Wyoming in script–but off screen


March 20, 2019

Have you ever noticed that a lot of movies, or television series, that are supposed to take place in Wyoming look a lot like somewhere else?

While I may not be a Wyoming native, I still consider the area to be my home state and I will often jump at the chance to see a movie or television show that is set here. Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t quite have a Wyoming feel to them.

When I was watching “Wind River,” the only frame in the entire movie that seemed to be filmed in Wyoming was the entrance to Lander. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), there was more than just that one frame. There were also shots of the highway sign for the Wind River Indian Reservation and Fremont County, but that was about it. Principle filming took place in Park City, Utah.


I, like many people in the Valley, was excited when “Longmire,” a show based on the popular book series by Craig Johnson, was set to appear on A&E. While it lasted a few seasons before making the jump to Netflix, I did manage to catch a few episodes and it is on my extensive to-be-watched list. Upon watching those few episodes, it didn’t look quite like Wyoming.

Longtime residents of the Cowboy State know full well how quickly the weather can turn around here. In one day, a person can experience all four seasons beginning with summer in the morning, spring and winter by mid-afternoon and fall by the evening. Watching “Longmire,” I didn’t get that feeling. The show, of course, was not filmed in Wyoming, but in New Mexico.

What the heck, man?

Another well-known, though somewhat controversial, film is “Brokeback Mountain,” based on the short story of the same name by Annie Proulx. For a period of time, Proulx lived near Saratoga before moving to Washington state and she released a number of short stories collections inspired by Wyoming. The movie, however, was barely filmed in Wyoming. Most of the movie was filmed in Canada.


Plenty of other movies, too many to list here, are set in Wyoming, but weren’t actually filmed here. Of course, there are a number of other movies that were actually shot mostly in Wyoming, but many of those were shot decades ago and are classic westerns such as “Shane” and “The Virginian.” Even Hell’s Half Acre provided an otherworldly backdrop for the cult classic “Starship Troopers.”

Why, when Wyoming seems to be the setting for a number of movies and television series, does filming take place everywhere but here? It’s not for lack of trying on the part of the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT).

Last summer, I wrote an article on the Film Industry Financial Incentive (FIFI) and the struggles that are faced by the WOT in bringing film companies to Wyoming. The article, which appears on the front page of the June 13, 2018 Saratoga Sun if you want to take another look, was especially important as C.J. Box had announced that Joe Pickett was in the process of being developed for a television series.

Box, ever an ambassador for Wyoming, was hopeful that filming might be able to take place in this state. FIFI, which was founded in 2007 and given $1 million of state money, was intended to draw filmmakers to Wyoming. When it reached its sunset date of July 30, 2016, though, there was little appetite to revive it. Instead, it was added as a line item with approximately $16,000 with the option to add more in the event filming would take place in Wyoming.

During this last legislative session, House Bill 164 was introduced and would have used local lodging tax funds to match funding for filming opportunities in Wyoming. HB164 seemed destined to pass as it went through its 1st and 2nd readings in the House, but ended up failing on the 3rd and final reading with a vote of 27-30-3.

While FIFI isn’t the only factor into whether or not a production company will select Wyoming as a filming location, the lack of film crews also plays a role, it is something taken into account. That means, unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the Joe Pickett television series will be filmed in the very state it is set.

A common saying for the state is that, next to mineral extraction, tourism is the second largest industry. According to the WOT, $3.8 billion was spent by visitors to Wyoming which generated $188 million in local and state tax revenue. That’s not nearly as much as the mineral extraction industries, which generated $2.2 billion in revenue in 2017, according to the Wyoming Taxpayers Association.

Still, a significant portion of money coming into the state is thanks to those who are coming to experience what we have to offer. Whether they are hoping to see Devil’s Tower, visit Yellowstone National Park or stop at many of our small towns that are unique in their own way, we have come to depend on tourism to help with the local economy.

With all the talk this last election about diversifying the economy, why wasn’t HB164 passed? In the hunt for renewable resources, Wyoming keeps on ignoring one of the most important; tourism.

Or we can keep watching shows about Wyoming that are filmed somewhere else.


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