For three consecutive years, Yellowstone poured $81 million into Utah’s economy and employed 231 people in and around their Summit County base at Utah Film Studios. Then, in 2021, they closed up shop and rode off into the sunset to film the final seasons exclusively in Montana.
Director Taylor Sheridan, along with Kevin Costner and crew, made waves in series television as Yellowstone became a massive hit. While film and television series are nothing new in Utah, it seems that this series reignited a hotbed of movie production in Utah.
Marshall Moore, Vice President of Operations at the new Utah Film Studios agrees. Moore took Utah Stories on a tour of their sprawling 45,000 square foot facilities to help us understand how and why tinseltown has fallen in love with Utah once again. Why did Paramount decide to film 75% of the first three seasons of Yellowstone in Utah?
First off, Sheridan, who Paramount hired, insisted on it. Sheridan gained acclaim writing the screenplay for Sicario (2015), then Hell or High Water (2016), which won him an Oscar. Sheridan then Directed Wind River (2017). Despite Wind River’s depiction of life in Wyoming, Wind River was filmed mostly in Utah at Utah Film Studios. Wind River’s success demonstrated to Paramount that audiences had an appetite for content showing rural and western life: the $11 million production earned more than $44 million at the box office.
Moore discussed why Sheridan loved filming in Utah so much. “He filmed Wind River here six months earlier. And he talked about a limited series and that ended up being Yellowstone. He likes it because the crew is very capable, and we have top notch facilities. And the locations surrounding the studio are suited for films like Yellowstone and Wind River.”
Marshall Moore, the Vice President of Operations was very pleased to have this kind of success brought to the studio. “That’s a three year booking. You don’t normally get that,” Moore said.
Moore explained that they filmed the ground floor of the Dutton Lodge, John Dutton’s study, Rainwater’s office, the bunkhouse, the tribal police office, and Kayce’s trailer, etc. Most of the interiors of the first three seasons were filmed in Utah.
Utah has a film incentive program which is a 20-25% post-performance incentive that offers a cash rebate or fully refundable, non-transferable tax credit on qualified dollars left in the state. Utah Film Studios is an Institute Associate of the Sundance Film Festival, a Sponsor of the Motion Picture Association of Utah (MPAU), and a member of the Park City Chamber of Commerce.
Utah Film Studios
Utah Film Studios is the largest film studio in Utah, and with the thriving film scene, the incentive program contributes to the studio being able to have their large space. The studio gives productions a permanent home and has been open since June of 2015.
Yellowstone is a hit television series and is a Neo-Western drama. The series stars Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Dutton family in his efforts to preserve his ranch and lifestyle while ongoing forces from developers apply continuous pressure. The drama takes place at the intersection of the massive Yellowstone Ranch, Broken Rock Indian Reservation, Yellowstone National Park, and land developers. Utah has its own ongoing dramas that are not unlike Yellowstone’s trials. Utah Stories wrote about how ranchers in Eden have had their water rights obliterated due to luxury condos and mansions upstream of their acreage. Writing this story was when we first heard of Yellowstone.
Moore said that most Utahns weren’t familiar with Yellowstone during the first season of production.
“The first season I would tell people about Yellowstone filming in the studio, and they would say, ‘Is that some kind of documentary?’” Moore reflected.
Utah Popular Filming Destination
Other Westerns are coming to Utah. The series Horizon, directed by Kevin Costner, is perhaps the most notable. “Horizon’s the biggest Western to come here,” Moore said. Another example is the Western film 1923, starring actors Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren.
Things are changing in the film industry. It is no longer necessary to set foot in Hollywood in order to make a movie. More films are coming to places like Utah, Arizona, or New Mexico. Whereas Arizona and New Mexico have better rebates than Utah, Utah’s iconic scenery keeps filmmakers coming back for more.
“You don’t need to be in a specific geographical location anymore to do what you want to do, as long as the money is there to do it,” Moore said.
Yellowstone was filmed at several Utah locations.
Yellowstone was filmed in many locations in Ogden, including the exterior of Schwartz & Meyer Bank and the Outlaw Saloon. Kevin Costner was also spotted filming at Stevens-Henager College at the Ogden Campus in West Haven.
For the first three seasons, ranch house scenes and other interiors were filmed in the soundstages at the Utah Film Studios in Park City. Some rodeo scenes were filmed at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds, the venue that hosts the annual Utah County Fair in Spanish Fork. Dan Jenkins Lodge is the luxurious and modern Nicklaus Clubhouse at Promontory Club in Park City.
Other locations included Coalville, Henefer, Morgan, and Diamond Fork Canyon.
Featured image via Paramount.