prominently in hundreds of movies (Thelma and Louise, Forrest Gump) and commercials.

 

With all these movies, tv commercials and series working in the area. How do you work to protect the land and maintain that beauty? Do you have a green filming agenda?

A large percentage of the land in our area is federal, with the Bureau of Land Management, two National Parks, a National Recreation Area, and National Forest. State lands are also well represented through several state parks and trust lands. All of these agencies work tirelessly to protect our public lands, and have a series of rules and regulations that must be followed to obtain a permit to film within their borders. They put the environment and ecology of the land first, and we are grateful to have so much public land available for filming and other recreational activities – even when it means not flying drones along the cliffs when the raptors are nesting or avoiding places where the delicate cryptobiotic soil would get trampled.

 

Movies are the best tourist commercial too. They attract a lot of tourists that want to see the places where these movies were filmed. How do you relate tourism and movies? Do you make tourists movie routes for example?

We don’t have an official movie route for tourists, but we have information around town on past movies that have filmed here. We are also currently joining forces with the BLM and a local trail organization to create a “Hollywood Western” equestrian trailhead, where riders will be able to tour some of the epic scenery from Wagonmaster, Rio Grande, Battle at Apache Pass, and even the new Westworld. In the meantime, we suggest visitors check out Hwy. 128, which winds through the Colorado River Corridor, and where the above movies were filmed. Or take a drive up to Dead Horse Point and take in scenery from Thelma and Louise, The Lone Ranger, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. And of course, no trip to Moab would be complete without a visit to Arches National Park, where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Hulk, and John Carter all spent time.

 

Regarding your experience, which was the most complicated shooting that you have ever faced?

I would have to say that I have been very lucky overall with the projects that have filmed here. Many of them have had moments of complications but I rather enjoy the moments when you have to dig deep and figure stuff out. Those are the fun parts for me (maybe not for the productions though.) For example, there was a music video filming that asked for a baby grand piano to be brought out to a remote red rock area by the following morning of a holiday weekend… I made a number of calls and by a few hours later they had access to four individuals with pianos willing to make the trip and even to use their trucks and trailers to help make the move. It helps to live in a small community where if I don’t know someone myself I probably know someone who does. Collaboration is key.

 

Which are the principal problems you face in your daily work?

Trying to learn how to not answer the phone at all hours of every day would be one of the principal problems. My new joke is hashtag alwaysworking (which isn’t really a joke because it’s real life.) 

It’s not a daily problem but getting the expenditure information from projects both big and small once they have wrapped always seems to be the hardest part. It is not a requirement for productions to work with the film commission so oftentimes jobs come in and shoot and if I don’t know about them it’s hard to get the information which shows the economic impact the film work brings to our area. And it is difficult to get local spend information even when they have made use of the film commission.

 

Your work with the film industry to create benefits and incentives for filming in your territory. Tell us about your motion picture incentive program.

Our office in rural Utah gets some of the projects that might receive the incentive money but The Motion Picture Incentive Program is handled by the state office, The Utah Film Commission, out of Salt Lake City. The film incentive offers a fully refundable tax credit up to 25 percent on in-state spend.

The Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission is here to help filmmakers and production people find the perfect locations and connect to local resources. We offer on-the-ground services to help find the perfect spot to shoot, the right hotel for your crew, the correct permitting agency, or the PAs to staff your production. Our goal is to enrich both the experience and final product of the project, as well as our local community, by doing the groundwork to connect people and places.

 

You organize a Media Hive. A kind of networking for the sector, how did this idea begin and how does it work?

Moab is a town that attracts a lot of artistic people, which means a lot of people with a history in production make this their home. We wanted an event that would bring those people out of the woodwork to collaborate with each other, as well as to provide a local crew base for visiting productions in need of a specific crewmember. There are a lot of locals who grew up around a rotating cast of Hollywood legends, and there are also a lot of locals who moved here after working in production. Our goal is to provide an informal forum where people can meet and hangout, talk production, and make themselves more visible if they want to continue to work in film in the area. Community is very strong in Moab, and Media Hive: Mix & Mingle is allowing us to tap into that strength. We meet on the third Thursday of every month at a local parlor. We provide tapas and a good time.

 

The film commission has a short film competition too. Is this a way to incentive creativity and the work of the young filmmakers?

This November will be our first one! We want to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the film commission by hosting the Moab Showdown: 49 Hour Short Film Competition. We are certainly hoping to draw young filmmakers to the Showdown. We are working with the local secondary schools to create a curriculum around completing a short film, and will have an award category for non-professionals. Filming on public land can be daunting for fledgling filmmakers, when faced with permitting and monitoring, so by pre-permitting a list of locations, we’re hoping to eliminate that hurdle from the process. We really just want to see people out capturing this epic landscape in new and unique ways! We would love to have filmmakers from all over the world come and compete as well. Information and registration will be available in the coming months at www.moabshowdown.com. The dates are November 7-10th, 2019.

 

It’s important too to approach the community to the movies and the work that you are doing. Are the free screenings a way to do that?

Absolutely. We do free screenings in collaboration with the Moab city recreation department in one of our local parks for the community twice a month from April through October. We show mostly kids’ movies, hand out free popcorn and a run a free raffle to win DVD of the movie that was shown that night. It’s a really fun and engaging way to interface with the community. We also sponsor occasional free documentary screenings indoors at out historic Star Hall in collaboration with our local public library and the Utah Film Center. Those bring a whole different crowd of local community members. The beauty of film is that everybody enjoys a good movie, and we love bringing the magic of the (inflatable) silver screen to our community.

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