Amazon Hit ‘Outer Range’ Is Latest Example Of Wyoming Filmed Elsewhere

“Outer Range,” the Western/sci-fi thriller supposedly set in Wyoming, dropped Season 2 last month. While the show’s crew goes to great lengths making sure what viewers hear and see is authentically Wyoming, those who live here might be able to spot the goofs.

JN
Jake Nichols

June 16, 202412 min read

Rancher Royal Abbott rides his range in New Mexico with CGI Tetons serving to place his spread in Wyoming.
Rancher Royal Abbott rides his range in New Mexico with CGI Tetons serving to place his spread in Wyoming. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Outer Range,” the sleeper hit for Amazon, dropped Season 2 last month. Hardcore fans and greenhorns were treated to more of the same twisty and confusing subplots from the Western/sci-fi thriller that has drawn comparisons that it’s “Yellowstone” meets “Lost.”

Similar to Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone,” which has spawned a franchise of spinoffs and made Westerns suddenly hot again in Hollywood, “Outer Range” follows the struggles of a ranching family to hang onto their land. Like “Lost,” “Outer Range” appears to be in no hurry making any headway toward its meandering plot conclusions.

Without giving away too many spoilers, the biggest twist in “Outer Range” might be the fact that it isn’t shot in Wyoming, though the pseudo-Western starring Josh Brolin purports to take place there complete with more than a few thirst-trap backdrops of the iconic Tetons.

An excerpt from the original script of the show’s creator and writer Brian Watkins reads: “Exterior, Wyoming wilderness, night. The range. A vast valley. Behind it, the jagged, looming peaks of the Tetons. Postcard image of the American West.”

But the show’s producers never considered coming to Wyoming to shoot. Practically every movie or television series that is set in Wyoming is not filmed here. Too costly, too inconvenient, and wholly unnecessary, studios say.

It follows a trend that shows no signs of turning itself around, even with financial help from the state that has not exactly been forthcoming.

Why Wyoming?

For the uninitiated, “Outer Range” is a genre-bending sci-fi Western that uses the allure of the vast and contemporary American West as a launching point into the supernatural.

Acting is superb in the exclusive Prime Video offering and cinematography captures the West at its best, even if it is the Land of Enchantment pinch-hitting for the Equality State.

Numerous scenes depict the Abbott family fixing fence, moving cows and making otherworldly discoveries on their spread with the recognizable Teton Range soaring majestically in the background. That kind of view costs millions of dollars to live near, millions more to film in.

Right there is problem No. 1 if the state of Wyoming wants to attract more film crews to shoot in-state. Things usually come down to money and filming in Teton County would be stupidly expensive without massive subsidies.

Money is only part of the reason why Cowboy State resident Craig Johnson’s “Longmire” won't ever be shot in Wyoming, or why the state will likely never again see a motion picture masterpiece like “Shane” filmed under the shadow of the Tetons.

Hollywood has gotten too good at faking it.

Don't be surprised. The entire industry operates on trickery. Viewers of “Outer Range” are easily made to believe Brolin is a rancher, a county in Wyoming has a gay female Native American as its sheriff, or that hippie chick Imogen Poots is even from the United States. She’s a Brit.

The movie industry is based on making audiences believe what isn’t. Wyoming does not have a quaint little Western town called Wabang. There is no Amelia County. And the Tetons, while real, are as unnecessary to a film company shooting a Western as finding an actor who can ride a horse.

Wyoming’s stunning mountain range was simply superimposed in the background using the latest in CGI techniques. For every member of the cast there are about 10 credited people on the production crew skilled in digital matte painting, CFX artistry, digital composition and gobs more visual effects specialists.

Thanks to advancing VFX visual effects technology, it’s hard to know what’s real in a movie or television series and what’s been added in.

Combine that with the sobering fact that most viewers would not know the difference between Wamsutter, Waco or Wabang — the fictional town in Wyoming acting as the TV series’ rustic ranching hub.

Parts of Wyoming look like Utah, Colorado, Nevada or New Mexico. When directors need a shot that includes a truly Wyoming feature like Devils Tower or the Grand Tetons, they simply have it spliced in.

NYC-based sitcoms “Friends” and “Seinfeld” shot in California. “Chicago” was filmed in Toronto. Gilligan’s entire island was created on a Hollywood backlot.

If it’s that easy, why come to Wyoming at all?

  • The location of the Abbott and the Tillerson ranches is a set built from scratch near the studios in Albuquerque.
    The location of the Abbott and the Tillerson ranches is a set built from scratch near the studios in Albuquerque. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • The "black hole" on the ranch of the main character in "Outer Range" with the Tetons superimposed in the background.
    The "black hole" on the ranch of the main character in "Outer Range" with the Tetons superimposed in the background. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • The Roller King from the flashback scene of the seventh episode, “The Unknown,” is a skating rink at 400 Paisano St. in northeast Albuquerque.
    The Roller King from the flashback scene of the seventh episode, “The Unknown,” is a skating rink at 400 Paisano St. in northeast Albuquerque. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • The Weil and Grady's Saloon of Episode 4, “The Loss,” was filmed at The Legal Tender Saloon at the Lamy History Museum in Lamy, New Mexico.
    The Weil and Grady's Saloon of Episode 4, “The Loss,” was filmed at The Legal Tender Saloon at the Lamy History Museum in Lamy, New Mexico. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • Dippie's ice cream parlor is the Dairy Queen fast-food restaurant at 200 Columbia St. in Las Vegas.
    Dippie's ice cream parlor is the Dairy Queen fast-food restaurant at 200 Columbia St. in Las Vegas. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • The Handsome Gambler and Wabang Drugs were dressed up locations on Bridge Street in Las Vegas.
    The Handsome Gambler and Wabang Drugs were dressed up locations on Bridge Street in Las Vegas. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • The diner scene where Rhett meets Maria in the first episode of “Outer Range” is the Odessa's Café at 516 Grand Ave., Las Vegas.
    The diner scene where Rhett meets Maria in the first episode of “Outer Range” is the Odessa's Café at 516 Grand Ave., Las Vegas. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • Bison Valley Bank of Wyoming branch is actually the Community 1st Bank at 518 Douglas Ave. in Las Vegas.
    Bison Valley Bank of Wyoming branch is actually the Community 1st Bank at 518 Douglas Ave. in Las Vegas. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Other States Stand In

Experts say infrastructure for the film industry is the major reason why major projects don't film in Wyoming even when the storyline places them here.

A lack of major airports, accommodations and access to big-city amenities are brought up when issues arise. Wyoming has little-to-no pool of experienced film workers and fewer semi-professional background actors or extras.

Most studios are required to hire union labor. If none exist on location, these workers have to be flown in, fed and housed. Incentives and subsidies could help ease the pain of filming in remote Wyoming, but not likely to the degree necessary to make it worthwhile.

“The harsh, uncomfortable reality is that Wyoming isn't visually distinctive enough to justify the hassle of filming there. It’s just not a particularly exotic or exclusive location,” said industry insider Peter Alston. “A quick establishing shot of a mountain range like the Tetons’ cameo in ‘Django Unchained’ can be made at a hundred other locations with a hundred times less effort. And if the story is edited right the audience won't even blink.

“Canada, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico — even parts of California — all have a similar spread of geography and climate. Even if a juicy subsidy suddenly appears, creative executives won’t be clamoring to utilize Wyoming’s vast windblown desolation,” Alston continued.

It’s the chicken or the egg dilemma for Wyoming. The state does not have the things major studios need but can’t build this infrastructure until the industry commits to putting the Equality State on the map.

New Mexico Understudy To Wyoming

Today, Western-themed movies and shows are mostly shot on location in Hollywood-friendly places like Alberta, Vancouver or Albuquerque. In fact, the state of New Mexico is fast becoming a major player in the motion picture industry as a cheap and easy place to film almost anything.

When the pandemic quashed Amazon’s plans to shoot “Outer Range” in Calgary, Canada, location scout Hilton Clay Peres quickly got to work identifying places in New Mexico that would pass for Wyoming just fine. Peres also worked on “Oppenheimer” and “News of the World,” both shot in and around Albuquerque.

The Abbott Ranch was built from scratch not far from I-25 Studios (now rebranded as Cinelease Studios) where all of the interior scenes were also filmed. That particular production studio comprises six sound stages as well as exterior sets and production facilities.

Cinelease has become a very in-demand filming destination in the past decade since movies like “Transcendence” (2014) and “Lone Survivor” (2013) were shot there. More recently, the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” Western drama “No Country for Old Men” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad” were also filmed in and around Albuquerque.

“Outer Range” crews left Albuquerque to shoot other scenes but remained in New Mexico. The fictitious town of Wabang was reimagined using Las Vegas, New Mexico, as the site. The historic cow town, which dates back to 1835, barely had to be dressed for most of the exteriors, said Amber Dodson, the state’s film office director.

Las Vegas also served as another fictitious Wyoming town, Durant, in the “Longmire” television series.

“Outer Range” set up shop on Bridge Street in Las Vegas, using the cute downtown Kiva Theatre “as-is” in many shots.

The Community 1st Bank on Douglas Avenue served as the Bison Valley Bank of Wyoming after a little dressing. The scene where Rhett meets his love interest Maria in a diner was filmed at Odessa's Café.

Additionally, some of the show's scenes were filmed near an antiques store named Plaza Antiques. Take a look at Google’s street view from March 2021 to see a production truck parked in front of a local art gallery that was in the process of being transformed into a pharmacy called Wabang Drugs.

Other scenes in “Outer Range” were filmed in nearby Lamy, New Mexico, a tiny railroad village about 18 miles south of Santa Fe. Weil and Grady's Saloon, seen in Season 1 Episode 4, was actually The Legal Tender Saloon at the Lamy History Museum.

The rodeo scenes were all shot locally including several homegrown food trucks seen in the background.

Finally, the modern glass building that poses for University of Wyoming is actually the Physics and Astronomy Interdisciplinary Science (PAIS) building on the campus of University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

‘Outer Range’ Goofs

While the show’s crew goes to great lengths making sure what viewers hear and see in “Outer Range” is authentically Wyoming, those with a better grasp of the Cowboy State will be quick to point out where locals are asked to suspend reality just a bit.

In Season 1 Episode 5 (“The Soil”) Royal Abbott (Brolin) drives to the University of Wyoming to meet with a professor. Assuming the Abbott Ranch is in the vicinity of the Tetons, this little cross-state venture is a 12-hour drive, round trip. Even though Abbott’s time with the professor is brief, it’s not realistic to assume he’ll be home for dinner unless he left at 6 a.m. and really loves driving.

There is also a scene where Royal and his wife Cecilia are listening to an FM radio station out of Cheyenne from their ranch at the base of the Tetons. That’s one strong transmission to be carrying almost 500 miles as the crow flies.

Royal also drives Sheriff Amy to a hospital on the Wind River Reservation as she bleeds out, a trip the show makes out to be some 20-minute emergency run. In reality, from the Tetons to the Wind River Reservation, the trip would be a good three hours in the most souped-up of pickups.

These trivial logistical paradoxes hinder the show not one bit. It’s just interesting to see such attention to detail paid in one aspect and not another.

For instance, the show’s sound designer Kevin Peters said, “When it came to all these Wyoming landscapes, we really wanted to get the nature right and respect that environment. We did our research and made sure the birds, crickets and winds were accurate.”

From the call of the magpie to the grunt of a bison, sounds on “Outer Range” are certainly more accurate than Hollywood’s perception of the immense distances within the 97,000-square-mile state.

  • "Outter Range" looks enough like Wyoming, but it's not.
    "Outter Range" looks enough like Wyoming, but it's not. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • Check the license plate. Similar to “Longmire,” producers of “Outer Range” chose to use 24 as the additional fictitious county of Wyoming. Absaroka in the case of “Longmire,”  Amelia in the case of “Outer Range.” The motel behind them is the Hiway House Motel at 3200 Central Ave. in Albuquerque.
    Check the license plate. Similar to “Longmire,” producers of “Outer Range” chose to use 24 as the additional fictitious county of Wyoming. Absaroka in the case of “Longmire,” Amelia in the case of “Outer Range.” The motel behind them is the Hiway House Motel at 3200 Central Ave. in Albuquerque. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • Lili Taylor and Josh Brolin stare into a mysterious black hole with the Tetons looming in the background in "Outer Range."
    Lili Taylor and Josh Brolin stare into a mysterious black hole with the Tetons looming in the background in "Outer Range." (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • The Abbott Ranch with the Tetons superimposed in the background was built from scratch near Albuquerque.
    The Abbott Ranch with the Tetons superimposed in the background was built from scratch near Albuquerque. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • The main street of the Amelia County town of Wabang was filmed on Bridge Street in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
    The main street of the Amelia County town of Wabang was filmed on Bridge Street in Las Vegas, New Mexico. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • Wabang Drugs is created from an art gallery on Bridge Street in Las Vegas in this Google street view dated March 2021.
    Wabang Drugs is created from an art gallery on Bridge Street in Las Vegas in this Google street view dated March 2021. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • University of New Mexico Physics and Astronomy Interdisciplinary Science building in "Outer Range" is part of the University of Wyoming.
    University of New Mexico Physics and Astronomy Interdisciplinary Science building in "Outer Range" is part of the University of Wyoming. (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • Tamara Podemski plays Joy Hawk, sheriff of the fictitious Amelia County in Wyoming.
    Tamara Podemski plays Joy Hawk, sheriff of the fictitious Amelia County in Wyoming. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Wyoming Was Hollywood

Wyoming has played itself in hundreds of movies going back to the 1953 Western “Shane,” where much of the exterior shoots were done on location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at the base of the Tetons.

John Wayne’s “Hellfighters” shot mainly in the Casper area in 1967. Parts of “Rocky IV,” “Every Which Way But Loose” and “Django Unchained” were filmed in Jackson Hole. In fact, director Quentin Tarantino considered shooting “The Hateful Eight” (2015) using the actual Fort Caspar as a backdrop but switched gears at the last minute.

When moviemakers for “Starship Troopers” (1997) needed a place that looked as desolate as future Earth after giant alien insects destroyed the planet, nothing fit the bill better than the badlands of Hell’s Half Acre midway between Casper and Shoshoni.

And what could take the place of Devils Tower in the 1977 hit movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?” Steven Spielberg and his crew spent a ton of time around Hulett shooting scenes for that movie despite pushback from the National Park Service about filming inside the monument area

Brokeback Mountain shot a handful of exterior scenes in Grand Teton National Park, but most of that 2005 movie was filmed in Alberta, Canada. Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River” was partially filmed in the Lander area though much of the production took place in Utah.

The truth is, movies that profess to take place in Wyoming, even when they are shot elsewhere, still probably boost the state’s image. While lawmakers have failed to provide the motion picture industry with significant financial subsidies and kickbacks, not much is likely lost as far as tourism promotion.

“Yellowstone” continues to be a huge boon for Western states like Montana and Wyoming even if some 75% of the series was filmed in Utah.

“Longmire” may have shot in New Mexico, but thousands of tourists flock to Buffalo, Wyoming, expecting to see the sheriff of Absaroka County. There’s even an annual “Longmire Days” every July.

On-location filming brings jobs and boosts local economies to a degree. But Wyoming remains a difficult place to come and shoot a major motion picture, according to industry experts.

Infrastructure, including available talent pool for locals hires just isn’t there in Wyoming. No production houses. No rental houses or repair facilities for cameras, lighting and other specialized equipment. Everything a shoot might need has to be brought in from Denver or Salt Lake.

Wyoming’s scenery, for the most part, can be duplicated elsewhere and more cheaply.

Weather is also a huge factor. The state’s short summers do not allow for enough time to get production done within three or four months of guaranteed good weather.

While Wyoming isn’t a draw for on-location production, there’s no state that screams Western and cowboy more than the Cowboy State. With technology making it so production companies don’t actually have to film here, Wyoming has a huge future in the industry.

Contact Jake Nichols at jake@cowboystatedaily.com

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter