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‘Yellowstone’ show spends big in Missoula

Kevin Costner plays the patriarch of a Montana ranch-owning family in “Yellowstone.”  (Paramount Network)
Kevin Costner plays the patriarch of a Montana ranch-owning family in “Yellowstone.” (Paramount Network)
By David Erickson Missoulian

There will be many scenes in the upcoming fourth season of Paramount Network’s hit television fictional drama “Yellowstone” that won’t look like fiction to Missoulians.

The show, starring Kevin Costner, has been filmed here and in the Bitterroot Valley for the last several months. If you’re a regular at the classic Ruby’s Cafe in Missoula, you’ll probably notice an odd detail in a window-smashing scene when the show airs. A scene was filmed at Community Medical Center, and the Missoula County Courthouse will be featured.

But behind the scenes, the economic impact of a well-funded Hollywood production coming here has been sizeable, as local small businesses and workers take advantage of a studio payroll.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Paramount Network spent roughly $80 million filming the first three seasons of “Yellowstone” in Utah. That translates to over $26 million a season.

This year, Paramount decided to move filming to Montana to take advantage of a new $10 million tax credit law passed by the Montana Legislature that was deemed more attractive than Utah’s incentives.

And that has meant a lot to local businesses and workers.

Brenda Hallas owns Ruby’s Cafe in Missoula, a classic diner that’s been open for nearly half a century.

“A couple months ago some people scouting for the show were in here and asking me ‘do you mind if we take pictures’ and looking around,” Hallas recalled. “They came in later and said, ‘you’re our No. 1 choice’ and asked me if we’d be interested. We have this look that nobody else has anymore.”

The show filmed for an entire day, from 6 a.m. until almost 9 p.m., in October at the diner. They then hired a local cleaning crew to scour the whole restaurant and remove all the fake blood the next day.

“I do have to say they were incredible to work with,” Hallas said. “I cannot tell you a negative. Of course, I never met the cast, I only dealt with the crew. And the crew I dealt with was absolutely wonderful. They were so professional. They were just Johnny-on-the-spot with immediate responses.”

She said everyone from the electricians to lighting professionals were “wonderful to deal with.”

“And then they hired local people to clean,” she said. “The cleaners were here for seven and a half hours, cleaning head-to-toe. They made a mess filming, to be honest with you, but it wasn’t something that was ‘oh my gosh.’ They made it right.”

Hallas said she didn’t get an “exorbitant” amount for allowing the filming to take place.

“But I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “This isn’t the first time. We’ve had different shoots in here. New York Magazine did a shoot in here. We had a music video shot in here. We’ve had an album cover shot in here, and a tiny little local movie company shot in here once.”

None of her staff were used as extras because she said extras had to quarantine first. Hallas said many of her regular customers stood outside on the sidewalk and watched the filming.

“The people behind the scenes, the crew, they work their butts off,” she said. The company would go in and “fog” the restaurant with a cleaning solution between some shots, as well.

“It was spotless when they left,” she said.

Cortney Bergeson, a project manager with TC Glass in Missoula, said their company was hired to replace the tinted-glass in the restaurant with clear glass for filming action shots.

“We put in tempered glass and they broke it out three times,” she said. “They pulled a guy through a window facing Brooks. We’d run up and replace it every time they broke it out. It was really cool.”

The next day, the company went and put all the old windows back in.

“There was fake blood all over the other ones,” she said. “It was fun to see all that. The whole crew was really awesome. We got to talk to all the actors. Everyone was really friendly. It was the perfect opportunity.”

The production company rented a warehouse in Bonner for use as a sound stage, and many other businesses have reaped the benefits from the show as well.

Missoula city police officers were hired several times by the show for security purposes. The total off-duty overtime hours paid by the company amounted to 285, for a total reimbursement of $17,081, according to city communications manager Ginny Merriam. That money doesn’t come from taxpayers, because the hired cops are off-duty.

The show spent $130 on getting public right-of-way closures in the city, and also paid the city $7,870 for blocking off parking spots when they shot several scenes downtown.

Missoula County facilities director Jason Hauser said the company paid $16,000 to use the Missoula County Courthouse on a Saturday and another evening.

“They were very good to work with,” Hauser said. “There were only a few minor things damaged, and they paid for repairs. They didn’t impede public access at all.”

The show may be set in the Bozeman area, but it will be Missoulians excitedly pointing at themselves on their screens next year. Hundreds of locals have made around $180 a day as extras.

City council member Jesse Ramos spent a day filming a scene with Kevin Costner and a couple other actors. Ramos said it was an “awesome” experience, but he’s especially excited for the economic benefit to local small businesses. He’s said he’s heard local restaurants, bars, hotels and myriad other businesses have been boosted.

“It has brought a nice revenue boon at a time when it was most needed,” he said. “I’m excited for them to be back next year.”

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