How Yellowstone Season 4 Is Changing Things Up Due To COVID-19

Yellowstone Moses Brings Plenty Mo Kevin Coster John Dutton Gil Birmingham Thomas Rainwater Paramoun
(Image credit: Paramount Network)

Before the current season of Yellowstone ever began airing on Paramount Network, it got renewed for Season 4. Filming plans for June got postponed, and intricate planning has been a key factor for producers as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to lots of change-ups behind the scenes. In that vein, Yellowstone’s co-creator Taylor Sheridan is explaining how production on the hit Western will commence, and it is a carefully planned effort.

Yellowstone is tentatively now set to begin filming in mid-August, according to Taylor Sheridan, and with that date quickly approaching, planning is ramping up. Explaining the familiarly tough circumstances that lay ahead with the cast and crew basically filming at a single location, the series’ co-creator shared the show’s plans to keep everyone healthy and sane. On filming, Sheridan told Deadline:

I benefit from the fact that I have hundreds of acres at my disposal at a ranch, where we’re talking about having a restaurant there. And some form of entertainment on set every single day. You can get every meal there. We’re building an outdoor gym. We’re doing everything we can to try and make it as pleasant as it can be under these circumstances. And when we start, I don’t think it’s going to change. I don’t think that somewhere in the middle of Season 4, these restrictions are going to be something we can loosen. I think that possibly by the late spring of 2021, you can look at not having to break your set down into zones, and you know we’ll be testing essential elements every other day. That’ll basically be your interior zone, which is the set, and you have a zone surrounding that and a zone surrounding that, and there’s testing going on for those individuals as well. And then you’re only allowed to be in the zone you’re allowed to be in, and then you have the challenge of bringing in guest-star actors or day-playing camera operators. You can ask someone to self-quarantine at your location, but can you vet that? There’s a lot of challenges. It will, for sure, magnify the expense of every TV production.

Multiple zone distinctions, an on-site restaurant, and an outdoor gym are just some of the things that Taylor Sheridan and producers have planned to keep the Yellowstone filming experience safe and less smothering for its cast and crew. It is a plan that is not that far off from what ABC’s The Bachelorette has planned for its upcoming season, which will be filming all episodes at the same secured location. The filming process is obviously completely different for those shows, and not just because Yellowstone is set on a ranch instead of a resort.

Now, all of this sounds like it might be pretty expensive for the studio to put together. As Taylor Sheridan mentioned at the end of his above statement, it is going to make TV pricier to produce. In fact, he estimated that costs might go up 20% on average, which is a pretty huge uptick for certain shows that focus on lavish productions and stunt work.

Taylor Sheridan also talked about how the change in start dates could have a big effect on how Season 4 plays out, with the weather becoming a key factor. In his words:

The plan was to start in June. The plan’s been to start in June every single year, to be honest with you. And every year, something happens and we can’t start until August. The one benefit of this year, I had written most of Season 4, and then I stopped at episode seven to figure out when we’re actually starting, because I have to factor in weather. I have to know if we’re going to be there in November and December, because if we are, I have to write snow into the story line. Because there’ll be a foot of it on the ground. So, I had to pause on writing the last few episodes, which I’ll start up here pretty soon once I know we’re going, because I would hate to write them and then find out that we can only shoot six episodes this year, and then I have to go shoot in the spring, and then there’s no snow. There are so many things most people don’t realize. When they’re sitting at home, watching TV, they’re wondering well, why did this happen, and that? Well, a lot of times, it was triaging a situation that came up that has nothing to do with story. I’m trying to avoid that circumstance here.

The good news from what Taylor Sheridan is saying is that Yellowstone has not had to delay filming for Season 4 that much longer than usual. Its current season ended production for stars such as Kelly Reilly in October of last year, but filming during the early recovery days of the pandemic might not allow for such a quick production. Especially if snow comes into play.

In sharing the above, Taylor Sheridan also revealed that he has written up to the first seven episodes of Yellowstone Season 4, but stopped short of completing all ten. (Assuming Season 4 would stick to the same episode count of the latter two seasons. Sheridan explained the potential need to work the weather into the storyline if things get snowy, hence the pause in writing.

John Dutton and Kayce having to ride their horses in the snow, among other cold-weather moments, is a detail that Yellowstone has to take into consideration. Taylor Sheridan did share that he planned to start writing the final three episodes as soon as production details are fleshed out. He's not yet confident if filming will be beginning in August and wrapping before winter revs up as it has done in the past, so it's a waiting game.

It sounds like the show could possibly start production, pause, and resume again next spring. For now, at least, it seems like everything is pretty on-schedule for Yellowstone to return for Season 4 at its usual airdate despite any delays. The second and third seasons have both premiered in the summer, so if production is not getting delayed beyond its typical scope, there might not be anything for fans to worry about as far as premiere dates go.

News on how Yellowstone has to shake things up post-COVID-19 comes as Taylor Sheridan confirmed that the series would not film in Utah for Season 4. Unlike with past seasons where filming took place in both Utah and Montana, production will now bet set solely in Montana. It is a pertinent development considering that's precisely where Yellowstone’s story takes place.

For now, fans can enjoy what is left of Yellowstone’s current season, which has seen its share of game-changers, ahead of Season 4’s eventual arrival. The upcoming fifth episode marks the midway point of Season 3, and yes, I am also sad that everything is already almost half over.

New episodes of Yellowstone will air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Paramount Network ahead of this fall’s premieres. You can check out the first two seasons of the drama when Season 1 and Season 2 become available on NBCUniversal’s upcoming streamer, Peacock, which launched nationally on July 15.

Britt Lawrence

Like a contented Hallmark movie character, Britt happily lives in the same city she grew up in. Along with movies and television, she is passionate about competitive figure skating. She has been writing about entertainment for 5 years, and as you may suspect, still finds it as entertaining to do as when she began.