“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was a blockbuster film in 1977, with the final act set atop one of Wyoming’s most recognizable features, Devils Tower, in the northeast corner of the state.
But “Close Encounters” was a rare production — one of the few with scenes in Wyoming that were actually filmed in the state.
Although scores of movies and television shows have been set in Wyoming — think “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Longmire,” or the current Amazon Prime series “Outer Range” — very few have actually been filmed in the state.
“Unfortunately, Wyoming has the look, but we don’t have the financial help to get (film companies) here, because there’s challenges to filming in Wyoming,” said Charles Lammers, creative assets manager for the state Office of Tourism and a member of the state’s Film Incentives Task Force.
Lammers told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming lacks the infrastructure and assets that would entice production companies to shoot movies and television shows here.
“It puts a financial challenge on a lot of film studios when it comes to production in the state of Wyoming,” he said. “They have to pay a little extra to bring out equipment, and bring out top level crew.
“As far as contractors, caterers, all of the lower level production needs, they’re actually sufficient for the state of Wyoming,” he continued. “But things like grip trucks, which is studio lighting with the miles and miles of wiring that they need, that kind of stuff – the closest place to rent that from would be Denver or Salt Lake City.”
Filmed In Wyoming
There have been major movies filmed on location in Wyoming throughout the decades. The Grand Tetons figured prominently in the 1953 classic “Shane,” starring Alan Ladd, “Spencer’s Mountain” in 1963 and “Django Unchained,” starring Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2012.
Scenes from the 1968 John Wayne film “Hellfighters” were filmed near Casper, “Flicka” was filmed in Sheridan in 2006 and Clint Eastwood set the climactic fight scene for “Any Which Way You Can” in downtown Jackson in 1980.
But because of Wyoming’s unique challenges – lack of infrastructure, few experienced film production workers and the state’s unpredictable weather – the state often loses out to other states with similar landscapes such as New Mexico or California. Also helping to lure film production companies are financial incentives offered by other states to offset the additional costs that come with filming on location.
“We’re currently surrounded by states that have film incentives, with the exception of South Dakota,” Lammer said. “We have states that have similar landscapes, similar feel in their human atmosphere, so they can always go there. But right now, you know, everyone just kind of passes Wyoming by, for say, Montana, Utah, places like that.”
But there are a few production companies that choose to set their films in Wyoming.
Producers for the independent film “Sleep” have issued a casting call in Fremont County, where filming is set to begin in September:
We are casting for a major independent feature film to be shot in Fremont County, WY this September. Speaking roles are as follows;
Native American (M/F) 2 children 6-15, 2 adults 35-70.
Caucasian (M/F) 3 children 8-12, 9 adults 16-80.
Any Ethnicity (M/F) 6 adults various ages.
One adult Black male, one adult Asian (M/F).
We are also casting numerous non speaking roles, as well as some crew. All are paid daily, no expense allotment.
Please send a short video telling a bit about yourself to the email listed: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dennis Rollins, the local independent filmmaker who has been hired by the film’s producers to cast area residents in “Sleep,” told Cowboy State Daily that he believes the film’s director, Jan-Willem van Ewijk, specifically wanted to capture the feel of Wyoming’s wide-open spaces.
“The biggest thing that probably appealed to him, and this is just speculation on my part, is the vastness of everything,” Rollins said. “Because I really think that the mood that he is going for … is a very somber and solemn mood.”
Rollins, who is based in Casper, has produced several films for PBS, including “Dell Burke and the Yellow Hotel,” “The Monumentals,” and “Forgotten Ingenue.” He said that his experience filming in Wyoming has been very positive.
“I’ve done numerous films over the years,” he said. “And I have not really encountered a lot of hurdles whatsoever. People have always been very gracious in allowing me access to themselves in their homes and their properties, and that’s one of the reasons that I am still here in Wyoming doing filming – because … the whole atmosphere is very amenable to the process.”
Prior Film Incentive
Wyoming had a film incentive program in place for about a decade, but it was allowed to expire and a bill to revive it in 2017 failed in the Legislature.
Since then, the Legislature has considered offering incentives to film companies, but its members have yet to pass such a bill.
Lammers pointed out that if legislators are looking only at the cost of such a program, they may be overlooking a potentially large economic benefit of film production to local communities.
“You know, we’re going to pull in films that usually spend a minimum of $3 million or so in these local areas, because that’s kind of the minimum that you have to shoot an episode of a TV show,” he said. “So a lot of that money is going directly to the local area where the production is being filmed. We’re talking hospitality, like hotels, dude ranches, restaurants.
“And then furthermore, there’s the tourism and small business economic impact,” he continued. “Because when this crew comes to Wyoming, they’re going to spend their off time exploring our communities, exploring our landscapes, and they’re going to spend their own pocket money doing that.”