‘Yellowstone’ Creator Taylor Sheridan Explains Why the Final Product Looks ‘Earned’

by Jennifer Shea
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

To their fans, Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan’s Westerns are works of art. When it comes to the production process, Sheridan dwells on the details. Yet he also lets his chosen backdrops speak for themselves in all their breathtaking simplicity. The result is an elaborately rendered, authentic fictional world.

In a recent interview with Deadline, Sheridan talked a bit about his sources of inspiration and explained why his final products look so “earned.” He says it comes down to effort: the hard work he and the actors put in, the sets assembled by the crew, the resources Paramount throws at Yellowstone.

Sheridan also gave a shout-out to True Detective director Cary Joji Fukunaga, whose first season changed the paradigm for many filmmakers by doing away with the limitations of two-hour movie run times.

“What Cary did, I am doing,” Sheridan said. “Write 10-hour movies and go shoot them. I’ve been working with the same crew since Wind River and we have such a shorthand. It’s still challenging, because everything I shoot takes place outside for the most part and we’re beholden to the weather and have to force our way through. But at the end of the day, to go to some of these locations where most people have never been, where you’re opening up a new world, and all of these places or characters in the story, to me, it’s fascinating.”

Yellowstone Creator Says ‘The Shots Look Earned’

Sheridan went on to explain that in his Westerns, every scene looks “earned” because it is. Shooting Yellowstone takes a lot out of its cast. The crew works long hours, too.

“Because it is so hard, physically, on the actors, on the crew, I feel like the shots look earned,” Sheridan said. “And because Paramount trusts me and gives me the time to go shoot 10 to 14 days for a television episode, we can treat it like a movie. And it looks like a movie. We can take the time to rehearse it and light it and build these set pieces. And if I call them and say, I need two helicopters in one day, they just go, all right.”

The Yellowstone co-creator has long since let go the directing reins on the hit Paramount Network series, but he still writes scripts and acts in some episodes himself, to boot. Sheridan had a career as an actor before he became a screenwriter and director. But he says his acting experience taught him some hard lessons about the way Hollywood works.

Sheridan Was Paid Low Wages as an Actor

Sheridan famously got written off the show Sons of Anarchy after he demanded higher pay, and he says the experience opened his eyes to the price tag network executives had slapped on him as an actor.

He was having to work two jobs to support himself and making less than everyone else on the show, and finally his attorney had it out with a business affairs attorney for the network. The network’s attorney told Sheridan’s attorney that maybe Sheridan did deserve to make more, but they weren’t going to pay him more, “because guess what, he’s not worth more… There’s 50 of him. He is 11 on the call sheet.”

“And that’s really when I quit,” Sheridan explained. He knew that while the network attorney might be a jerk, he was only articulating what executives had decided. And he didn’t want to be 11 on the call sheet anymore.

Sheridan has now succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, and Yellowstone has risen to become the top scripted drama on cable. And Yellowstone fans owe a debt of gratitude to that network attorney for putting things so bluntly and moving Sheridan to quit.