The ongoing strike of The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) might not mean much to the average Wyomingite. After all, what impact do picket lines of actors and writers in Los Angeles and New York have on the day-to-day doings in the Cowboy State?
Quite at bit, it seems. There are a number of productions around the state on hold because of the strike.
Wyoming has had a checkered relationship with Hollywood. The latest attempt to make the state more appealing to filmmakers by offering rebates based on their Wyoming expenses, died on the state House floor during the last Legislative session.
But the film industry is more than lavish blockbusters with high-priced actors and directors. There are hundreds of smaller film productions that seek out and work in Wyoming.
But for the moment, they can’t and won't cross the union line, shutting down production in Wyoming.
The Smaller Side Of Hollywood
Chuck Powers is president and CEO of Black Rock Entertainment LLC., a film production company with offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Georgia and Austin, Texas.
Powers has worked in the Hollywood limelight, appearing on TV shows like “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Melrose Place” and “The Bette Midler Show,” as well as movies like “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” His company, formed in 2013, works smaller but is no less successful.
“I retired from my main occupation in aviation after 36 years (to start) Black Rock Entertainment LLC. Since the formation of the company, we have won or been nominated for over 340 awards,” he said. “We have produced TV commercials, movie shorts and trailers for independent films.”
Powers also produces shows for Amazon Prime Video. Two of those productions are a cooking show, “The Wiseguy Kitchen,” and “Coast to Coast,” a travel program. Both star celebrity chef Vincent Fiore.
Cody’s Ready For Its Close-Up
Fiore has spent the summer as executive chef at the UXU Ranch in Shoshone National Forest near the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Being thoroughly smitten with the atmosphere, Powers said he and Fiore decide to add Cody to their production schedule.
“While visiting him this summer at the ranch, I had mentioned that we should do an episode of ‘The Wiseguy Kitchen’ at the UXU Ranch,” Powers said. “After touring the Cody area, we felt it was worth filming the ‘Coast to Coast’ show as well since Cody had so much to offer with fine attractions.
“In fact, there was so much to offer that we felt that we would venture from the normal half-hour show format to create a one-hour special highlighting the Cody area.”
Even small production companies require small armies of manpower to get things done and often turn to nearby communities for people and resources. While short-lived, the “shoots” for these productions give a sizeable boost to regional economies.
Powers intends to find and hire several ocal residents and businesses in addition to everything he would need to bring to Cody for production.
“We would be interviewing locals and their establishments, and we would have hired or bartered for such things as catering, travel trailers for dressing rooms, and other items needed during the production. As with any production, there are cost factors involved with crews from Atlanta and Tampa being flown in, accommodations, meals, and transportation around the city setting up for the different film shoots.”
Through both shows, several Cody attractions would be featured, and local businesses would get featured advertising, including commercials that would play during the episode. Both episodes would expose a more intimate aspect of Cody to international audiences.
Powers and Fiore were eagerly meeting with people and businesses earlier this summer with a plan for a several-day shoot in mid-August.
Then the strike started.
Holding The Line
On July 13, SAG-AFTRA announced all 160,000 members would go on strike after failed negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The union is looking for better pay and working conditions in addition to “job security,” as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced and could replace writers and actors in the not-too-distant future.
“Both Vincent and myself are members of SAG-AFTRA, and we support the contributions and actions of the Unions,” Powers said. “So, we have chosen to support the strike and not cross the picket lines to produce any productions during the Strike.
“Having been in constant contact with the union, they are prepared to go the distance, and it may be a very lengthy strike, most likely lasting into the new year, if not longer.”
While certainly a worthwhile endeavor, the strike has indefinitely suspended all of Powers’ plans to film in Cody.
“Almost all productions are affected by the strike. Cody and other communities are going to be affected by this strike in regard to film production,” he said. “I am sure there are other production companies, large and small, that have looked at Wyoming and other markets and have put these projects on ice until the strike is resolved.”
Powers hasn’t given up on his production plans for Cody. Nor has Fiore, who is still serving meals at the UXU Ranch for the summer. But with no end in sight, he can’t say when he’ll be able to start filming.
A Small But Growing Impact
Ryan Hauck, executive director of Cody Yellowstone, says film productions like this are somewhat rare in the Cody area, usually only one or two a year. This may make Hollywood a minor economic factor for northwest Wyoming, but for people like Powers and Hauck, it’s leaving money on the table.
Even when the strike ends, Wyoming will still have work to do. The main holdup from more film production is the lack of any incentive from the state of Wyoming, which many production companies cite when they film shows set in Wyoming in Canada and other places outside the state.
“In production, it is all about getting the biggest bang for your buck,” Powers said. “Productions are budget based, and it is a major driver in the decision to film there. Failure to offer these subsidies can hinder a production company from choosing Wyoming if they can get better deals in other states and locations with similar terrain that do offer these savings.”
Hauck says he has hired a new contract position for someone to seek out and hopefully bring more film production to the region. But this effort is moot until the SAG-AFTRA strike ends.
“We’re hoping the strike resolves itself sooner rather than later, so we can keep pursuing productions like this. But given where we are, there is a lot more interest in filming in the area.”
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.