There’s a massive television production underway in Utah, and the state has a starring role as Montana in the upcoming series “Yellowstone,” which stars Oscar- and Emmy-winner Kevin Costner.
The series, which will premiere in mid-2018, is designed to make a big splash for the Paramount Network, which will replace current cable channel Spike in January. It’s a colossal, spare-no-expense production that’s pumping perhaps as much as $30 million into Utah’s economy.
“It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” said Paramount spokesman David Schwarz. “Easily. It’s one of the biggest things Viacom [television] has ever done.
“The goal is to make it look like a movie every week. When you sit down and watch ‘Yellowstone’ next summer, we want you to feel like you’re watching a big movie.”
Makeup supervisor Greg Moon, a Utahn with 35 years of experience in the business, agreed that the show “shoots like a feature. I’ve seen some of the editing, and, oh my gosh, it looks incredible.”
To date, “Yellowstone” has filmed on more than 20 locations in Utah, from Park City to the Salt Flats, from Ogden to Spanish Fork. Plus several locations in Montana.
“We’re excited to have it here,” said Utah Film Commission director Virginia Pearce. “And we’re excited to have Taylor back.”
That would be Taylor Sheridan, the Oscar-nominated writer (“Hell or High Water”) who wrote and directed the made-in-Utah film “Wind River.”
“He shot here last year and realized how many resources are here and how much he loved the locations and the production value,” Pearce said.
Sheridan is the creator, executive producer, writer and director of “Yellowstone,” a sweeping drama that’s being described as a cross between “Dallas” and “The Sopranos.” The story is set on the largest contiguous ranch in America, centered on its owner, John Dutton (Costner). They’re keeping details under wraps, but there will be fights with land developers and politicians, and interactions with an American Indian reservation and the national park next door.
The cast includes Wes Bentley, Kelly Reilly, Luke Grimes, Cole Hauser, Kelsey Asbille, Dave Annable, Danny Huston, Gil Birmingham, Jefferson White, Gretchen Mol, Jill Hennessey, Patrick St. Esprit, Ian Bohen and Denim Richards.
How big is the production? “Yellowstone” is using all three soundstages at the Utah Film Studio in Park City — a total of 45,000 square feet. The building also houses offices, editing, a huge wardrobe department and construction shops. It’s a gorgeous facility that helped attract the production to Utah.
“When people come here, they just can’t believe there’s a Hollywood-quality film stage in Park City, let alone in Utah,” said Matthew Crandall, one of the owners.
Production began in August at the Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, Mont., which is standing in as the home of Costner’s character. And several of the rooms have been re-created on the Park City soundstages.
“The sets are super impressive,” Pearce said.
Those aren’t plastic logs tacked up to look like the inside of the Chief Joseph Lodge. Those are massive trees shipped in from Montana.
“That part was like putting together a puzzle,” said general foreman Christopher Rice.
These are not flimsy, cardboard sets. The rooms are solid, and they feel lived in, with family photos on the walls, stuff left lying around and, in the bunkhouse, cigarettes and peanuts and doughnuts amid the mess.
“I want to clean up in here,” publicity coordinator Perri Eppie said with a laugh.
On Thursday, the crew was hard at work positioning a helicopter — a real, full-sized helicopter that was dwarfed by the soundstage. The copter was lifted in and placed on top of huge pistons that will shake it about as Costner and actor/UVU student Mason Davis film scenes inside the craft — scenes that will be edited together with shots of one helicopter taken from cameras on another helicopter.
Davis, who had a small part in “Wind River,” plays the ranch helicopter pilot in “Yellowstone,” and he’s thrilled to be working with Costner. “He’s one of the four actors who inspired me to become an actor,” he said.
The Tennessee native said he enrolled at Utah Valley University because “they have a great film program.” In part. “It was honestly just to kill some time while I wasn’t acting. It’s beautiful here. It offers everything I want — except surfing.”
Most of the 160-member crew, several of the actors and all the extras are Utahns. On any given day, the number of extras ranges from a handful to 450. One episode features an American Indian event, and “instead of just hiring extras, we actually invited the Ute tribe,” Eppie said. “And they came and put on a whole pow-wow for us.”
Some crew members, like Rice, are Southern Californians who came to Utah to work on the show.
“I’m loving every bit of it,” he said. “And now I’m looking for a place up here.”
Right now, he’s in a hotel room paid for by the production. To date, Paramount estimates the money the production has spent in Utah includes:
• $12 million in goods and services.
• $7.2 million in labor.
• $1.2 million for hotel rooms.
• $740,000 for rental cars and trucks.
• $750,000 for per diem.
The best guess is that the production will spend about $30 million in Utah on Season 1 of “Yellowstone.” About 70 percent of the production is taking place here, both because of the vistas and because of the tax incentives.
Utah’s film incentive is a “post-performance tax rebate,” Pearce said. Once everything is totaled, that rebate can be up to 25 percent of the production costs.
Production on Season 1 is expected to be completed before Christmas. No premiere date has been announced, but early summer appears to be the best bet.