The Place to Be

24 Oct

A writer, playwright, screenwriter, or filmmaker conducts exhaustive research before establishing a setting. As writers, you do the same, taking into account the buildings, styles, season, atmosphere to provide a strong framework for your plot. Indeed, setting has been described as an additional character (“Chinatown” starring Jack Nicholson comes to mind).

Over the last 5-10 years, Boise or Idaho has served as a setting for several films. Idaho has even established the Idaho Film office, a division of the Dept. of Commerce, to lure production companies to Idaho. A few of the latest films are “All Night” (2011), “Three of a Kind” (2011), and “Person of Interest” (2010).  Arguably, the film that got Boise on the map was Clint Eastwood’s “Bronco Billy” back in the 80’s.

There are many reasons for choosing Boise as a location—expense, topography, accessibility—so I wouldn’t presume to share why these producers chose to film here. I’m not blogging about a setting wherein filming is done in Boise.

I’m more interested in Boise or “a small town in Idaho” chosen as a reference without actually filming on location.

Criminal Minds is a procedural series on KBOI about the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), which takes on the most horrific serial killers/psychos and brings them to justice. It seems as if Boise is a favorite “go-to” as a setting for skeevy killers.

In May 2010, the episode “The Internet is Forever” aired about a serial killer who uses the Internet to find his victims on social media sites in Boise. Two weeks ago, on October 12, the episode “Painless” was about a Boise high school that suffered a Columbine-style massacre ten years ago and a new killer is targeting survivors gathered for a memorial reunion.


Did the writers want to find a place they felt was believable to the U.S.A. as capable of creating these criminals? I think not. I believe TPTB gambled that the rest of the country didn’t know the area well enough to say, “That does not look like Boise.” “What neighborhood is that?” “The sheriff and deputies don’t wear those uniforms.” “And those patrol cars are way off.”

Then, there’s the small town in Idaho ploy. In 2011, a series called Chase about US Marshal Annie Frost lasted one season. Annie came from a sketchy background where her father was a con man. She aided him in his cons until one day when he left her at a restaurant “in a small town in Idaho.” Then, she was put into the foster care system, etc. Again, find somewhere off the beaten path or maybe unique. “Hey, let’s use Idaho!”

On October 18th, Castle featured a murder victim whose mother “lived in Idaho.” The show takes place in New York. There are 50 states, one federal jurisdiction (D.C.), and 14 territories (but we won’t go there). The writers chose Idaho.

There are more instances, but you’ll just have to trust me. Criminal Minds might have even used it earlier than 2010. It seems to me they have, although I don’t have those episodes in my research.  After the October showing, I thought “Again?”

Reading over what I’ve written, it may seem as if I’m angry about our recognition. I’m not. It is said there is no such thing as bad publicity, but it can be annoying if it doesn’t look like your hometown.

I wonder why Idaho is being referenced more than in the past. Is it because of our Boise State football success? Is it because at least 3/4 of the country doesn’t know much about Idaho, so license can be taken? It makes me curious. Do you have any television series or movies to share that used Boise or Idaho in an episode and it was evident the setting wasn’t filmed on location? Please let me know.


Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Boise, Idaho, law enforcement, plotting


Tags: , , ,

19 responses to “The Place to Be

  1. ramblingsfromtheleft

    October 24, 2011 at 5:45 AM

    Janis, the only reference I remember was a River Phoenix movie … My Own Private Idaho. Sorry, these things trouble people. I was talking to a woman a few years back and realized her “accent” reminded me of another movie … It was Fargo, South Dakota and she sounded like Frances McDormand … she was insulted and told me all the accents in the movie were so exaggerated. So help me she sounded just like the lady, but I apologized and quickly changed the subject.

    I must say that Idaho and the Dakotas have nothing on my birthplace … the “meca” of movies and TV programs, the place where every crime and rotten human condition has been exploited … New York … I worked for 20 years in Washington Heights in Northern Manhattan and I have NEVER seen or heard one single movie … worse a Tony Award winning Broadway musical … that depicts its beauty, diversity … the ancient tulip trees on the Inwood Hills, the eight blocks that separate two rivers and the amazing mix of culture … and what they talk about is drugs, crime and the conflicts of culture. Go figure. If it makes you feel any better, until this post my only thoughts of Idaho are the scenic mountains, the grand landscape and a place I would love to visit 🙂

  2. Janis McCurry

    October 24, 2011 at 7:23 AM

    LOL. Thanks for the NY perspective.

  3. johannaharness

    October 24, 2011 at 7:25 AM

    Interesting post, Janis. I read a writing blog about a year ago wherein the author was telling people who have never been to New York that they should not write about New York. The basis for his argument was that too many people know what it’s really like there and you’ll get caught if you get the details wrong. His advice: if you’re going to refuse to do research, write about Idaho because no one will know the difference.

    I tried to find the blog post, but can’t find it now. At the time, I shook my head and thought he was showing his own ignorance. After reading your post, I’m wondering how many people ascribe to his theory.

    • Janis McCurry

      October 24, 2011 at 8:52 AM

      It makes for double-takes when watching television shows or movies, that’s certain.

  4. Meredith Conner

    October 24, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    Janis I’m from Minnesota and the first time I saw the movie “Fargo” (that “ramblings from the left” referenced) I was highly insulted because it plays on ALL the stereotypes from that area of the country. Now it is one of my favorite movies for the exact same reason. In fact I tend to use Idaho as the setting in my WIPs and play to the stereotypes and I usually am thinking while I’m writing that I might as well be writing about a foreign country. I don’t why there is such an odd perception of Idaho in the media. I thought that after Demi and Ashton moved here we would get a little more credit, but . . .

    • Janis McCurry

      October 24, 2011 at 8:52 AM

      Credit for Demi and Ashton. Hmm. Not sure I want that credit. 🙂

  5. Liz Fredericks

    October 24, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    When I attended school in Boston, I had immediate hick cachet because I called Idaho home. Everything from ‘do you have indoor plumbing’ to ‘how many guns do you have’ turned most conversations into a laughfest. My eastern friends were well-intentioned, but most had no conception of Idaho beyond its portrayal in movies and sitcoms. Most of these movies had a Deliverance-ish tone and the sitcoms usually cast the region as a western hillbillie environ. So, it now appears we’re the scene for terrorist plots and serial killers. I’m not sure it’s a step up, but at least the things I write would be believable. 😉

    • Janis McCurry

      October 24, 2011 at 1:14 PM

      The more Idaho writers get their work out in the world, the more accurately we will be portrayed!

  6. Peggy Staggs

    October 24, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    Our son, Nicholas told one of his Army buddies that it took him six hours to get home to Boise from college (U of I.) The guy’s asked how many states Nicholas have to go through to get home.

    I’m not sure going from mountain dwelling hicks to serial killers is much of an upgrade, but they did get one thing right…we’re well armed.

    • Janis McCurry

      October 24, 2011 at 1:16 PM

      And…we have indoor plumbing, just like Liz said.

  7. ValRoberts

    October 24, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    OMG, the X Files episode about the Fairfield Zoo! Did you know that Fairfield is about 15 miles from Boise, and has a fabulous zoo with elephants, gorillas and several species of big cats? Furthermore, they can turn invisible under certain circumstances and go rampaging through downtown Boise.

    Probably the strangest film using Boise was the 1988 Richard Pryor vehicle “Moving” — if you can accept Richard Pryor as an engineer in the first place. But they actually filmed part of it here; I recognized scenery.

    • Janis

      October 24, 2011 at 7:22 PM

      Why yes, Val. I have an invisible tiger visit my pets frequently. 🙂 Good stuff.

  8. Carley Ash

    October 24, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    We watch Criminal Minds at our house and those “Idaho settings” that don’t look anything like the area they’re referencing drives me crazy.

    • Janis

      October 24, 2011 at 7:23 PM

      Yep. It makes me wonder if people in other towns that are “borrowed” but not accurately portrayed “bump” them out of the story as much as it does us.

  9. Mary Vine

    October 24, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    Nobody mentioned Napolean-small town in Idaho.

    • Janis

      October 24, 2011 at 7:24 PM

      A great-sounding name to use in a show!

  10. Lynn Mapp

    October 24, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    Years ago the was a Richard Pryor movies that was supposed to be in Boise. There were palm trees, can you believe it? The bad guy was driven in a limo. At that time there were no limos in our town.

  11. Janis McCurry

    October 25, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    That might have been the movie “Moving” Val referenced. At least, now we have limos.

  12. Clarissa Southwick

    October 25, 2011 at 9:31 PM

    Very interesting subject, Janis. I had no idea there were so many movie references to Idaho, probably for precisely the reasons you listed. I’m going to have to take a look at some of these. 🙂 Thanks for a great post.


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