It’s convincing! Standing here in this town right out of the American Old West, this 1800s road house along a dusty cowboy trail or this stately ranch from the distant past…it just feels right. Look around, there’s no signs of today, no highways, no skyscrapers, nada, nothing. All about it’s grassy hills, scant signs of being touched by man, mountains in the distance, the great big sky and these “period” buildings. Are we time travellers standing in some wild frontier?
Then, looking back at your car, parked nearby, as a jet is heard overhead, the illusion is shattered. No, we’re not in 1888, no where close, but rather standing in the centre of a movie set in 2017. And we’re not miles from civilization, no, a measly forty five minutes could find us smack dab in the centre of the big city. And a reminder it’s not real, there’s not a single person about…well us, three visitors not armed with six-guns but Panasonics, Canons and Nikons.
This is the Scott Ranch, not just a cattle operation, but also home to numerous movie and TV productions over the many years its been in operation. The location, southwest of Calgary on a sprawling chunk of land…so rural…so old west…so very close to civilization. As a film maker looking to shoot some some period piece it’s a real “win-win”. And a nice sideline for the cattle operation, which is oftentimes a volatile biz.
The movie set is laid out on a series of grassy benches overlooking a river. The lay of the land means any neighbouring ranches or farms and other signs of humanity, are almost always out of view. There’s a clear line to the mountains in the west. There’s not a single thing seen to suggests it’s anything but remote. It’s damn amazing really.
Down on one corner is a wilderness road house, several rustic buildings made of rough-hewn logs and timbers, arranged in a circle of sorts. Fully expect some range riders to show up, grab supplies and maybe belt one back before continuing on. Picture some native fellows camped nearby. Lining the walls of the main building are copies of the “Montana Statesman”, circa 1878. Nice effect. In some productions the place was used as rustler’s or outlaw’s hideaway. Could spend all day here, but there’s pics to take.
On the opposite end of the property, clustered around a “railway” line, is the pioneer town. Looks like every old west town seen in every old west production ever…America’s old west, personified…in Canada. All the usual suspects are here, building wise. There’s stores, businesses, a railway station and a drinking establishment all laid out on the one street into “town”. One building has two personalities, a general store from one angle and in another it’s a church. Tents line the main road – temporary dwellings for new settlers, or home to new businesses not yet fully established?
On a hill above is perhaps the most interesting building in the old west town. Suspect it’s mostly used as a saloon/inn given the layout inside, but probably doubles as other things depending on the production. There’s hotel type rooms upstairs. Diamond Dolly…you around?
The train track is only about a hundred metres long. The way it’s laid out makes it look like it extends off further in each direction, a fine illusion if there ever was one. Some broken railway wheels sit near the water tower – they’re modern, but shhhhh, we won’t tell. The hardcore train guys will point it out anyway…those 1960s era rail wheels are soooo out of place if we’re to believe this set is representing the 1800s…fail…worst job ever! Chuckle. They’re the worst!
The buildings seen are constructed as would be norm for boom town of the era, rough and rustic, as though erected quickly and cheaply. Looks every bit the part.
Cattle roam the property when filming is not taking place, like the day of our visit, the chorus of moos serenading our little group as we roamed about. Had to chase them away from the cars from time to time. Why are you licking them?! Great, cow slobber and tongue marks everywhere – Jojo Savard predicts a wand wash in your future. Oh, and one more thing with the bovines running free. Landmines. Everywhere! The cost of doing business.
On a bench overlooking the river, is arguably the most photogenic building here, the ranch house. A large central dwelling, it’s flanked by a barn, a windmill, of course, and some outbuildings, perhaps accommodations for the hired hands. It looks authentic, not just a Hollywood archetype, but a place one could move in and call home. Closer inspection reveals it’s not as it seems – the stone facade is foam, ditto the fireplace inside – do not light a fire here – there is no second floor as it appears on the outside. Yet it works. Movies are all about looking the part, playing the part, you know, make believe and these buildings seem about right.
A wood-rail fence surrounds the property.
Strolling the property we expected it to spring to life, cowpokes sauntering in after a day riding the range, smoke from the chimney, the dinner bell rings, kids play in the yard. You know! Look around…no one here, nothing but silence.
The sun sets. The sky is amazing. Look at the watch…wow, we’ve been here all evening, some six hours with only a single break, for ten minutes, our group partaking in a trunk-served “charcuterie board”.
Snap off more pics, the last light of the day casting a warm glow on everything. Then it’s that special time post sunset, that lasts for a minute to two where every colour of a palette is seen. The reds, purples, yellows…all of them. Amazing! Dark now, a couple last shots, none of which worked and we’re on the road…but it’s still a couple clicks to the highway, some of it along what could be best described as a glorified cow path (the BIGDoer-mobile is an honourary 4×4, however).
The ranch hands have long since gone home or to bed and so we’re entrusted to close gates on the way. “Lock up when you’re done”, we’re told. Make sure no cows get out. We almost run over a barn cat. Look back again, but the set is out of sight now…not that’s there enough light to see it anyway. Our time at the Scott Ranch is at an end. Damn, that was satisfying. We’ve got the best job in the world, even if pay’s…well…resist the urge to type some four letter words…let’s just call it awful.
This article, of course, would not be complete without knowing what’s been shot at the Scott Ranch. Let’s see…in recent memory there’s Heartland, Hell on Wheels, The Revenant (Brad Pitt is soooo dreamy), Night at he Museum 3, a few of the more well known ones. And there’s lesser productions, commercials, promo pieces, lots of stuff going back for quite some time.
The place can be rented out for weddings if you’re looking for an unique setting for photos.
Not seen this visit, the venue has a large collection of vintage props rented out to production firms. And real animals, buffalo, longhorns, that kinda stuff. Next time! Not seen, or rather met this visit, Mr Scott himself, a local cowboy legend, film consultant, stunt rider, stunt coordinator, production stock wrangler, gruff, a cowboy’s cowboy, of few word and matter of fact in speech, who had some business to attend to. Next time! Raising cattle and partnering with Hollywood keeps a man hoping, understood, but this fellow, we have to chat some day.
Joining us this project is blogger Jenn Tenaka, trademark green boots and all. Here’s her website…WestOfTheFifthMeridian. Big fan of her work, a photographer who takes the time to document her subject, to know her subject, and not just snap pics. If you’d like to join us on an adventure, or collaborate, like Jenn did, contact the team. We’d love to hear from you.
Another “film set” we’ve visited…
CL Western Town.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: May 2017.
Location: Near Calgary, AB.
Article references and thanks: J Scott, The Scott Ranch Staff, Jenn Tenaka.
The Scott Ranch is not open to the general public. BIGDoer.com was on site with permission.