North Dakota is known for its farmers, its wide-open spaces and its oil. What it isn’t known for is its great location for filming movies. The reason for that could be not many are aware of all North Dakota has to offer. Some argue that it is better to film there than anywhere else, despite its downsides.
A couple of films in the past that have been filmed in North Dakota, but it isn’t very common for film companies to pack up and travel to the Midwest.
For one, it is expensive and difficult to bring everything to North Dakota. Todd Bulman, the screenwriter of the film “Dead Dogs,” his brother and his crew filmed in Grand Forks. Bulman said he recalls that being a bit of an issue.
“Traveling here and hauling all that equipment here was kind of a pain,” Bulman said.
But as a resident of Grand Forks, Bulman wrote his screenplay to specifically be filmed there.
“Dead Dogs” takes place in a hotel named the Driftwood Inn. There, the movie shows two brothers and one of their girlfriends as they plot to rob the hotel and their troubles doing so.
Bulman wrote this screenplay, having worked at a Holiday Inn himself, which is where he got the idea. He then got permission from his manager to shoot there for free if the production crew stayed at the hotel.
“So it was incredibly cheap,” Bulman said. “And that’s probably the main thing that makes it desirable to do something in North Dakota.”
Bulman had many good things to say about shooting his film in Grand Forks. But Chris Jacobs, a film lecturer at UND and an independent filmmaker, said he found that weather was sometimes an issue.
“That’s the catch. At certain times of the year, if you shoot with snow and you want snow, then the snow’s gone,” Jacobs said. “Or you shoot without snow and suddenly it snows again.”
This came up in one of Jacobs’ independent films he made. He said, he had originally written the movie to not have snow in it, but then it snowed before a day of filming. That was when he realized he had no choice but to include it, which did end up improving the film in the long run.
North Dakota native Heather Helgeson said she thought the weather could be one of the reasons that filmmakers avoid coming to this state.
“I also do not think people know what the state has to offer,” Helgeson said.
But Bulman and his brother found a lot that North Dakota had to offer in the 13 days they shot there.
“They found out it was cheaper to come to Grand Forks and shoot with their cast and crew than to pay all the location fees and everything else they would have to do if they shot it in Hollywood,” Jacobs, the script supervisor for “Dead Dogs,” said.
Bulman said, “I know from my brother talking about this, that if you go to bigger cities, people are trying to charge you money and here they did whatever they wanted.”
In “Dead Dogs,” a couple of scenes took place outside of the hotel, where Bulman and his brother had to approach the city and ask for permission to shoot on location, which they received.
“Every place we shot around town, there was no question about being able to do it,” Bulman said. “Everybody was excited about it.”
Everywhere could be used free of charge to Bulman and his crew.
Jacobs said, “Movie making isn’t big in Grand Forks so it’s sort of exciting for people if they want their house or their business used in a movie.”
Some movies that take place in North Dakota but aren’t filmed on location have the battle of trying to make it look real. The recent release “Logan” got a lot of heat on Twitter about its portrayal of North Dakota. With cliffs, mountains and large forests, the creators of “Logan” missed the mark with their replication of the Midwest.
Helgeson said the authenticity is what would make filming in North Dakota better for a film taking place in the state.
“Why would you try to replicate it when you have it right here?” Helgeson said.
North Dakota may not have a lot of filmmakers knocking on its door to come and film box office hits, but the citizens of the state are often willing to help whenever they can.
“When a film company comes here, they’re going to get nothing but cooperation,” Bulman said.