The Yellowstone universe has soared to new heights in recent years, with franchise expansions in popular spinoff series 1883 and 1923 -- not to mention a Golden Globe for Kevin Costner and a SAG Award for Sam Elliott. According to a new exposé, production costs have hit a breaking point, with Paramount shelling out $500 million a year on Yellowstone properties. And producers are asking franchise mastermind Taylor Sheridan some pointed questions.
A report published by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month details Yellowstone creator Sheridan's lucrative production deals with 101 Studios and Paramount. In addition to getting paid to produce, write and sometimes direct shows, Sheridan charges the studios to use his horse wranglers, send actors to his "cowboy camps" and film on his sprawling properties. Sheridan has reportedly charged Paramount up to $50,000 a week to shoot on location at his beloved Texas ranches, and $25 a head to rent his herds of cattle.
"Privately, executives and crew involved in the shows question both the total amount of spending and where the money is going," the outlet reported of behind-the-scenes tensions over ballooning costs.
Episodes of Yellowstone -- which will air the second part of its fifth and final season later this year upon Costner's controversial exit -- and 1923, which is getting a second season, cost Paramount at least $22 million a pop. Altogether, the eight-episode first season of 1923, led by Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, cost $200 million. That's about $500,000 per minute of TV.
Sheridan's creative control over each step of such a high-budget filmmaking process is rare in Hollywood, but then so is a jaw-dropping success story such as Yellowstone's. The flagship series is far and away the most popular show on TV, averaging 8-10 million viewers per episode on Paramount's cable channel alone. Compare that to HBO's prestige video game adaptation The Last of Us, which cost $16-18 million an episode to make and peaked with 8 million viewers in its season 1 finale on HBO and HBO Max.
The runaway success of Yellowstone and its sister shows has propped up Paramount's cable channel and helped Paramount+ get a foothold in the so-called "streaming wars," with a Paramount spokeswoman telling the outlet, "If we could do three more partnerships with people as successful, creative and prolific as Taylor, we'd do it in a heartbeat."
Still, high-level producers have pushed for more cost-efficiency and transparency. In May 2022, Sheridan insisted that the Yellowstone horses be shoed by his preferred farrier. The production flew two farriers to the Montana set and paid for their accommodations for four nights while they outfitted the animals. In an email to production staff obtained by the outlet, 101 Studios head David Glasser was baffled by the decision.
"Are you kidding me? We can't find a local person?" Glasser wrote.
The report counts "excessive" set catering bills and a charge of nearly $24,000 for 24 new horse saddles, along with smaller but still "ridiculous" costs such as $3,000 worth of prop jewelry made out of state, bucking the usual in-state tax breaks. "Seriously," Glasser wrote of the prop jewelry. "How do we control this?" And when Sheridan wrote a Yellowstone season 5 scene to be filmed in Big Hole Valley, over an hour away from set, the production incurred over $75,000 in employee overtime and fees. The location was used only once for the scene in question.
The outlet reported that Glasser eventually called Sheridan to discuss which of the creator's personal employees were on Yellowstone's payroll. "[Sheridan] is now completely aware of the problem and was pretty [receptive] in trying to fix it," Glasser emailed some production officers, according to the report.
The previously cited Paramount spokeswoman told the outlet that all was well in the Yellowstone budget.
"Like many of the best creators, when Taylor is working on a Western, he has a team of experts with whom he likes to work, but we ensure there are parameters in place to make cost effective decisions," the spokeswoman reportedly stated.
Sheridan, of course, has a slate of highly anticipated new projects lined up at Paramount as his Yellowstone franchise continues to expand. Here's a rundown of all the producer's upcoming films and TV series.
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