The Montana saga continues with the series 1923, the second prequel to the mega hit YELLOWSTONE! This time we follow the second generation of Duttons, the Yellowstone ranch has been established from when the first generation arrived from Texas and settled in Montana in 1883, and new challenges arise.
Set Decorator Carla Curry SDSA and Production Designer Cary White took us on that early journey as well as this 1923 iteration. Fitting that they got to step back in time for both prequels, since they had brought us season after season of amazing sets for the original contemporary series.
In this edition, we meet Jacob and Cara Dutton [Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren] who shoulder the great responsibilities of Yellowstone ranch, range wars and the looming Great Depression. Nephew Spencer [Brandon Sklenar] is recovering from his World War I trauma, hiding away in Africa until he is called home by Cara to help save the ranch. The first season has us travel around the world by car, train, luxury ocean liner and even a tugboat.
SETDECOR spoke with Carla and Cary, who can both tell a story, so it’s always a fun and engaging conversation. Excerpts below!
Chase Helzer for SETDECOR: We know you’ve worked together bringing us the world of YELLOWSTONE, and now both prequels...1883 and 1923. How did you come to work together?
Production Designer Cary White:
When YELLOWSTONE came along for me, Carla had done the first season, I was retired.
Taylor called me up and said, “Well, how retired are you?”
And I said, “Well, I guess maybe I'm not that retired.”
And I found myself walking into the Utah film studio there outside of Park City, and here comes Carla running out the door to give me a big hug and say, “Welcome, come on in!”* It's been a love fest ever since, really.
Set Decorator Carla Curry SDSA:
We had wanted to work together in the past, but you know, you get loyal to your own crews, and we just never had the right time frame for the opportunity to work with each other. But now, all those seasons we did of YELLOWSTONE, and then 1883 and continuing with 1923, it's been a delight.
I think we have a great little shorthand that we can express to each other. And 1923 has just been a gift, because we haven't done a lot of shows set in the ‘20s. This has been a wonderful opportunity to delve into a whole different genre and time period.
Cary: To add to that a little bit, I would say that with Taylor Sheridan projects, they're based on having really good people and trusting those people. And that works with Carla and me. I just trust her taste and POV so much. We're on the same page.
Chase: There were multiple parts/places to this series. 1923 followed one of the Dutton family member’s experiences through the WWI frontline, Kenya and South Africa. In the same season, you had the Indian schools and their overreach, which was another story. And anchoring it all was the early Montana ranch. How did you broach that? It sounds like a scheduling nightmare.
Carla: Cary was out of the country, working across the pond in Malta with Set Decorator Sandra Zaffarese and in South Africa with Set Decorator Thomas Olive.
We never stopped. When they were shooting in Africa, we were still shooting in Montana. So, we had to depend on each other...that's what he's speaking about, you know, our trust level with each other, because I pretty much know what he likes, he knows what I can bring to the table. I think that's a big source of comfort, especially when your designer is working in several different time zones. You can't always immediately sync up, and you just have to trust your instincts to bring the right thing.
Cary: It goes back to having really good people. You know, I've been doing this nonsense for a long time, and this is the first time that I've had three different art departments spread all over the world, simultaneously. Fortunately, all of them were brilliant, and Carla was handling the Dutton ranch while I was in Africa.
I have yet to see the interior of the 1923 Dutton great room in person...haven’t been in it, haven’t stood in it since Carla decorated it. I've seen pictures of it. And I look forward to being back there and actually seeing it!
The 1923 lodge great room is a complete carbon copy of the real lodge at the Chief Joseph ranch where the series YELLOWSTONE is filmed. Carla wanted to keep the footprint of the furniture layout very similar to the current great room, giving the audience a subtle comfort. The furniture is period accurate, including a velvet sofa set and Kerosene lamps. Photo courtesy of Paramount.
Chase: The 1883 series took place when the Dutton family first arrived in Montana. For 1923, we fast-forward 40 years, and the ranch has been established. Since the Dutton Ranch set was being used to shoot current episodes of YELLOWSTONE, did you have to build a new, additional Lodge for this prequel?
Cary: Oh, yes. We went over to Darby, where the Chief Joseph Lodge that we use in YELLOWSTONE is located, and took a photo from the same angle as the picture of that lodge when it was being built in 1914. One thing that was kind of interesting to me is, you look at those things side by side, and you realize the house hadn't changed that much. But man, the world around it has changed considerably. There are trees and shrubbery and everything that is so different.
So, we picked a place outside of Butte that pretty well matched the 1914 photograph and had the same geographic characteristics as they have in Darby, and then built that whole Lodge exterior. And then we built the whole interior, so it was a huge deal.
Carla: The most significant interior was the Great Room. The approach to this was that we wanted it to feel familiar. The furniture layout is very similar to YELLOWSTONE, but with a different period of furniture.
An advantage that I have from establishing the lodge since the beginning of YELLOWSTONE, is that the antiques that we put in there have translated back into where we are in 1923. It's been a bit like Back to the Future, to compose it and make it still feel familiar. You know you're in the Dutton Lodge. And the furniture placement just fits perfectly. So, we went with that concept, and I think it worked out really well.
The lodge great room, current day as it appears in the YELLOWSTONE series. Photo courtesy of Paramount.
Chase: Did you source locally through antique shops and vintage stores, or did you have to cast a wider net?
Carla: All of the above. We started in Texas, and shopped our way up to Montana. Because, you know, we've been in Montana now for seven seasons. So, we've picked it pretty clean. We definitely did our due diligence to see what we could find up there, and then what we couldn't find, we ended up having to hit Hollywood prophouses or other places that we found along the way.
The lodge great room for 1923 was built at a convention center in Butte, Montana, down to every detail to match the real one on location. Note the Kerosene lamps mentioned earlier. Photo courtesy of Paramount.
The Queen Mary, 1923...
Click on the video here for a deep dive into the Queen Mary, emblematic majesty of the sea and the era, standing in for another luxurious liner.
Butte, Montana for Bozeman 1923...
Modern kitchen technology. The salesman said it was created “To save time, to have more time to do other things.” Example of that would be to have the time to make more money to pay for the said modern kitchen!
Carla: I have to give a shout out, because, you know, I don't do this all by myself. And I was really blessed to have a couple of set decorators working with me on this. Les Boothe SDSA has been with me since Season 1 of YELLOWSTONE, and Bonnie Bennett SDSA joined us for this adventure. There were three of us running full tilt boogie all the time. Cary was far, far away, running full tilt with two other departments somewhere in the world.
So, it was quite the project, and I was most fortunate to hook up with a wonderful group of people, Leadman Mark Woods and all of our crew. We have crew from all over: Montana, Texas, New Mexico, Portland, Seattle, Utah and California, we truly do have them from all over. They just did a marvelous job.
Chase: Another impressive set was the villain Whitfield’s mansion, and that desk is outstanding, does it have a history?
The Whitfield mansion, with all the modern luxuries of living in town, including electricity. Photo courtesy of Paramount.
Carla: That was shot in a beautiful location in Hamilton, Montana. I sourced the desk from our set dec/props warehouse. Bought that several seasons ago, knowing we would eventually find the right use for it, and thought it would be terrific in there, just the right piece. Timothy Dalton is such a nice guy, and obviously an excellent actor because he plays such a creepy villainous character! He was so appreciative of the sets, and always a gentleman.
Chase: Back at the ranch, you told us about building the Lodge, exterior and interior. Did you have to build the barns and the rest of the compound as well?
Cary: Well, in this business, sometimes you get lucky. We had such huge builds already, and I was concerned that at some point, they were gonna say, "Well, you have to build those barns.” Which of course, they did, but we got lucky. There was this period complex of barns on the adjoining ranch to where we built the lodge. Of course, everything was painted red, so we had to paint it white. But that was a lot easier than trying to build that whole barn complex from YELLOWSTONE.
Editor’s note: The snow in that photo is symbolic of an entire section of the shoot when extreme blizzard conditions forced the team to abandon the location and relocate on a ranch in California, but the weather followed them, a “river storm”! So they went from snow & ice and heavy winds to mud and flood and heavy winds!
The windmill... Cary: And the windmill is Carla’s contribution...
Every ranch has to have a Windmill, and Carla found one that everyone loves. Photos courtesy of Paramount.
Carla: We actually bought that windmill. We found a guy who's originally from Arizona, now he and his wife live up in the Bitterroot Valley and he makes wooden timber windmills. He had that one sitting out on the road as his advertisement. And, as we always do, it's like, “Can we buy that one?”
And he was awesome. He put it on a trailer and hauled it over to our set. And then, our guys met him, offloaded and we got it set up and actually functioning enough to look like it was working properly. So, yeah, it's kind of iconic. Every ranch has their windmill, so we had to have one.
Cary: It was a great contribution, Carla. It even shows up in the title sequence!
Chase: Two last questions. Every season, you seem to get more and more legends of the screen. And this season, you have Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. Do you have any stories about them and what they thought of the set?
Carla: It doesn't get any better. I mean, I was totally starstruck. And you don't get that way often, but they're literally legends in the business. And so kind, and so complimentary. And they're just amazing in it.
It makes you even more proud of your work when they walk in and they actually feel the set.
I got a call from our key OnSet, Christina Giovacchini [SDSA Associate], and she said, “About that humidor and pipe that you have on the table in the Great Room?” And I said, “Well, we just thought that would be a nice touch.” And she asked, “Did you put it in? Is it new tobacco?” And I replied, “Yes, it is.” And she tells me, “He [Harrison Ford] just picked it up, and lit it, and now he’s smoking it!”
So, it just goes to show you that they do look at what you put in there. That wasn't a planned prop, or something placed by the prop master, that was all us, set decoration. We evidently gave him what he needed for his character. [She smiles.]
Chase: And the last question would be: What are you most proud of, working in the YELLOWSTONE universe?”
Carla: Well, I'm proud of it all, the whole thing. We shoot films, really...we don't shoot television...we shoot full-fledged films on a television schedule. If you look at 1923, it's pretty epic, it's huge. And I'm just very proud to be a part of that.
I think we're blessed, doubly, to be working on projects that have incredible writing. Not only do we have the talent to perform it, but we have incredible words on the page with descriptions for us to flesh out. I just have so much fun. I think that's what I love about this business, is that we get to bring somebody's dreams to life.
It's very gratifying. Wouldn't want to do anything else.