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Planes, Trains and Automobiles, on location in Montana!

Column by Allison Whitmer, Montana Film Commissioner

Monday, December 2, 2019/Categories: Market MT, Film, Choose Montana

Belton Bridge in Glacier National Park, courtesy of GNP

It’s not just the skiers who rejoice when snow starts to fall across Montana’s mountains, film crews are gearing up for winter car commercials that air during the holidays.

You’ve seen them: Impossibly clean cars swooshing along deserted mountain roads, gleaming chrome in the sharp sunlight, tire treads gripping the snow in slow motion. The trees are perfectly blanketed in snow, the towns are immaculate, and the cars sweep through the snow with ease.

Ford, Toyota, Kia, Jaguar, Hyundai, GM, BMW, Audi and Subaru are just a few of the cars and trucks you’ve seen pulling trailers, pushing snowplows and breaking trail in fresh snow over the years. The commercials shown over “Year End Events” or “Holiday Sales” are called running footage, a specialty sub-set of car commercials. Other commercials focus on special features that perform in extreme temperatures, from tires to transmissions. This fall, you probably noticed pre-snow old-west Montana scenes featured in Kia spots.

These producers look for the snowiest snow, the sweeping turns, and made-for-snow-globe towns. We have so many places in Montana that fit this bill that we have an entire section of our database dedicated to “Performance Roads.” You’ll recognize Big Sky, Whitefish Mountain, West Yellowstone and other forest roads in the Bozeman area, and every so often, we’ll sneak in rugged badlands and epic landmarks around Glacier National Park.

Now that we’ve got you going to grandma’s house in style, it’s time to ride the rails!

“Danger Lights” filmed in Miles City and Lombard during the 1930s steam era. The rail lines were hopping, and this film about competitive railroad men competing for the love of the character played by Jean Arthur has incredible footage for the railroad buff!  A real tug-of-war between two steam locomotives is one of the tension-filled sequences. Originally filmed in 63mm Naturalvision, the highlight is a 100-mph race to get one of the characters to a brain surgeon in Chicago. Actual scenes of railroading in the yards is a highlight of this pre-code film and can be found to view on YouTube.

Lewistown became the finale for a nuclear missile stand-off in the film “Broken Arrow.” Code for a missing nuclear weapon, this tense drama between former friends and military comrades played by John Travolta and Christian Slater culminates in a massive train sequence with helicopters, explosions and dramatic twists, all on a moving train. Finding operational train tracks can be difficult, and the Central Montana Rail proved to be the ideal railroad. Their tracks in the prairie were smooth and had matching landscapes on each side, so the train could run to one end filming scenes, run back and keep filming. This rail line features the popular tourist attraction “Charlie Russell Chew Choo,” complete with train robbers.

Getting across the state by either train or automobile along the Hi-Line can take over 12 hours, and an airplane might be just the trick…or maybe not.

“Always” director Steven Speilberg recruited top pilots Steve Hinton and Dennis Lynch to fly the Douglas A-26 Invader fire bombers (#57 and #59) in the supernatural fantasy film.

Fighting fires in the forests is a tough, dangerous job, both on the ground and in the air. Richard Dreyfus and John Goodman take perilous risks with their airplanes with tragic results for one of them. Holly Hunter shines as the grieving girlfriend, and Audrey Hepburn appears in her last screen role.

Footage from the remarkable 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park was used to great effect, and the crew filmed in the Kootenai National Forest, Bull Lake, and based out of Libby. More than 500 residents worked as extras portraying the wildland firefighters. This love story was a remake of the 1943 film “A Guy Named Joe,” a classic war film.

However you travel across Montana this winter, stay safe and check the road reports!

Learn more about films made in Montana, incentives, crew and locations at MONTANAFILM.COM and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



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