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Montana Landscapes Provide a Sense of Place for High-Profile Releases in 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018/Categories: Market MT, Film

Kevin Costner stars in "Yellowstone"

Major film and digital media projects being released this year prove there’s nothing like the real thing for bringing Big Sky Country to the screen.

Kevin Costner was last seen in Montana on the Hardy Creek Bridge, preparing to break up the crime ring surrounding Al Capone in the 1987 prohibition thriller “The Untouchables.” Now the award-winning actor is teaming up with writer/director Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River”) for the first-ever network scripted fiction series to film scenes in Montana: “Yellowstone.”

The narrative centers on John Dutton (Costner), who operates the largest contiguous ranch in America. Set in Montana against the boundaries of a national park, Indian reservation and private land, conflicts with developers and politicians are central to the plot.

With more than 20 locations and interiors being filmed in Utah, having to opportunity to provide the key ranch location in Montana became of the utmost importance. As part of an extensive search across three states, location scouts and the Montana Film Office worked with partners in the agriculture, dude ranch and tourism industries to locate and present properties to the production team.

Located in a scenic valley with sweeping vistas, the historic ranch near Darby conveyed both the depth of its history and the modern ranch operations essential to the series. Real-life wildfires in the area inadvertently added heightened drama during filming, and a tight schedule motivated many local businesses to build, paint and furnish the ranch in time for the first day of filming.

Tune into the Paramount Network (the rebranded Spike channel) at 7 p.m. on June 20 for the premiere of “Yellowstone.”

In another project, the camera speeds toward a small white church on the prairie, bell ringing ominously as the camera swoops over the roof to reveal snow-capped mountains in the background. It ends by teasing “Far Cry 5,” the latest installment in the popular video game series by French publisher Ubisoft.

Viewers acquainted with northeast Montana may recognize the area but will also notice not all is how it seems. Snow-capped mountains are not a feature of the prairie surrounding the historic Chelsea Church in Poplar. The film crew created the base views of the church with a drone and crane, opening the frame so the mountains could be added digitally.

Game designers took on the challenge of creating an entirely new yet familiar world for “Far Cry” fans by spending 14 days in Montana. They researched small towns, mountains, rivers and outdoor recreation to build their interpretation of the remote frontier environment, the fictional Hope County, Montana.

For some readers, the last video game they played had yellow dots and ghosts. Game design and development has grown by leaps and bounds since then, and so has the market to sell them across the world. In the case of “Far Cry,” the series to date has sold more than 42 million units.

Advancements in technology increase opportunities for digital artists to complement traditional 35mm film. Using a new technique called photogrammetry, objects like trees, vegetation, buildings, animals and even people are photographed from multiple angles and scanned to create lifelike 3D objects and landscapes. To the Montana Film Office’s knowledge, this is the first video game to be set completely in Montana.

Another film crew would later visit Montana to shoot a 30-minute live action prequel to the game in the Anaconda area. It’s available to watch on Amazon Prime.

After exotic settings in Africa and Asia, choosing the location for the first “Far Cry” game set in America was a multi-year process for Ubisoft.

“We kept this kind of longing to bring ‘Far Cry’ to the states, but it’s not easy to do — the idea of going to a frontier in the states and bringing you to a place that you kind of know already,” said Executive Producer Dan Hay.

Seeing Montana in person sealed the deal.

“We were drawn to Montana, and I would say we fell in love with Montana first for its landscape,” said Narrative Director Jean-Sebastien Decant.

“Far Cry 5” is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.

Allison Whitmer

Montana Film Commissioner


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