Small Towns, Big Screens: Filmmaking in Montana
~Allison Whitmer, Montana Film Commissioner
Montana is proof you don’t have to live in a big city to attract film and television production to your community. In fact, sometimes the smallest and most remote locations may be exactly what a filmmaker is looking for. Here’s a look at some of the rural places featured in recent projects and old favorites. Some you might have spotted on the big screen. Others you might have missed.
Near Libby, the impressive Kootenai River enters a canyon and flows over Kootenai Falls, one of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the northwest. Kootenai Falls was the setting for "River Wild" and tossed Leonardo DiCaprio over the edge in a gripping scene from “The Revenant.”
Nestled in the Bitterroot Valley, Darby provides the main ranch location for the new television series “Yellowstone.” The historic Chief Joseph Lodge and ranch was constructed in 1914. Using Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn as a guide, the architects built this log structure over a three-year period. Since then, it has been featured in various media and is now on television every week.
“Winter in the Blood,” a searing adaptation of the novel by James Welch, features characters searching for redemption on the streets of Havre and Chinook, wandering the hayfields of the plains, and finding answers beneath the quaking aspens of the Bear Paw Mountains. Andy’s Supper Club in Havre not only set the stage for the film’s drama but also became a favorite location of the cast and crew.
The next time you get held up by rustlers on the Charlie Russell Chew Choo, imagine being there in 1995 when custom railcars, props, and explosions ruled the rails between Denton and Lewistown for the filming of “Broken Arrow.” Celebrity sightings of John Travolta and Christian Slater were common downtown during the six weeks of filming that included stunts, gun battles, helicopters, and more!
From T-shirts to signs downtown, Glasgow proudly proclaims itself the “middle of nowhere.” For a filmmaker looking for just that, it’s no wonder Clint Eastwood came to the snow-covered prairies and hangers north of town on the decommissioned Glasgow Air Force Base for “Firefox.” Look closely at the scenes of a plane on a deserted polar ice cap, for some of them are right here in Montana. We move down the road to Fort Peck Dam in “Northfork,” with the massive towers of the dam and spillway looming over James Woods as he contemplates mortality.
Television came calling to Miles City this spring when RFD-TV came to town with its docuseries “Special Cowboy Moments” on rodeo legends, western history, historic ranches, and the ranchers that made them. Capturing the heart of the steadfast western spirit, the producers dug deep into the history of Fort Keogh, the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, and the Range Riders Museum. As they put it, Miles City features “more western history per capita than anywhere else in the world!”
When new technology spurred the communities of Sidney, Fairview, and Williston into a massive oil boom in the Bakken, the world took notice of the pump jacks, trailers, and mancamps sprouting up in grain fields and pastures and dotting the side roads. The influx of oil workers put people and machines into some of the most intense work environments in the country. The Smithsonian Channel sent a crew of journalists and filmmakers, and unknown to them at the time, documented the last throes of the boom before the price crash in 2012. “Boomtowners” showed this firsthand through the eyes of newcomers and longtime residents making a living in a modern-day oil rush.
Our office receives phone calls and emails every day about Montana’s incredible locations. If you’re well connected in your community and would like to see more film activity near you, consider signing up to be a community film ambassador—local liaisons for the Montana Film Office. Call 406.841.2887 or email [email protected] for more information.