By Ruffin Prevost
Sharp-eyed cinema fans may recognize landscapes from Grand Teton National Park and see wildlife from the National Elk Refuge in a few scenes from a major Hollywood movie set for release on Christmas Day.
Production on writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, came to Jackson, Wyo. on short notice in February when a lack of snow in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains forced producers to scramble for a new last-minute location.
The film crew spent about a week shooting around Jackson Hole at a cost of more than $500,000, according to the Wyoming Film Office, which will credit 15 percent of total expenditures in the state back to producers under a state-sponsored incentive program designed to attract production and promote Wyoming.
Django Unchained is a Civil War-era homage to spaghetti Westerns that follows the exploits of a renegade slave played by Jamie Foxx and a German-born bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz.
Both Academy Award-winning actors were in scenes shot in Jackson Hole, and parts of those snowy sequences appear in publicity materials for the film.
Critics have described Django Unchained as “politically troubling,” “liberating,” “darkly comedic,” “exceedingly graphic” and “a bloody good time from start to finish.”
Producers picked Jackson Hole as a backup winter location after Mammoth Lakes, Calif. surprisingly had no snow in late January.
“We had to disassemble the entire set, put it on a truck, and we shipped it to Wyoming,” production designer Michael Riva said in a statement released with the film’s production notes. “And it was beautiful. There were many locations that were really terrific, like steam rivers, hills with tons of snow, and elk preserves. It started to open up the picture. The picture became very large, and the scope became really grand.”
Producer Stacey Sher said Tarantino wanted to shoot in a real Western location with snow and cold weather. There was plenty of both during the shoot, when temperatures at one point dipped to around 20 degrees below zero. But the extreme cold apparently didn’t sour Tarantino on shooting in Grand Teton and the surrounding area.
“Quentin Tarantino fell in love with Jackson Hole,” said Jackie Skaggs, spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park. Skaggs said Tarantino shot scenes in Antelope Flats and around the Kelly area of the park, including at the Kelly Warm Springs.
“They were thrilled by the scenery and even more in awe of our wildlife,” Skaggs said.
It was the vast herds of elk and bison at the National Elk Refuge between Grand Teton and Jackson that caught Tarantino’s eye, said refuge spokeswoman Lori Iverson.
For a few hours on the last day of shooting in the area, refuge personnel accompanied a small crew to film two riders on horseback with elk and bison in the far distance, Iverson said.
Django Unchained is the only major Hollywood production to request use of the refuge since Iverson began work there in 2005, she said.
Iverson said the production was allowed only as long as their work didn’t stress wildlife, and that crew members were “top-notch” in getting the shots they needed without interfering. Production was approved because the film is likely to help draw attention to the refuge and its mission of wildlife conservation, she said.
The animals at the refuge are regularly fed in winter, so wildlife managers were able to tell crew members exactly where and how to set up to get a shot featuring bison and elk, but with no power lines, buildings or vehicle tracks.
“Everything was so perfectly lined up,” she said. “The herds were positioned just right, and we couldn’t have set it up any better if we tried.”
After seeing a glimpse of the elk and bison herds included in the film’s preview trailer, Iverson said she’s looking forward to seeing the movie.
“I’m just thrilled we made the cut,” she said. “It may be a very brief blip, but that scene will be a pretty proud moment for me.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].