Quentin Tarantino wanted blood and snow for his new film “Django Unchained.”
He had no trouble faking blood. But finding snow in northern California last December proved impossible.
So he came to Jackson Hole.
There’s no doubt the Teton milieu was a mise en scene extraordinaire for the film, which opens Christmas day. But one other factor drove the Academy Award-winning director to bring his production to the Cowboy State: a tax credit.
Most of the film takes place in the pre-Civil War South and was shot in Louisiana. But there needed to be an element where the two lead characters (Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx) go off into the mountains, said the film’s executive producer James Skotchdople. “It was the first time in 60 years they didn’t have snow in Mammoth (Lakes, Calif.) at the end of December,” he said. “We had to go to a place where there was snow, a beautiful mountain backdrop and a tax credit. I knew where to take Quentin.”
Skotchdople had worked in the Jackson area on a number of productions in the past. He and the late director Tony Scott shot Marlboro cigarette commercials on the rugged Teton landscape in the 1980s.
“When we arrived to scout the location, almost instantly Quentin saw it and said it was perfect,” Skotchdople said.
There are four or five signature shots of the craggy mountain range and two shots at the National Elk Refuge.
“Any time the state is showcased it draws interest,” said Michell Howard, manager of the Wyoming Film Office. “People connect with a sense of place and want to come out here.”
The film will undoubtedly offer the world a view of Wyoming. It’s already nominated for five Golden Globes and is expected to be a front-runner during Oscar season.
The Wyoming Film Office works with the state's Tourism Department to encourage the use of Wyoming as a go-to place for filming a major motion picture. The state offers a 15 percent rebate for productions spending more than $200,000. “Django” brought more than $800,000 into Wyoming, according to the office of tourism. Because of the nature of the scenes shot in the Jackson area, there was no need for extras. A crew built the set in California when production was still scheduled for Mammoth and shipped it to Jackson. The production team did hire 12 horsemen to care for animals on the set.
"They were used to the altitude and the cold," Skotchdople said of the horsemen.
One of the biggest economic boons came to Snow King Resort. The cast and crew stayed at the ski resort, filling the place during the two weeks of shooting.
The tax credit is more than a way to advertise the state’s natural beauty and boost local economies. It’s beginning to build a film industry in the state. There are familiarization tours to showcase movie locations throughout the state, Howard said. New York and Los Angeles are less and less the only options to shoot films across the country. Wyoming does have regional competition, though. Utah, Montana and Colorado offer tax incentives to bring productions away from the East and West coasts and into the heart of the country.
Another film coming
Academy Award-winning director Alexander Payne ("About Schmidt") met with Wyoming Film Office employees more than a year ago for a look at shooting locations for “Nebraska.” It’s a road-trip flick starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father and son on a voyage from Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., and will be released in late 2013.
“Alexander wanted the truthfulness of the place to come across on scene,” said Albert Berger, producer of the film. “Wyoming was the logical middle point.”
Being a Nebraska native, Payne wanted to shoot as much as he could in the Cornhusker State. The state doesn’t have a tax credit, Berger said, so it makes it almost impossible to film there. Because Payne wanted a visual verisimilitude in the film, some of it was shot in Nebraska — at great expense, Berger said. Early this month, the film crew shot for a few days north of Buffalo and near Gillette. The cast and crew filled hotel rooms, hired extras and visited local eateries and stores, Berger said.
“Wyoming becomes an incredibly viable and attractive place to shoot,” he said. “Had it been a jump ball, Wyoming gets the call.”
By setting up the rebates and having the visually striking natural endowments, Berger said, Wyoming is in place to build a crew base and showcase itself to the rest of the world.
Thanks to “Django Unchained” and “Nebraska,” Hollywood is starting to pay attention to Wyoming again, Howard said. There have been a few films shot in the state since "Starship Troopers" came to Hell's Half Acre west of Casper in 1996, but nothing with much clout. The state Legislature introduced the tax credit in 2007 and it's starting to pay off, officials say. Howard's received inquiries from production teams and said there is a “buzz” about the Cowboy State in the industry.
“We look forward to doing something in Wyoming in the future,” Berger said.