A brief history of the Utah Filmmakers™ Association

The Utah Filmmakers™ Association (UFA™) was founded in 2002 by Joe Puente and Lawrence & Lana Gardner in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County, Utah, with the mission of fostering collaboration between filmmakers and promoting filmmaking as an art form and an industry.

UFA™ Logo
(Circa 2004)
The organization’s initial efforts included several community-based projects concentrated in central Utah including high school workshops, guest lectures at Snow College, screening events, after-school programs, and a 4-H filmmaking club. It also oversaw the production of short films and a documentary-style variety program called “Section One TV” for the regional telecommunications firm CentraCom Interactive.

Utah Filmmakers™ rebranded itself a few times as its mission evolved over the years. A number of other established organizations in the state were already effectively meeting most of the needs of local filmmakers and UFA™ leadership did not want to duplicate those efforts, preferring to support and promote existing programs.

The organization has maintained an active online presence in an effort to be better informed about local filmmaking projects, programs, and events. Concurrent with the growth of social media, a number of forums had been set up with goals similar to those of Utah Filmmakers™—primarily, bringing people together to make movies. Most of these groups were started independently of one another yet their membership consisted of mostly the same people. “I started to notice something,” Joe relates. “Whenever I was on set, I usually saw the same people on the film crews but I rarely saw any of them at the local networking events—and it wasn't often that I saw the regular networking attendees working on set.”

In 2014, Joe was hired by Ben Fuller to work on a commercial campaign for the Utah State Fair—Ben was a Managing Partner at mediaRif for over a decade, as well as the curator and host of the Channel 801 screening series and podcast. On their way to a location shoot, Fuller made an observation to Joe, “...you’re one of the few people that I know who has their foot in the local film industry as well as in the local film community.”As membership numbers continued to rise, and Joe's active administration style began to stand out, group members started to assume that Joe was the one who had started the Facebook group. Whenever that came up, he would remind them that it was actually Ben Hawker that started it, he just asked Joe to help him as an admin. Ben was eventually asked to be on the Board of Directors for Utah Filmmakers since the group had basically become so closely identified with Joe and the organization. He agreed and eventually, the name of the group was updated from “Utah Filmmakers and Actors” to simply, “ Utah Filmmakers”—a term to which has been ascribed a broad definition that includes actors and anyone else involved in all aspects of filmmaking in Utah.
With that, the focus of the Utah Filmmakers™ organization became more in line with its more descriptive business name: Associating Utah filmmakers with one another and seeing what can be done to bridge the local film community—filmmaking enthusiasts, novices, students, etc.—with Utah’s film industry. It has since started a number of programs to help build that bridge including UFA™ Community Liaisons, UFA™ Mentors, Utah Filmmakers™ Associates, and Utah Filmmakers™ Resource.

The organization has also continued to produce original content under the brand of “
Section One Entertainment,” the production arm of Utah Filmmakers™—named for the gentlemens’ partnership established between Joe Puente and his friends in the Navy to produce a film titled “Barracks Rats.” It’s through those productions that Joe continues to apply the skills that he’s acquired and develop additional tools and resources that can then be made available to other Utah filmmakers.

The first group of this kind on Facebook was started in 2007 by Ben Hawker. Originally called “Utah Filmmakers and Actors,” by 2009 it had around 2,000 members—more than any of the other groups intended to cater to "Utah"+"Film." It was this forum that became the principal means for Utah Filmmakers™ to interact with the community. Around 2011—noting the degree of his involvement in the group—Hawker reached out to UFA™ founder Joe Puente and asked if he would be interested in becoming a group admin. Joe was happy to help.

In addition to being the principal administrator of the Utah Filmmakers™ Association, Joe pursued his interests as an actor and filmmaker, working in front of and behind the camera on film and television productions that came to Utah from out-of-state to take advantage of the Motion Picture Incentive Program, as well as local corporate, commercial, and independent productions. Joe also made time to attend many in-person networking events for the film community.

It was with that one sentence, that Joe came to understand why he didn’t see the same people on set that he saw at the networking events. The local film industry and the local film community were largely two separate groups of people. The working crew members weren’t at the networking events because they were too busy working in the actual industry. The majority of community filmmakers at the networking events usually had day jobs in other sectors, and while they would prefer to be making movies full-time, they were having trouble connecting with professional filmmakers—simply because most of the other filmmakers that they knew were in the same disconnected situation.

With this epiphany came a renewed purpose for the Utah Filmmakers™ Association: Helping community filmmakers to become industry filmmakers. The principal tool for making this happen would be the Facebook group.

With empathy for those who have struggled for years to “get their foot in the door” and—having made a lot of the same mistakes as most novice filmmakers—Joe reached out to the film industry professionals in the Facebook group, asking them, “What is the most important information that you need to see when someone is looking for help on a project?” The number one item, of course, was whether or not it was a paid gig. That and other essential information like where and when the job was taking place—and for how long?

As a group admin—in addition to being the UFA™ administrator—Joe implemented some basic rules for posting cast and crew notices in the group based on input from industry professionals. There were plenty of debates about “unpaid” projects—arguments on the topic will crop up from time to time—with advocates for paying one’s “dues,” those questioning the ethics behind the practice, identifying the negative impact it has on the industry, etc.

Ultimately, it was decided that whatever was being offered as “Payment” be at the very top of all casting and crew calls—that way, the professionals in the group would know which posts they can safely ignore since they need to make a living.

It was around this time that group membership growth began to increase, thanks in part to the establishment of a clearer purpose for the group and how it intended to serve its members. While the forum has always welcomed professional and novice filmmakers alike, the number one rule became "Professionalism is expected in all interactions." By inviting professionals to set the standard, establishing some simple guidelines for what was considered to be “on-topic,” and—most importantly—informing the members that they all have a role to play in how useful the forum can be for them, the group evolved into an invaluable resource, not just for fostering collaboration but promoting job grown in Utah's film industry.

The trademark symbol at the end of the name sparked an interesting discussion but the organization had, in fact, registered the trademark with the state of Utah. It also helped to distinguish the group—still the first and largest of its kind—from the myriad other “Utah”+“film” groups that were out there… though none of them have the same levels of membership and active engagement as the original.