June 23rd, 2019 by Chase Helzer

Main Photo
Yellowstone Ranch, Lodge Great Room... Kevin Costner as owner/land baron, John Dutton... Set Decorator Carla Curry SDSA International walks us through some of the amazing sets for this modern Western – a rancher herself, she’s determined they be authentic! Image ©2019 Paramount Network

Set Decorator
Carla Curry SDSA
Production Designers
Ruth DeJong, Cary White
Paramount Network

The Modern Western is here. Writer and director Taylor Sheridan has created YELLOWSTONE, the definitive contemporary embodiment of the genre, but without Set Decorator Carla Curry SDSA, the story would be have a huge hole the size of Montana. 
YELLOWSTONE is the story of the Dutton Family and the struggle to hold on to the largest working cattle ranch in Montana. The show is the closest family drama to DALLAS in years, with John Wayne’s TRUE GRIT thrown in. But instead of riding in on a horse, family patriarch John Dutton [Kevin Costner] does so in his black helicopter, signature “Y” symbol of Yellowstone Ranch slapped to the side.

Sheridan is a real cowboy from Texas, so he writes stories that reflect his experiences, of course with a heightened sense of reality that every great family drama has.
The first Season follows the Dutton family as they navigate the factors that are trying to tear them apart, internal and external. The family includes three sons Lee [Dave Annable], Jamie [Wes Benton], Kayce [Luke Grimes] and daughter Beth [Kelly Reilly], lead by their father John [Kevin Costner + Josh Lucas as the younger John Dutton]. The Yellowstone Ranch has been in the family for decades, passed down from Generation to Generation and is now in the stewardship of John Dutton, who is aware he has to prepare his progeny to continue it. The ranch is the center of story, physically and psychologically, the Dutton’s struggle to hold onto it against outside forces. 
Having the largest working cattle ranch and owning the largest piece of property in the state of Montana has put a target on the Dutton family.
Opponents from developers to the local Native American tribe are after the land that has been in the Dutton family for generations.
There are boundaries crossed and re-crossed...and new ones drawn.
 --Chase Helzer, Social Media Director, SDSA
Editor’s note: 
SET DECOR and SDSA Social Media Director Chase Helzer, who is an ardent fan of YELLOWSTONE, e-talked with the always delightful and insightful Carla Curry...on her way from Utah stages to Montana locations to begin shooting the third season of this hit series - See below!
We also recently checked in with Carla at her ranch in Texas during the hiatus, before she goes back to Montana to finish out the Season and begin the next.
Check the delightful video above! 
We know you will enjoy!
Karen Burg, Editor


SET DECOR: What was your first thought about the sets when you read the initial script?

Carla: My husband and I ranch. The first scene with John Dutton talking to his horse after the wreck brought me to tears. I knew after that first scene that I needed to be a part of this story.  

SET DECOR: You went from a period Western, GODLESS, to a contemporary Western.
Can you tell us about making that leap?
About set decorating the period vs the current?

Carla: My favorite part of the job is the research and storytelling. We get an opportunity to tell the story with the surroundings. So making them authentic at every turn is our goal. It makes it believable for the audience, and gives the actors an environment that hopefully makes their job easier as well. There wasn’t much of a leap between a period western and contemporary. My first job on a film set was a period western, so it’s a comfortable place for me to work. And, as I said before, my husband and I ranch, so this is also familiar stomping grounds. 

SET DECOR: Show Creator Taylor Sheridan, has created the modern Western with YELLOWSTONE...after having several contemporary films set in the West, including HELL OR HIGH WATER, WIND RIVER, SICARIO, but this is a true Western...
How did you reflect this on your sets? 

Carla: Taylor writes from his cowboy experience. He’s the real deal cowboy. When we first met, we found we had a lot in common, and have developed a shorthand of sorts over these past 2 seasons. We try to bring authenticity to the screen. There is a difference between a new cowboy hat hanging on the back of a chair, and a sweat stained hat that’s been worn in the summer and has that authentic patina. We both know the difference. Hopefully we bring this authenticity to this show to make the audience want to be a part of the western life.  

SET DECOR: Sourcing set pieces...
Since you are on a rather remote location, you can’t easily go to prophouses, so how do you source set pieces? 

Carla: We shoot our show in northern Utah and southern Montana. My entire career has been primarily on the road, and often in more remote locations than we are in now. We had a very limited prep
by the time the Dutton Ranch location was found. Thank goodness Omega helped us with our “smash and grab”!  My First Season Asst. Set Decorator Gabby Villarreal and I flew into LA on a Monday, shopped Omega Cinema Props on Tuesday and part of Wednesday, then flew to Montana Thursday morning as they started loading up 53’ trailers. The trailers started arriving on Friday, and everything was sorted in the trailers and dressed in. Shooting started the following week! It was a magical, stressful time, and I’m proud of what we put together. We couldn’t have pulled that off without the support of our vendors and the talent of the local crew.  

OMEGA | cinema props

SET DECOR: Each set tells a story, what is your process in creating that story? 

Carla: Undoubtedly this is the most fun, it’s a constant collaboration with Taylor and the Production Designer. For instance, we have a scene where one of our actors walks into a house that was occupied by someone killed in action somewhere else. It was a poignant scene, where everything was still in place, just as the character left it when he walked out that morning and never came home. It’s our goal to translate that emotion with the surroundings.  

SET DECOR: How much is filmed on location and what’s filmed on a soundstage?

Carla: We film all exterior Dutton Ranch and the Lodge Great Room in Montana, much of it at the Chief Joseph Ranch. Everything else is filmed primarily in Utah. The other interiors of the lodge are located on our soundstages. Season One’s Production Designer, Ruth DeJong, made the call to use real logs from Montana for our interiors on stage, which has made a remarkably seamless transition from the actual lodge in Montana to Utah. We have carefully curated all of the interiors in both locations to add to the illusion. 

SET DECOR: Please tell us about shooting in the mountains of Montana and Utah.
The challenges, the pluses... 

Carla: The locations are breathtaking. I’ll take it over an office every day! There are challenges...most of them being about communication. We film on private property tucked back in the mountains in Utah, where there is no cell service at all. It’s both a blessing and curse. But we plan ahead knowing the challenge. The benefit of shooting a show up here is that the locals know what to expect. And are generally prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws our way.  

SET DECOR: Was there a set that came together amazingly easily? 

Carla: THE BUNKHOUSE!  I love our Bunkhouse! There are so many small details in there that usually don’t get much screen time. Originally, there were limited scenes written for the bunkhouse. When Taylor walked in the first time, he immediately told us he was going to have to write more for it!
The actor who plays Lloyd is actually an old friend....and also a real-deal cowboy. I was able to get some of his old rodeo photos and put them around his bunk. When he walked in for the first time he exclaimed that his favorite “real” moment was the half full bottle of Ibuprofen next to his bed!  

SET DECOR: A particularly difficult challenge? How did you deal with it? 

Carla: Challenges are what fuel me. The trickier it gets, the more energized I become. 

SET DECOR: Did you have a favorite set from Season 1? 

Carla: The Lodge Great Room. This location lodge was built in 1917. It has become one of the main characters of the show. We wanted to make it feel as grand as it was originally intended, and put in a mixture of antiques, heirlooms and new elements that reflect the evolution of the Dutton Family through the years.    

SET DECOR: From Season 2?  

Carla: Beth’s Office. She is the antithesis of the log and horse world, so her work environment reflects that. We chose sleek clean furnishings, which feel more like her character. 

SET DECOR: What can you tell us about Season 2?  

Carla: BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS!  The characters are going places you never would expect.  

SET DECOR: Any personal Items you put on set?

Carla: LOL. The sweaty cowboy hats I described above are my husband’s. We perpetually have stacks of old hats around our house. It was a perfect way to clean out and repurpose. He’s a team roper, so I also use all of his old ropes. 

SET DECOR: Most set decorators don’t live on a ranch in Texas!  Please tell us about being able to channel that... 

Carla: Home is where your heart is, and mine is firmly planted out on the ranch. We operate a small outfit, and live in a 100-year-old farmhouse. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. After the long hours and chaos of being on a show for months at time, it’s great to be able to come home and just worry about feeding the cows, horses and chickens. As for this show, it’s a story that mirrors our lifestyle...on a much larger scale! I’ve been grateful to have the opportunity to work on a project that is so close to my heart.   

SET DECOR: And a depth of knowledge about quilting... 

Carla: I became a quilter 13 years ago. I always toted a cheap sewing machine with me to do quick hems on set, and have always been lured to the art of quilting. I’ve done several art/craft forms over the years, but this one is the one I’ll do the rest of my life. It combines everything...the design, the colors, the precision. My Great Grandmother was a quilter, my Grandmother was a quilter. And now I’m able to connect and feel their presence through their quilts. With every finished quilt I make, I hope that it will somehow still be around long after I’m gone.  

SET DECOR: How did that quilting connection come into play on this series? 

Carla: We use a lot of antique quilts in this show. I’m always on the hunt for old quilts in good shape. It’s like a moth to a flame. LOL

SET DECOR: We first covered your work with the film WALK THE LINE. You’ve done such a variety since, from comedic films PAUL and A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST to dramatic series such as IN PLAIN SIGHT, the compelling film CRAZY HEART, and so many others!
Do you have a favorite? 

Carla: I always say my favorite show is the one I’m currently working on. My body of work is so varied, and each one brings something special to the table. I’d have to say that FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS was a particular favorite, because it was, again, about a subject I grew up with. I am a New Mexico native, and grew up 90 miles from Odessa Texas. FNL was a true story, and I had lived most of it. (As an opponent!) 

SET DECOR: What do you bring with you that you rely on, that you can’t do without? 

Carla: I’ve set up my quilting studio in the “garage” of a 5th-wheel Toy Hauler trailer. It goes with me to every show, and is my therapy and addiction on those precious days off.  

SET DECOR: And we must mention Mimi the Movie Dog, of course! 

Carla: Mimi the Movie Dog has been with me now almost 6 years! She has gone from Walmart parking lot rescue to being our Morale Officer. 
And hanging out with the stars. 
She keeps us all smiling.

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Lodge Great Room... “The lodge was built in 1917, and retains its incredible bones. We worked with a blank slate, brought in furnishings to reflect the evolution of the Dutton family's home. Many of the pieces are antiques and heirlooms. This room was a challenge as it's very large, but needed to still feel like the cozy heart of the home...” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge Great Room... Overview of the 2200 sq ft Great Room... Carla brought in truckloads of furnishings for the lodge from Omega|Cinema Props... Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge Great Room... “Antique Tiffany chandelier, original to the lodge, c.1917...” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge Great Room... “This enormous fireplace requires 5' logs! It's the heart of the Great Room.” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge, nook... “The smaller of the two fireplaces in the Great Room makes a great reading nook for the family...” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge, John Dutton’s home office... “A mixture of Antique, and heirloom. The painting behind his desk is from a talented Montana artist Dave Powell. We also commissioned him to paint an illustrated letter addressed to John Dutton regarding the painting. His art fits into John Dutton's world perfectly...” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge, Dining room, Season 2... “The Dutton Dining room is a poignant reminder of who is missing at the table. We again chose antiques mixed with heirlooms from the Dutton family. The china is Royal Copenhagen, which has been made for over 100 years to reinforce the feeling of generations before...” Daughter Beth Dutton [Kelly Reilly], family patriarch John Dutton [Kevin Costner] and sons Kayce Dutton [Luke Grimes], Jamie Dutton [Wes Bentley]... Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge Kitchen... “Authenticity is what we strive for. The cowboy hats were from our stash at the ranch. All perfectly aged..” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge Kitchen.... As Carla says, “The real deal...” See article below for details! Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge Great Room, stairway... “Original log stairway was covered in green Astroturf when we came in. Now lovingly restored to its original splendor...” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge, John Dutton’s bedroom/haven... “We wanted to give John a warm retreat from the daily madness he deals with. This space reflects not only the family history, but a relaxing space for him to unwind...” Image ©2019 Paramount Network

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Lodge, Dutton’s bedroom... Carla resourced several antique lamps from Practical Props. Others were found in the area... Image ©2019 Paramount Network