From John Wayne to Quentin Tarantino, Wyoming Offers Film Locations
In 1968, Casper residents were able to see the scenic bluffs west of their town on the big screen, and standing in front of them was the Duke himself, John Wayne. The movie was Hellfighters.
In 1977, residents of northeastern Wyoming got to see one of their most telltale landmarks at the movies, after Steven Spielberg filmed his movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind at Devils Tower.
In 1988, the city of Rawlins saw its historic frontier penitentiary as the backdrop for the Renny Harlin horror film, Prison, starring Viggo Mortensen.
In 1997 central Wyoming became an on-screen double for another world overrun with alien bugs in the Paul Verhoeven film Starship Troopers.
An oilfield, a national monument, a haunted prison, and an alien world all within the boundaries of the cowboy state. These four are only a small sample of the various feature films that were filmed, in whole or in part, in Wyoming.
The latest feature film to have shot in the state is the upcoming Christmas release, Django Unchained from film auteur Quentin Tarantino. The trailer for Django makes it look equal parts western and 70’s style exploitation film. According to Michell Howard, of the Wyoming Film Office, although part of the film was shot near Jackson Hole, that wasn’t always the plan.
“They were looking for snow,” says Howard of the new film. “They had found a location in, I believe it was in Mammoth Lake, California and they just weren’t getting enough snow.”
She goes on to say that production teams had visited Wyoming on a familiarization tour hosted by the Wyoming Film Office, and recalled Wyoming when Mammoth Lake didn’t deliver on snow: “They said that it was beautiful over the summer, and asked if we had any snow. We did, and that’s what brought [Django Unchained] back last winter.”
Wyoming landscapes are a big draw for the film industry. “We always get requests for our landscapes,” says Howard, noting that it’s not just feature films that find the area attractive. “A lot of car commercials like our performance roads. Our environments kind of lend themselves to that type of work, because we have great roads with beautiful mountain vistas and backdrops.”
However, despite the recent visit from the Django Unchained production and Wyoming’s reputation for being the “Cowboy State,” Ms. Howard says that shooting a western in Wyoming isn’t always easy.
“We get quite a few request for western towns, and that’s actually a trickier one for us to fulfill,” she said, pointing out that locations like Ft. Laramie and South Pass are great, but they’re also historic sites. “They really don’t want someone coming in and disrupting the site.”
A lack of fake western towns isn’t the only hurdle Wyoming has as far as filming goes. Howard says that until the Wyoming legislature passed a film incentive rebate program a few years ago, Wyoming was lagging behind other states.
“Many other countries and states had really stepped up and were becoming more aggressive trying to go after this type of production,” Howard said, pointing out the potential economic pluses a film can bring to a state. “It’s a very lucrative industry. They come in, spend a lot of money in a short amount of time then leave; and the long term benefits can be great for an area that continues to get promoted from those projects.”
A few recent movies that have taken place in Wyoming but weren’t shot in Wyoming was the controversial Brokeback Mountain, a film directed by Ang Lee, about a forbidden homosexual romance between two cowboys. Also, the fish-out-of-water comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans starring Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker was about a dysfunctional big-city couple that finds themselves placed into a witness protection program in Wyoming. Brokeback Mountain was filmed largely with Canada doubling for Wyoming. Did You Hear About the Morgans was filmed mostly in New Mexico.
Wyoming now has a 12% to 15% cash rebate incentive to help draw film projects to the state. “That has really made it more competitive and allowed us to get projects that we probably weren’t even being looked at for, to be honest. They were even Wyoming projects” Howard said.
However, finances aren’t the only difficulty that face Wyoming’s film heritage. Wyoming lacks professional infrastructure for a long term production. “We don’t have a lot of crew base,” Howard says. “Even then, most of them are located around Jackson.”
A recent A&E television series called Longmire, based on books written by Wyoming author Craig
Johnson, is set in Wyoming but unfortunately couldn’t shoot here. Howard sited a lack of experienced local crew as one of the reasons as to why it didn’t.
“There were a couple of different issues with Longmire,” she said. “We did work with their producer and actually brought him out on one of our tours to show off the state. They were looking around the bighorn area.” However, Howard points out that aside from local crew, the area also lacked suitable interior locations, such as sound stages or, failing that, warehouse space.
Longmire is still working with the Wyoming Film Office, however, in social media, promotion and sweepstakes.
Howard also points out that they recently started programs like the film training program at Central Wyoming College in Riverton may help to address crew-need issues in the future.
In the future, the Wyoming Film Office is hoping to bring the production of writer/director Alexander Payne’s upcoming road-trip film Nebraska, in part, to Wyoming.
The Wyoming Film Office will also be holding an open house at their new location, Friday at 3 p.m. The office is located at 5611 High Plains Road in Cheyenne.