The Saratoga Sun -

Keeping Joe home

C.J. Box's books and characters have been optioned for television. Will they film in Wyoming?

 

Joshua Wood

New York Times best selling author Chuck Box shows some Wyoming pride at a book signing at the Saratoga Museum Pavilion on June 3.

By Joshua Wood

On March 27, C.J. Box released "The Dissappeared," the 18th installment in the Joe Pickett series, which follows the exploits of the popular Wyoming Game and Fish warden. Newcomers and longtime fans of the series have often wondered when Pickett would get his own television show. To some it seemed only sensible considering the success of "Justified," based on books by Elmore Leonard, and "Longmire," based on the books by fellow Wyoming author Craig Johnson.

Shortly before the release of his latest book, Box announced that both the Joe Pickett series and the Highway Quartet had been picked up by two different production companies. Pickett had been purchased in its entirety by Doug Wick of Red Wagon Entertainment and Paramount Entertainment while the other series has been purchased by producer David E. Kelley.

As reported previously in the Saratoga Sun ("From Saddlestring to Saratoga, Feb. 28, 2018), Box will serve as executive producer on both series and has been very vocal about his desire to have them filmed in Wyoming. According to Box, the Joe Pickett series has recently been assigned two showrunners.

At this point in time, however, it is unclear if filming in Wyoming would even be possible or feasible.

"Neither of these productions have started location work yet," said Box, "but when they do, unfortunately, we don't have a lot to offer them against competing states and Canada at the moment."

Wyoming has nearly everything a production company could want; epic mountains, expansive deserts, vast plains and dense forests. Unfortunately, it is missing a few important things. For starters, Wyoming doesn't have nearly as much incentive for production companies as other states.

Anyone who has watched even a single episode of "Longmire," whether it was on A&E or when it made the jump to Netflix, knows that the license plates were one of the few Wyoming elements of the show. The series was shot entirely in New Mexico, which not only offered the same western feel as Wyoming, but also offered far better incentives for the production company.

The Wyoming Film Industry Film Incentive (FIFI) program was created in 2007, with $1 million of state money, with the intent to draw the entertainment industry into the Cowboy State. The funds were administered by the Wyoming Office of Tourism's Film Office and the hope was that it would put Wyoming on the map for tourists. Upon its creation, FIFI was given a sunset date of June 30, 2016.

In that time, between 2007 and 2016, only a handful of movies were shot in Wyoming. Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," a 2012 film which follows a former slave's journey for revenge, had a scene shot in Jackson Hole. That film was one of the more popular and lucrative movies shot in the state during the original lifetime of FIFI.

"Wyoming was a fantastic place to shoot," said Tarantino. "It's beautiful country. If you're doing a western that requires you to be in beautiful, rugged terrain, it's a glorious place to go."

When FIFI was first started, production companies were required to spend up to a minimum of five hundred thousand dollars in which they could receive a 15 percent reimbursement. In 2009, however, the Wyoming Legislature dropped that requirement to two hundred thousand dollars in total qualified expenditures. This includes travel expenses within the state, payroll for cast and crew, state unemployment insurance and per diems for Wyoming residents among other things.

New Mexico, meanwhile, will reimburse up to 25 percent of qualifying in-state expenditures and doesn't require a minimum spending requirement or have a minimum resident hire requirement.

So what does this mean for Joe Pickett being filmed in Wyoming? Well, there is some hope.

"There's certainly state officials, gubernatorial candidates as well as state legislators, who have voiced a lot of support for trying to provide incentives if, in fact, a television production might come here," said Box.

While FIFI was planned to sunset in June 2016, it was saved due to a footnote put forth by Senator Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan) in the 2016 budget session. The footnote turned FIFI into a line-item for the Wyoming Tourism Board and, when the state coffers saw an increase, could be refunded as needed.

According to Tia Troy, Public Relations and Media Manager for the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT), approximately $16,000 currently sits in the line-item for FIFI with the possibility of more money being added should something come along that the WOT believes is worth investing in.

"Whenever strong filming opportunities arise, the Wyoming Office of Tourism looks for avenues to provide support in a variety of ways," said Troy. "The level of support we can provide depends on budgets, which are determined by the Wyoming Legislature."

Box believes that both series are worth investing in and would be great for the entire state. He has hopes that the Wyoming Legislature will see the economic potential that FIFI and the two television series based on his works will have for the state.

"I would hope that they (the legislature) would consider, since we're trying to diversify the economy, that a television industry in Wyoming would in fact add a new dimension to what the state has to offer," Box said. "That by aggressively going after these two productions to have them filmed in Wyoming, it would in fact add jobs, add dollars and add a huge amount of exposure."

Wyoming natives know that there are a plethora of areas prime for exposure about their home state.

"The producers have indicated they want to follow the arc and the storylines of the books and there's 18 of them out there," said Box. "They've moved all over across the state of Wyoming. From the Black Hills of Wyoming, to the Red Desert, Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Saratoga. If, in fact, they can stick to the books it would be a showcase for the entire state, not just one place."

It is now up to the Wyoming Legislature to help keep Joe Pickett in his home state.

 

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