MISSOULA — “I'm a fifth generation Montanan. My great, great, great grandparents settled in the Bitterroot Valley. They came via oxen train,” said John D. Nilles.
It’s clear that Nilles’s Montana roots run deep, but his Montana dream is just beginning to grow.
“It's been my dream to open a studio in western Montana for about 20 years now,” said Nilles.
A goal 20 years in the making finally came to fruition in 2020 when Nilles and partner Annie Graham launched Treasure State Studios, a state-of-the-art studio and post-production house in Missoula.
“Our space can be used for a variety of things including commercials, music videos, interviews, even feature-length films, and we do two things here. One is we have a production studio where we can shoot these things," Niles told MTN News.
"The second thing we do is post-production, so we can do the editing, the sound design, the color correction, mixing visual effects and all that to complete the project,” Nilles continued.
Treasure State Studios is capable of doing everything from concept to completion -- but even with the studio of their dreams -- elements out of their control dictated the flow of business as Nilles and Graham tried to find their footing in the beginning months.
“The film industry pretty much came to a halt during the pandemic,” said Nilles. The next roadblock came in the Montana Legislature.
House Bill 340 was intended to substantially expand Montana’s tax incentive to promote growth in the film industry, but in the end, the legislature passed only a minor increase -- a disappointment for businesses like Treasure State Studios, but not the end of the world, according to Nilles.
“Had the bill passed and the cap been raised, I think a lot more out-of-state productions would have come in,” said Nilles. “However, we have some really talented filmmakers within the state, and one of our goals here at the studio is to really encourage the local up and coming filmmakers to help them level up and progress in their career.”
Rather than stepping back, Nilles and Graham forged ahead, using the lull in the industry to build their studio, focus their energy on local filmmakers, and even collaborate with Aspire School in Missoula for media training.
“We’re teaching in-depth, hands-on filmmaking courses to middle schoolers and high schoolers, and we're giving them the opportunity to work on industry-standard equipment, learning the proper techniques,” said Nilles. “One of the great things about this is that upon graduation they have the opportunity to intern at the studio.”
Through their new facility, Nilles is bringing Hollywood closer to home and helping anyone with a dream like his to get their foot in the studio door.
“Knowing that western Montana has really needed a studio like this to encourage local filmmakers and provide services for visiting productions...That was really the main thing that got us through 2020, knowing that the end was in sight, and if we could get this studio built, we'd have a lot to offer the community in a variety of ways.”
Anticipating a growing demand for filmmaking in Western Montana, Treasure State Studios is already planning an expansion that will include a larger soundstage and up to eight more production offices.
Nilles told MTN News those changes are coming in 2022.
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