‘Yellowstone’ TV Production Designer Opens Up About the ‘Appeal’ of the ‘Mythology of the West’ on the Series

by Jennifer Shea

“Yellowstone” production designer Cary White is an old pro at the Western genre. Before he worked on “Yellowstone,” he was a production designer on the TV projects “Lonesome Dove,” “Crazy Horse” and “Buffalo Girls.”

Of course, White has also worked on other projects, such as the films “Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls” and “Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” per IMDb. But he seems to have a feel for Westerns, as evidenced by his three Emmy nominations: one for “Lonesome Dove,” one for “Buffalo Girls,” and now, one for “Yellowstone.”

In a new interview with The Wrap, White defended Westerns and spoke to the enduring appeal of the West, even against the backdrop of accelerating globalization and encroaching development.

‘Yellowstone’ Production Designer Lauds ‘Mythology of the West’

White believes it’s too early to count Westerns out. That’s despite a Hollywood narrative that they’re a relic of the past and less popular than they once were.

“People have written the obituary for Westerns for a long time,” White told The Wrap. “And they keep coming back and, I think, are as popular now as they’ve ever been. And yes, I have done quite a few. It appeals to people, that mythology of the West. Good guys versus bad guys.”

On “Yellowstone,” there are certainly some clear-cut bad guys – the Beck brothers come to mind – but there are also shades of gray. Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) starts out as a foe of the Duttons only to become an ally. And for a hero, John Dutton (Kevin Costner) has certainly made some morally questionable choices.

So have his kids: Beth (Kelly Reilly) is a take-no-prisoners terror to rivals of her father or her boss; Jamie (Wes Bentley) killed a journalist; and Kayce (Luke Grimes) has done his share of killing, too. That’s not even counting all the people John’s enforcer Rip (Cole Hauser) has taken to “the train station,” never to be heard from again.

Production Team Deals With Its Share of Challenges

While the sweeping beauty of the show’s location is part of its appeal, there are some tradeoffs that come with shooting in Montana. For example, White said, filming the most recent season was tough, between the delayed schedule due to the pandemic and the resulting weather difficulties.

“We were finishing up in October, and there was a snowstorm,” White recalled. “We had to abort one location with a cabin in it that we planned on shooting because we couldn’t get there. The dirt roads were a mess. All in all, it was a kind of a difficult season.”

But it’s got to be worth it to produce an Emmy-nominated show that is breaking ratings records left and right. As the devoted fanbase of “Yellowstone” attests, authentic Westerns still have their appeal.