The state Capitol became a TV set Thursday as a major film crew took over the third floor to shoot a scene for the upcoming series “Yellowstone” starring Kevin Costner.
The series follows the Dutton family, including patriarch John Dutton played by Costner, who own the largest contiguous cattle ranch in the United States. Conflicts with those the ranch borders — an expanding town, an Indian reservation, and America’s first national park, drive the show.
“Far from media scrutiny, it is a violent world of poisoned drinking water and unsolved murders. Yellowstone is an intense study of the modern west rife with land developers, energy speculators, assorted politicians, estranged family, and tribal players. Within this pentagon of interests, land lust is insatiable and love is weaponized,” according to a news release from the casting directors.
Costner was not in the scene or on location Thursday, but the scale of filming included about 200 people in Helena including crew, actors and extras. Semi-trailers full of production equipment lined up outside the Capitol, and inside, the third floor was crowded with lighting equipment, power cords and cameras.
Academy award nominee Taylor Sheridan is writing and directing the series. Spike TV plans to rebrand itself as Paramount Network in January and make “Yellowstone” its flagship show.
The bulk of the filming has taken place on a ranch near Darby with additional on-set filming in Utah.
“Our director wanted to capture just the beauty and expanse of Montana, so we try to do as much true to the nature of what the show should look like,” said Perri Eppie, publicity coordinator for “Yellowstone.” “The ranch in Darby is gorgeous … and we’ve been met with a very warm reception.”
The film centers on a fictional town in the Bozeman area, she said, with the Capitol scene using the Old Supreme Court Chambers to portray a hearing involving one of John Dutton’s sons, who is an attorney, and a land developer attempting to take over bordering land.
The most common question Eppie hears is what time period the show is set in, as Costner’s career includes period pieces such as “Dances with Wolves” and “Open Range.” The show is set in present day.
Wildfire smoke and recent snows made filming a challenge. A rainstorm before production began in Darby gave them three days of clear skies, she said, while this week’s winter weather hampered some planned outdoor shooting.
“Luckily because it’s a ranching show and it does involve nature, a lot we’ve left it kind of open-ended so we can incorporate some of the natural elements,” Eppie said, adding that Montana is viewed almost as a character itself in the show.
The crew filmed for about two weeks in August and the latest trip has lasted about three weeks, she added.
Steve Baiamonte, division administrator with General Services, which is responsible for all state buildings, said filming included quite a bit of staff and affected most floors of the Capitol.
“We really welcome the challenge of having this type of event in the Capitol to be able to highlight the beauty of the building and its historical significance,” he said. “We really enjoyed working on it.”
Production has included casting calls for extras and some amazing response, said Allison Whitmer with the Montana Film Office. A casting call in Hamilton drew nearly 1,000 people – the biggest she is aware of in Montana. Whitmer said she believes this is the largest film production to ever use the state Capitol.
The film office began working with producers in April to scout locations and do logistics assistance.
“On a national level, this is great advertising for our state,” she said. “Of course the crew is also staying in hotels and using houses and ranches, visiting our amazing natural attractions, so it’s great economically because it brings people to Montana that’ve never been here.”
Eppie said the crew has taken full advantage of their time in the state, enjoying some hiking and fishing on weekends.