Ruth De Jong
We told him, We’re working on what we believe will be an epic show called Yellowstone for Paramount. Your ranch is supposed to be in Paradise Valley and it’s the longest contiguous ranch along Yellowstone National Park, literally the last piece of land that no amount of money can purchase. I sold him on the whole story and he was like, Yeah, cool. We toured the whole place and we said, This is amazing! The views were epic and expansive and could be easily cheated for Paradise Valley, plus it’s a much more temperate climate. It’s farther west and gets far less snow than Paradise Valley.
But it was really dilapidated. He had purchased it remotely, from Missouri, and his family was living in a condo up in Missoula. His kids were going to school up there and his dream was to redo this house. I said, What if we redo this ranch for you? We completely repainted all his barns. We built the entire front porch, put in a helipad, rebuilt all of the corrals, the arena, and so on. We transformed it to the Dutton Ranch you see today.
Then we brought up the studio and sold it to them. I feel like I always have a producer aspect to the way I work (maybe from being the first child of five kids, or just being born innately bossy!) I said to the head producers on the show, I get that you guys are freaking out because we’re in Montana with no tax incentive but why don’t we go up to Helena, meet the film commission and get a tax incentive for Montana? And we did just that. There’s a picture that keeps circulating to this day of myself with Taylor Sheridan, Steve Bullock (the Governor at the time), and Kevin Costner. For whatever reason it’s the go-to picture the press uses when they write an article on Yellowstone. That was the beginning of what is now going on six seasons for Yellowstone and also such huge successes with all of Taylor’s spin-off’s, prequels, etc.
AS: You made that happen!
RDJ: We all made it happen! It began with Taylor’s writing and vision and I was his conduit to bring the epic-ness he wrote to life and I knew it couldn’t be a McMansion faux ranch in Utah, nor did we have time to build one from the ground up in Utah. We did utilize the stages and built the reservation in Utah and combined shooting in both states for Season 1. Season 2 they moved entirely out of Utah up to Montana.
AS: Montana must have been happy about that, bringing all that money to the state.
RDJ: So much money. It was a blessing for the town of Darby and the surrounding Missoula area but not all Montanans see it that way! Some would say I have blood on my hands for ruining their state and bringing Hollywood to town. I respect their feelings too.
AS: One through-line with all the production designers I’ve interviewed is that everyone really loves their job.
RDJ: We are so lucky. In this day and age if you just walked down the street and asked ten random people about their careers they’d say, I hate my job.
Jack Fisk, David Crank and I were always smiling and laughing when we worked together—I remember on one film, maybe The Master, with Paul Thomas Anderson, someone said, (and it might have been Daniel Lupi, ha!) Why are you guys always smiling? We started laughing, knowing how lucky we are to do what we get to do.
We get to design and build beautiful things, all the while bringing a story to life, to one day share with the world. You get a pile of money to go make beautiful things and then you say, Cool, thanks, see you on the next one! And you get to go do another one. I feel selfish, but production design is the best of all of it.