Fans of “Brokeback Mountain” don’t seem to care the movie was actually filmed in Canada.
They want the Wyoming experience.
The Wyoming Business Council’s travel and tourism department has received hundreds of calls asking about scenery in the movie, which is based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx’s short story about two gay Wyoming cowboys.
“When we tell them it was shot in Canada, they’re still interested in Wyoming,” said Michell Howard, manager of the council’s film, arts and entertainment office. “They don’t hang up and call Alberta. They’re intrigued in the story.”
Wyoming Business Council spokesman Chuck Coon said he hasn’t seen a movie generate this much interest in the state during his 15 years with the travel and tourism department.
“In terms of phone calls and Internet requests, it’s usually slow this time of the year,” he said. “This movie has changed that.”
Tourism officials have long known that a good movie can attract tourists. Store owners in Livingston, Mont., say customers still come to see the area where “A River Runs Through It” was filmed, said Sten Iverson of the Montana Film Office; New Zealand is banking on “Lord of the Rings” tours; “Sideways” didn’t just create a demand for wine tours around Santa Barbara, Calif., it boosted sales of certain wines.
Wyoming has had a hard time tapping into that market, though, because so few big-budget movies are filmed here.
Occasionally people who see reruns of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” — a 1977 movie shot near Devil’s Tower — call with questions about the state, Coon said.
“But there’s surprisingly much more interest in Brokeback,” he said. “The subject matter has something to do with it, but most of the calls we get are asking about scenery.”
Too costly to film in Wyoming
Coon said Ang Lee, the director of “Brokeback Mountain,” toured much of the eastern Big Horn Mountains and several nearby towns when scouting locations for the film. But because of budget concerns, Lee shot the film in Canada.
Financial incentives have drawn many film companies to Canada, which has built a $5 billion film industry in the process. Because of the high amount of production there already, companies can hire local crews instead of bringing them from elsewhere, cheapening the overall price of the project.
Wyoming, on the other hand, doesn’t have enough skilled workers for most large film crews, Howard said; if a major project was shot here, crews would have to be brought in from outside.
Three movies in the last three years — “An Unfinished Life” starring Redford and Jennifer Lopez in 2003, “Brokeback Mountain” in 2004 and “Flicka” in 2005 — had stories set in Wyoming but were not primarily filmed in the state.
“Flicka,” a remake of the 1950’s television series “My Friend Flicka,” scheduled to come out next year, was primarily shot in California. There were, however, a couple of weeks of location shooting near Sheridan, Howard said.
Wyoming business and travel leaders are trying to find ways to lure movie production companies to film in the state, including a proposal to rebate up to 15 percent of purchases made in the state by film companies that spend at least $500,000 on production there.
The bill has good support in the legislature, Howard said, “but we’ll just have to see what they want to do.”
If it passes, Howard also wants to create a jobs program to train more Wyoming residents to work on film crews.
“It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg, though,” she said. “You don’t want to train people until you know there will be work for them.”