Based on the non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder, ‘Nomadland’ is a neo-Western drama film that follows Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who leaves her small town to travel around the American West after losing everything in the Great Recession, including her husband. She starts to live as a modern-day nomad in her van, as she goes from place to place in search of work and meets interesting people. The new way of life leads Fern to discover unique aspects of herself. The Chloé Zhao directorial varies between the expansive landscapes and small settlements, which got us curious to know where the film was shot. Here is what we found!
Nomadland Filming Locations
‘Nomadland’ was filmed in different states of the USA, such as Nevada, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arizona, and California. The filming process was as interesting as the story that the movie brings to life. The film was shot in the latter half of 2018. Here are the details!
Fern’s journey begins in her hometown of Empire in Nevada, which has been economically hit with the closing down of a mine. In reality, this ghost town in Washoe County used to be home to United States Gypsum Corporation before it closed down in 2011. Ever since the company shut down, the town’s economy has become dependent on tourism instead of mining.
Empire is known for the Burning Man festival, which is hosted there since 1991. The festival is responsible for 20% of the commercial development in the area. Another reason why people visit Empire is the recreational activities at The Black Rock Desert. The desert itself is spread across three counties of Washoe, Pershing, and Humboldt. We see several shots of this beautiful expanse in the film.
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Another location that features in the movie is an Amazon warehouse, where Fern takes up seasonal employment. McDormand wrote a letter to Amazon, personally requesting permission to film inside the premises.
The film further follows Fern as she works on a beet harvest near Scottsbluff in Scotts Bluff county. The city lies in the western part of Nebraska, which is known to produce sugar beets and has been doing so for more than 100 years. Scottsbluff has a semi-arid or semi-desert climate, which shows a wide range of variation seasonally as well as on a day-to-day basis.
The city was named after in honor of American mountain man and fur trapper Hiram Scott. The fur trader reportedly lost his life at the base of a formation of bluffs along the North Platte River during an expedition in 1828. This geographical landmark is now a national park called the Scotts Bluff National Monument, which also features in the film.
Several parts of the film were shot in South Dakota, specifically in Badlands National Park and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Fern finds work in a campground in the Badlands Region at the nearby Wall Drug Store. The Badlands are known for activities such as hiking and fossil hunting. Visitors often enjoy a drive through the area and wildlife spotting. The multi-hued canyons, spires, and buttes can be seen as the setting for ‘Nomadland.’ ‘Dances with Wolves,’ ‘Armageddon,’ and ‘Thunderheart’ are a few movies that have been filmed at the National Park.
As for the Wall Drug Store, it remains a popular tourist attraction to this day. What started as a simple stop where travelers could get free ice water has become a popular roadside pitstop that is visited by more than two million people every year. It is especially famous for the giant 80-foot brontosaurus sculpture. South Dakota is familiar grounds for the director Chloé Zhao, since her first two feature films, ‘Songs My Brother Taught Me’ and ‘The Rider,’ are also set here. Zhao also spent a few months living in the Pine Ridge Reservation while she was working on ‘The Rider.’
Fern joins the annual event Rubber Tramp Rendezvous near Quartzsite. The town of Quartzsite is known as the “Desert Phenomenon” and is famous for the gem show and swap meet that runs for two months -January and February – every year. It is also one of the most popular sites for RV boondocking in the world. A few sequences in the movie were filmed at the Quartzsite Yacht Club, especially the dance scene between Fern and Dave.
Point Arena, California
In the film, Fern travels with Dave to visit his family in the coastal city of Point Arena in Mendocino County. These sequences were filmed on location. Point Arena is one of several coastal communities that was associated with counterculture groups. The economy of the place is developed around summertime tourism. The Point Arena Lighthouse is one of the defining structures of the city’s skyline and is also the tallest lighthouse on the West coast of the USA.
Hendy Woods State Park, also in Mendocino County, features in the film as Fern is seen admiring the age-old trees, some of which are more than 1000 years old. The 816-acre area is known for the virgin forests of the California redwoods. The lush green forest where Fern is seen is the San Bernadino National Forest, which also provides 47 ‘Yellow Post’ campsites for free camping. Famous films and series have been shot here, including ‘Gone with the Wind,’ ‘Star Trek: Enterprise,’ ‘Old Yeller,’ and ‘Daniel Boone.’
‘Nomadland’ was shot by a lean crew of 19 men and 17 women who traveled long distances in old vans. Also, the film utilized natural light as much as possible. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards used a naturalistic approach and shot most of the film in the “magic hour,” which he refers to as “God’s best light.”
You may find it interesting to know that the film includes real-life nomads that Bruder has mentioned in her book. Frances McDormand lived the nomadic life for some time to maintain the authenticity of the character. She decorated the van used in the film with her personal belongings and called it “Vanguard.” The actress even took up a few jobs and slept in the van as part of the process. Eventually, she had to stop doing that so that exhaustion would not affect her onscreen performance.
Read More: Nomadland Ending, Explained