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film incentives

Filming In Wyoming: Casting Calls Are Few And Far Between

in News/wyoming economy

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

“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: wolfgangwyoming@cs.com

Wide-Open Spaces

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.”

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Legislative Committee To Study Film Incentives in Wyoming After Missing Out On ‘Yellowstone’ & ‘Joe Pickett’

in News/Legislature

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A legislative committee will once again study the idea of providing incentives for companies that film movies and television shows in Wyoming, its members decided earlier this week.

On Tuesday, the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee asked the Legislative Service Office to draft legislation that would provide rebates of up to 30% of spending by film production companies in Wyoming.

The bill is based on one that was considered and rejected by the Legislature during its budget session earlier this year.

The committee’s decision to study the bill came on the heels of a presentation by Charles Lammers, creative assets manager for the state Office of Tourism and a member of the state’s Film Incentives Task Force.

Lammers said Wyoming lost out to Montana to host shooting of the hit TV series “Yellowstone,” and other major productions such as “Joe Pickett” and “1883” because it lacks an incentive program.

“Wyoming needs a film incentive to even being to attract major productions,” Lammers said. “Many of these shows are popping up with Wyoming storylines, Wyoming scenery, and despite that they’re not being filmed in Wyoming.” 

Incentive programs in Montana have served to attract production companies, which in turn attract people like Dean Madley, who grew up in Cody and became interested in film production at a young age. 

Madley continued this pursuit as a young adult, but eventually found himself moving to Montana in order to pursue his passion, as opportunities were just too few and far between in his home state.

“I would want to be a resource to production companies as someone with general knowledge of (Wyoming) and its inhabitants,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

Lammers said his department has received a large number of inquiries about film production since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He said the lack of an incentive program means the state has lost out on 27,000 jobs that were created in other locations shooting Wyoming-themed productions.

Under the Wyoming Film Production Incentives program to be proposed in the legislation, to qualify for a 15% rebate on costs, a production would have to spend at least $200,000 and have 1 million views.

Additional rebates would be available for companies whose production crews would be made up of at least 60% of Wyoming residents, crews made up of at least 10% Wyoming veterans or that could prove the production had at least 7.5 million views.

Rebates of up to 10% would also be available for smaller productions, such as commercials, documentaries and music videos, where production companies spend at least $50,000 and hire Wyoming workers to make up 60% of their crews.

A total of $3 million would be dedicated to start this program.

Lammers said Wyoming is the only state in the Rocky Mountain region without a film incentive program at this point, aside from South Dakota. He said non-traditional locales such as Oklahoma are starting to become a more common destination for film production companies.

Oklahoma recently launched a $20 million film incentive fund with great returns and Atlanta’s incentive program has made that city a hot spot for film production. New Mexico has also heavily invested in film opportunities, leading to production of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad” in that state.

Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, said he was hesitant about investing in an incentive program, only to run the risk of having production companies object to Wyoming legislation on social issues.

Over the last few years, companies have pulled out from projects taking place in Florida, Georgia and Texas because of legislation enacted in those states.

“Can you talk to me about state dollars being invested to start this, only to have a different outcome of a different political philosophy that would turn on the taxpayer’s money and then not shoot anything in Wyoming?” he questioned.

Lammers said it would be unwise to speculate on what is happening in other states and said production companies will always make their decisions based primarily on what makes most fiscal sense.

Rep. Christopher Knapp, R-Gillette, said film production would not create new job as much as it would provide a boost for existing jobs.

He also questioned Lammers about the need for the program when Wyoming-themed productions already promote the state to potential tourists.

Rep. Pat Sweeney (R-Casper) disagreed and said when the 1997 movie “Starship Troopers” was filmed in Natrona County, it was a major boon for the community.

“It’s not just service jobs we’re talking about here,” Sweeney said. 

Lammers said it would be best for Wyoming to go “all in” when it comes to recruiting film opportunities because it will help keep residents in-state.

Madley, in his interview with Cowboy State Daily, agreed.

“The tax incentive in Montana is a big reason my friends and I are still there and working in the state,” Madley said.

The committee will consider this topic again at its next meeting in August.

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‘Yellowstone’ Prequel Didn’t Film In Wyoming Due To Lack Of Film Incentive

in News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The lack of a film incentive program in Wyoming was one of the reasons the production company behind the “Yellowstone” prequel series “1883,” chose to not film in Natrona County last year.

Location scout Nate Wells told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he was returning home to Colorado from Montana, scouting potential locations, when he passed by signs for the Pathfinder Ranch in Natrona County.

He thought the location was gorgeous, and would fit well with the script, since the characters would be passing through the Fort Casper area on the Oregon Trail.

“Its beauty is unreal,” Wells said. “Plus, everyone was really struck by this landmark called Devil’s Gate, which has a large cut in a rock that the pioneers would follow. That was going to be a major location for us.”

Wells said the production company likely would have filmed two episodes in the ranch area, which would have meant the crew spending six to eight weeks in the Casper and Natrona County area, getting the sets prepared for production. Then, the cast would be on location for about three weeks for the actual filming.

Wells could not say how much the production company would have spent in the area, but Ryan Lance of Pathfinder Ranch said he was told the production company would likely spend “multiple, multiple millions” during that short time in the area.

“They would have spent that on hotels, telehandlers, booms, lifts and restaurants,” Lance said.

Wells agreed that production companies typically spend “significant” amounts of money supporting local businesses when filming on location.

But due to the lack of the film incentive, as well as logistical issues, the production company decided to film “1883” in Texas and Montana. “Yellowstone” itself has been filmed in Montana since its second season. It was filmed in Utah during its first season.

Both Wells and Lance were critical not only the lack of incentive, but also the failure of the Wyoming House of Representatives to introduce a bill during its budget session that would have provided rebates to film production companies for money spent in Wyoming.

House Bill 93 would have provided rebates to film production companies through the state’s tourism board as incentive for film production in Wyoming.

“As a person from Wyoming who is very proud of what we have here, it’s awfully frustrating for me to see a lot of films and series that are purported to be set in Wyoming but are shot in Montana and New Mexico and other places,” Lance said. “We give a lot of incentives for other things in the state. This seems to be something we’re continually hearing about, maybe it’s time to look at what are we really giving up and what do we gain in the process.”

Lance noted that officials with the production company had been willing to testify before a legislative committee to discuss how the lack of an incentive influenced their decision to film elsewhere.

Montana’s film incentive program offers partial compensation for the use of state workers, payments to colleges for filming on campus, rental payments for equipment and overall wages. The incentives also include a 20% income tax credit on production spending, which means the production company can reduce its tax payment to the state of Montana by 20% of whatever they spend on the production.

Wyoming author C.J. Box previously told Cowboy State Daily that while he has pushed to have the adaptations of his novels “Joe Pickett” and “Big Sky” filmed in Wyoming, the production companies have chosen other states or even Canada to film due to production incentives and lower costs.

Many states, such as New Mexico, Georgia and Louisiana, have lucrative film incentive programs and have seen many film and TV productions in their states.

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Casper Rep Praises Failure Of Film Incentive Bill; C. J. Box Not As Happy

in News/Legislature

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

There’s a difference of opinion between two Chucks over the Wyoming Legislature’s decision not to introduce a bill this week that would have provided incentives for film and TV productions.

House Bill 93 would have provided rebates to film production companies through the state’s tourism board as incentive for film production in Wyoming.

However, it failed to win introduction, nearly splitting the House of Representatives, with 32 representatives voting to send it on for further consideration and 28 voting not to do so.

As a non-budget bill considered during a budget session, two-thirds of House members would have had to vote for its introduction to move it forward in the legislative process.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, one of the legislators who voted against the bill, praised his colleagues for keeping it from being introduced.

“This bill was wrong for our state and it’s good news that it failed introduction,” Gray told Cowboy State Daily. “The bill would have wrongly used $3 million of state funds every two years to pay the invoices of film studios. That is an inappropriate use of state funds.”

Other legislators who voted “nay” on the bill included Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett and Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette.

But best-selling author C.J. “Chuck” Box said he was disappointed the bill did not gain any traction this legislative session. Box has regularly testified to legislative committees in favor of such an incentive program, saying it would benefit the state.

“Our Wyoming Legislature has shown, once again, that they have very little interest in creating new industries and new employment in the state,” Box told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “We can only hope that they’ll reconsider this in the future.”

Box has noted before that while he has pushed to have the adaptations of his novels “Joe Pickett” and “Big Sky” filmed in Wyoming, the production companies have chosen other states or even Canada to film due to production incentives and cheaper costs.

The 32 representatives that voted to introduce the bill included Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper and Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson.

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Wyoming’s minimal exposure in movies could soon dissipate

in Government spending/News/Tourism

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As the last of the funding is drained from the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s Film Incentives Program, the state could see even less time on the silver screen.

Filming in Wyoming can be a hard sell for out-of-state companies such as Netflix and Thunder Road Films, which produced Wind River in 2017.

Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, explained a lack of film production infrastructure played a significant role among the many difficulties in luring production companies to Wyoming.

In the past, the state’s Film Incentive Program helped offset the difficulties of drawing film studios, travel shows and multimedia production firms to the state by offering a 12 to 15 percent rebate to companies that spent more than $200,000 shooting in Wyoming.

“We used the program as a recruitment tool for out-of-state production companies to use in-state production companies,” Shober said. “Having a film incentive doesn’t guarantee a company will shoot in your state, but without one, big film companies won’t even look at you.”

In 2009, the program provided Brown 26 Productions, which worked on Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” with a $115,000 rebate for shooting parts of the movie in Wyoming. The movie’s total budget was estimated at about $100 million, according to Internet Movie Database (IMDb). In 2015, however, when Tarantino directed “Hateful Eight,” a movie about bounty hunters waiting out a Wyoming winter during the late 19th century, the film was primarily shot in Colorado, which Shober said has a robust incentive program.

Breaking down the numbers

Since its creation in 2007, the incentives program has returned about $2.1 million to production companies, Shober said.Wyoming’s checkbook, released in January by State Auditor Kristi Racines, includes checks issued by the Office of Tourism for the program from the last six years.

According to the checkbook, the office paid grants for about $322,000 in 2013, $167,000 in 2014, $366,000 in 2015, $402,000 in 2016, $248,000 in 2017 and $35,000 in 2018.

Shober said other than minimal funding for signage, the Film Incentives Program was the only grant program operated by the office.

The production companies listed on the checks range from big names like Red Bull Media House and Wells Fargo Bank to smaller multimedia companies like WZRD Media and Teton Gravity Research.

Every applicant was required to meet certain criteria to be eligible for the rebate. Requirements include $200,000 or more spent in the state, a storyline set in Wyoming, Wyoming footage in the production and listing Wyoming as a filming location in the credits.

Shober said the program funds were appropriated by Legislature, which also set the criteria for rebate eligibility.

“In this last legislative session, we had a bill requesting funding that made it out of the House,” she said. “But it died in the Senate on third reading.”

House Bill 164 would have transferred up to $16,000 from the Tourism Office’s main budget to the Film Production Incentive Program. Without the appropriations requested in House Bill 164, the incentives program is finished, Shober said.The program has not received an appropriation since 2009, she added. 

A tale of two hunting shows

Gunwerks and Best of the West both film hunting shows in Wyoming focused on long-range shooting for the Sportsman Channel and others.

Both Cody companies were recipients of film incentive rebates between 2013 and 2018.

“The two companies were once one,” said Mike LaBazzo, Gunwerks’ director of business development. “Aaron Davidson, the founder of Gunwerks, is also the inventor of the Huskemaw scope. When he was a young engineer, he met Jack Peterson, who at that point had a video production company called Best of the West.”

After a falling out between the founders, the companies split and both started ramping up film production as a marketing tool for the then-controversial topic of hunting game at ranges of more than 300 yards.

When the companies were one and in their infancy, shooting game at more than 300 yards was frowned upon because of “hold over,” the vertical distance a hunter holds his scope’s center mark above the target to compensate for the amount a bullet drops over long distances, LaBazzo explained.

With a Huskemaw scope mounted on a Gunwerks custom long-range rifle, however, he said hunters no longer needed to guess how high to hold their center marks over the target.  To get the word out, the company produced a hunting series for television. When the companies split, both shot their own series.

“‘Long Range Pursuit’ consists of two types of video,” LaBazzo explained. “One is hunting, and we do that anywhere in the world, but a lot of episodes are filmed here in Wyoming. In addition, we offer tech tips and shooting tips.”

With 21 episodes shot each year, he said it wasn’t feasible to film every one in the state, but they highlighted Wyoming as often as possible.

“We’ve always used our Wyoming roots as a marketing tool,” LaBazzo said. “We talk about Wyoming a lot in our show.”

From 2012 to 2018, Gunwerks received $202,000 in grants. It was the only company in 2018 to receive a rebate from the office of tourism. The money helped cover costs, but wasn’t essential to production.

“We had the show before (the incentives program), and we’re going to have the show after,” LaBazzo said. “What we were getting back certainly helps, but it wasn’t essential to us being able to make the show.”

Across town at Best of the West, however, the company’s vice president, Jim Sessions, said its show might suffer without the rebate.

“We learned it was disappearing around January 2018,” Sessions said. “It has significantly affected our ability to produce episodes.”

“The Best of the West” TV show first aired in 2003 and has produced hundreds of episodes since. In 2010, Nielsen reported the show reached 4.7 million households.

“We’ve aired on a number of channels including the Mens Channel Outdoors, Pursuit and the Sportsman Channel,” Sessions said. “I always thought we portrayed Wyoming very positively.”

Without the incentive program’s rebates, which have amounted to $244,000 over the years, he said Best of the West has cut its episode load by half and the future of the show could be at risk.

Shober said the incentives program was not likely to be revived in the near future.

“Not every state has an incentive program, and some state’s are consolidating their’s,” she said. “There has to be a legislative appetite for a program like this, and right now, in Wyoming, I don’t know that there is.”

Acclaimed author says Legislature may have missed opportunity with film incentive vote

in News/Tourism
Video camera on an outside table, ALT= Film incentive

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Legislature may have missed an opportunity by killing a proposed film incentive program, according to an acclaimed Wyoming author.

“I would certainly say so,” said C.J. Box, a Saratoga resident. “Also, for no good reason. They’re not spending any money.”

Box is the author of the popular “Joe Pickett” book series, which focuses on the crime solving activities of a Wyoming game warden. He was in Cheyenne last week to argue for HB 164, which would create a film incentive program for companies spending more than $200,000 in Wyoming.

The bill fell one vote short of winning approval from Wyoming’s House.

Supporters argued that other states with incentive programs often become the sites for the filming of stories set in Wyoming, such as the “Longmire” series based on the works of Wyoming author Craig Johnson.

Box is working with Paramount Television to develop a television series based on his Pickett novels and he said without an incentive program, it will be very difficult to get production companies to even consider Wyoming.

“There’s no guarantee it would be filmed in Wyoming, but it is probably less likely it will even be considered without any kind of incentive,” he said.

The bill would have created a program allowing the Wyoming Office of Tourism to reimburse production companies for up to 15 percent of their expenses while filming in Wyoming if they spent at least $200,000.

The program would have been financed in part with carryover funds from the Office of Tourism and the bill carried no request for additional state money.

“I don’t see a downside, especially to that bill,” Box said. “There was not one dime set against it. I’m trying to figure out what kind of reasoning there would be. So many of our legislators say they want a growing and diversified economy.”

While not as large an incentive program as those available in some other states, the plan would have been a good first step for luring productions to Wyoming, Box said, which in turn would have helped create an experienced workforce for film production.

“That’s what happened in New Mexico, to the point that Netflix is building a production studio there,” he said.

Box had hoped the program might be in place in time for Wyoming to be considered a filming location for the Joe Pickett series, which takes place in locations around the state.

“I’ll be honest and say I’d love to see it filmed in Wyoming,” he said. “(The series) moves around the entire state, from Jackson to the Red Desert. The last book was set in Saratoga. There’s a possibility the whole state could get some benefit from it.”

Wyoming launched a film incentive program in 2007, but it was allowed to expire in 2011.

House kills film incentive bill

in News
Film production equipment, ALT=film incentive bill

By Cowboy State Daily

A plan to draw film production companies to Wyoming with incentives died on a narrow House vote Thursday.

HB 164 would have created a program to allow the state to reimburse film companies for some of their expenses while filming in Wyoming. The reimbursement would only have gone into effect if the production company spent more than $200,000 in Wyoming.

The bill died on its third and final reading in the House on a vote of 30-27 with three people excused. To win final approval from the House, a bill must receive an “aye” vote from a majority of the 60-member body — 31 votes.

During testimony before committee, Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober said the state’s lack of an incentive program and of skilled film production workers hurt its ability to compete with other states for productions.

Film incentive program approved for final reading

in News/Tourism

A program designed to lure film production companies to Wyoming with incentives was sent on Wednesday for a final reading in Wyoming’s House.

HB 164, which would allow the state to reimburse production companies for some of their expenses, was approved in its second reading in the House.

The bill would specify that the Wyoming Office of Tourism could reimburse companies for 15 percent of their expenses while working in Wyoming. The production companies would have to spend a minimum of $200,000 in the state to be eligible for the program.

During testimony before a House committee, Diane Shober, director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, said the lack of an incentive program and a shortage of trained film production crew members puts Wyoming at a disadvantage to other states when film companies are looking for production sites.

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