By Tom Inglesby
KGB Productions Co-Founder Sam Pope filming Freedom Riders in 2009.
Photo: Gabe Rogel
Why do you shoot a film or video project in a certain location? Naturally, if the subject is a Las Vegas casino heist, there might be a strong reason to shoot in Las Vegas. But many outdoor-focused films can literally be shot in any state where they have…well, where they have outdoors.
We asked Sam Pope, co-founder/producer/director at KGB Productions in Jackson, Wyo., why he prefers to do his work in his home state. A little background to set the stage: Based in Jackson, KGB was founded in 2004, by college friends Chris Kitchen and Sam Pope, who after several years of freelancing and working to support their filming and travel habits, quit their jobs to make KGB a reality. Nine years later, KGB has produced four award-winning feature films and commercial content for a diverse clientele. While KGB has changed a lot in the last decade, their commitment to storytelling and beautiful imagery remains the same.
So, Sam, why Wyoming? “What makes us unique is that we shoot mostly outside of anything that could even remotely be considered a studio environment. Our specialty is bringing studio-quality production, to non-traditional locations: mountains, rivers, deserts, et cetera. And Wyoming has plenty of those.”
He quickly added, “In the context of the action sports world/outdoor industry, this is a little tougher question. There’s a lot of really impressive, beautiful imagery and high-end content coming from that world. Some of it comes from right here in Jackson where we have Brain Farm Digital Cinema [See Spotlight: The West in this issue.] and Teton Gravity Research. In this world, I think our niche is still the story. You hear this all the time these days, people want more story, more narrative, and I think a lot of companies in the action sports world respond with a pretty half-hearted attempt. They shoot the movie first and put the story in during the edit. For us, the story precedes the production. For example, with our movie Freedom Riders (2009), Chris and I were both mountain bikers in the area and decided that the story would make a really compelling movie. In some ways, it sort of found us.”
Action sports and outdoor adventures have been a staple in films for generations. What could be new about that genre today? “In the world of action sports, the most notable trend to me has been the dramatic increase in production value,” explained Pope. “It wasn’t that long ago that most action sports movies were pretty homegrown, low-budget affairs. Today, the cream of the crop is really pushing the limits of production, of any genre, within any budget. They use the same cameras, do their color correction and motion graphics in the LA-based post houses, just like big budget, Hollywood features. … Bottom line is that the movies have gotten better, which is of course a good thing. The danger, in my opinion … is that they will become too focused on high production and lose their soul in the process. And at least in the beginning, soul was the whole point.”
Is there much work in Wyoming? “We’re working on a bunch of stuff,” Pope acknowledged. “We do the bulk of commercial production for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and so we’re gearing up for the winter with them. We also just invested in a new camera, the Red Epic, so we’re working on dialing in that work flow and working on ways that this camera can help to expand our business. No features in the works, but we’re always open to new ideas.”
Besides scenery and snow, does Wyoming offer you a lot of incentives? “To be perfectly honest, we don’t get a lot of help from the city or the state, which is unfortunate,” Pope said. “Jackson has a pretty tight-knit production community and we all help each other out, but the town doesn’t have anything in place, that I know of, to facilitate production in the community. On the state level, you can get 15 percent back in mid- and high-budget productions, if you can show that the money was spent in state, but that’s peanuts compared to what a lot of other states offer.”
What impact have you seen from that lack of incentives? “I feel really strongly that this is a huge missed opportunity on the part of the state. All you have to do is turn on your TV and notice how many shows are shot in the state of Alaska. One reason is, of course, that Alaska is an amazing location, but the other reason is that the state offers really good incentives. This could easily be Wyoming as well.”