Lights, Camera, Action! Montana on the Big (and small) Screen

If you have seen movies such as “A River Runs Through It”, “The Horse Whisperer”, “Always” and more recently “The Revenant”, you have had a glimpse of the beauty of Montana.  Since the 1897 feature “The Tourist Train Leaving Livingston” Montana has been the backdrop for numerous productions including films, television movies and series as well as documentaries.  Our member Hawley Mountain Ranch was featured in a couple of scenes in “A River Runs Through It”.

Now movies can be found on Netflix, Hulu and many other online applications.  For example, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” used Bannack State Park as one of the locations in the production.

Montana is chosen for the spectacular scenery and the following locations:

  • old west towns & sets
  • lakes & reservoirs
  • dams
  • rivers
  • waterfalls
  • mountains
  • ski areas
  • performance roads
  • railroads
  • mansions
  • prisons
  • unusual locations

The decision for producers to film here doesn’t happen by chance. Montana Film Commissioner Allison Whitmer explains how it all works.

 “Since 1974, the Montana Film Office has been working with producers to showcase the incredible natural beauty of the state, and we seek to expand film production by advertising Montana at film festivals both domestically and international, placing print and digital advertising in industry publications, and promoting our small businesses.

For example, we’ve worked to bring part of the visual look of the series “Yellowstone” to Montana, and the season 3 premiere was watched by over 6 million people.  Many of the viewers will be intrigued by the Montana landscapes and want to visit, and potentially book vacations that are horse-themed, and that translates into bookings at guest ranches!

We also field calls from producers looking for specific locations.  Rural Montana can fit their requirements, as we saw in a recent episode of Debbe Dunning’s Dude Ranch Roundup, filmed at the Rocking Z guest ranch, and other RFD-TV shows that dive into the history of Montana.

We keep a photo database of locations on our website, and anyone can be listed.  We use all kinds of resources to assist producers, from finding tame donkeys and camels (yes, we have some here) to assisting with guiding producers to the correct permitting offices and agencies around the state.  With our mix of National Parks, National Forests, Wilderness Areas, Refuges, BLM, DNRC, and private lands, it can be intimidating to navigate, and we seek to make that process as smooth as possible. 

It’s a pleasure to know and work with all of the wonderful people we meet, and nothing makes us more thrilled to see Montana in the movies or on television.”

ALLISON WHITMER | Film Commissioner

It is the responsibility of the MFO to ensure the state is film friendly. They work with producers to find locations that fit their script and serve as their liaison through every phase of their production.

Producers have come to depend on the MFO to help navigate permitting, regulation processes and location nuances. In the film industry, time really is money. A state’s willingness and ability to assist film productions often becomes a factor in choosing their location.

Every year Montana hosts many productions, from documentaries and television series to short and feature-length films. Take a look below at some of the projects which have used Montana’s natural splendor and urban attractions to add that extra something to their shots. For more information on Montana-made films click on the posters below, check out our YouTube playlist of Montana Movie Trailers & Commercials, or take a look at our Production List.

2000s 1990s 1980s 1970s 1960s 1950s 1940s 1930s 1920s 1900s

Now let’s turn on our TV’s and take a look at series that have been filmed in Montana.  As Allison mentioned, the most recent is “Yellowstone” on the Paramount network. Shot in southwestern Montana, the series stars Kevin Costner as family patriarch John Dutton.  The fictional drama series follows the Dutton family who control the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S. and must contend with constant attacks by land developers, clashes with an Indian reservation and conflict with America’s first national park.  The first season was well received and the series was renewed.  The third season premiered a few days ago on June 21.

Debbe Dunning’s Dude Ranch Roundup on RFD-TV has featured other MT Dude Ranchers members including the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, Hawley Mountain Ranch, Rocking Z Ranch, Blacktail Ranch, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch and the Bar W Ranch.  The series runs on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. MST and repeats on Thursday at 11 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

Information on these ranches as well as other members can be found on www.montanadra.com.  Some ranches still have openings for this season, so check them out.  Isn’t it time for a ranch vacation in Montana?  Hope to welcome you soon to Big Sky Country.

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