Life on a ranch is far from cheap, something fans of Yellowstone know well, thanks to three seasons’ worth of Dutton family drama. But it’s also not cheap in a very literal sense — as in, you’d be shocked to know how much it actually cost to film a single episode, or even an entire season, of the hit Paramount Network series.
The cost of filming is actually behind the show’s recent move from Park City, Utah, to the greener pastures of Missoula, Montana, the state where the show is actually set. The shift for season 4 is largely due to filming costs, which the Salt Lake Tribune reported were around $80 million in Utah alone over three seasons, with around 70-75% of the show filmed in the state. (The show has also filmed partially in Montana since its first season). The report makes no mention of Kevin Costner’s $500,000 salary, per The Hollywood Reporter, or any of the other cast members’ episodic paychecks, which likely don’t fetch close to Costner’s pricetag.
So based solely on the Tribune report, the series likely cost around $27 million a season just in Utah, while the entire seasonal receipt — including filming outside the state — could have been upwards of $35 million (via Cinema Blend). That, of course, assumes the cost for all three seasons remained steady, and there wasn’t a jump season-over-season, with a smaller season 1 versus season 3 budget. If you’re wondering what that means on an episode level, the series probably cost around $3.5 million an episode for the second and third seasons of Yellowstone. In comparison, season 1’s nine episodes could have cost much closer to $4 million.
The costs of filming Yellowstone may have increased in 2020 due to the pandemic
Before the news hit that the series was looking to put down new roots in Montana where filming would receive a $10 million tax credit, the TV rating goliath had been earning “tax rebates in excess of $7 million for each of its first three seasons,” according to the Tribune. But in 2020, the state was juggling Yellowstone with other larger productions, including the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. With available funding limited, the move to Montana may not have been the production’s first choice but was the cheaper one.
Despite the several million spent on the 2019 summer season’s top cable series, the 3-to-4 million dollar-an-episode price tag isn’t wildly large for a TV industry that has seen quite a few movie A-listers resettle on the traditionally lower-budget small screen. To date, Game of Thrones still holds the title for the highest per-episode cost for its final season with $15 million, while Netflix’s British royalty hit The Crown comes in at a competitive $13 million. Long-running doctor drama ER had a $13 million an episode budget, with Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down and NBC’s hit comedy Friends coming in at $10 million (via Mental Floss).
It’s possible, though, that the cost of filming Yellowstone season 4 has increased despite the tax break, as costs for PPE onset and the insurance for filming during the coronavirus pandemic have reportedly increased episodic costs by anywhere between $300,000 and $500,000 (via THR). In that case, the move to Montana may have provided some well-appreciated relief for both Yellowstone’s production team and its studios.