Filmmaking in Waco has been an emphasis in the Deep in the Heart Film Festival since its beginning six years ago and was underlined this year. Several Waco filmmakers, writers and musicians had entries and special posters boasting “Waco Is Made For Movies” were commissioned.
For the first time, the winner of the screenplay competition received an incentive package featuring hotel accommodations, $2,500 in rebates, a camera and lighting package, and filmmaking consultations to encourage filming in Waco.
Is Waco made for movies? Perhaps, when you assemble the parts.
Scouting Waco locations
Movie fans hoping for a major feature film shoot in Waco recently had their spirits, if not eyebrows, raised with news of planned film about a Korean boy band stranded in Waco.
Carla Pendergraft, city assistant director of tourism, puts together a Waco location tour for filmmakers attending the Deep in the Heart Film Festival. Those tours have featured Austin and Elm avenues, Oakwood Cemetery, the Mayborn Museum’s Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village, Cameron Park, the former Paul Quinn College campus, Anthem Stories, Balcones Distilling, and the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum.
People are also reading…
She’s frequently the city liaison fielding queries from location scouts, directors and producers interested in shooting in Waco. Most commonly, Waco gets used as B-roll or secondary footage and establishing shots, with aerials of downtown, the Waco Suspension Bridge and Branding of the Brazos cattle drive bronzes the usual subjects.
The pandemic smothered a lot of film and video shoots due to travel shutdowns and funding cutbacks, but film interest in Waco may be starting to rebound, she said.
This summer, film crews from France and England have been in town to shoot footage for some specials on the Branch Davidians, and Waco’s Castle will get national attention as the renovated subject of an eight-episode “Fixer Upper” this October.
Few — if any — film or television projects in recent years have put images of Waco in front of more people than Waco’s Joanna and Chip Gaines, first through their breakthrough house remodeling series “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, then through “Fixer Upper” and other series on their Magnolia Network.
Shots of Waco landmarks like the Waco Suspension Bridge, the Branding the Brazos longhorns and cowboys in Indian Spring Park, downtown Waco, Baylor University and McLane Stadium, plus Magnolia properties and prairie sunsets outside of town, fill the transitions between the house-remodel footage. Out-of-town viewers get a sense of Waco as a contemporary, clean, comfortable and mildly Western place to live.
That has continued with the current “Fixer Upper: Home Again,” and Magnolia Network series “Magnolia Table” and “The Retro Plant Shop with Mikey and Jo.” More is in store, including more baking competitions held at Magnolia Market at the Silos and likely before live, local audiences, said Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano.
Waco businesses that have had a close-up in “Fixer Upper” segments include Rock Creek ironworks, vintage vinyl store Spin Connection, Kent Mill & Supply and Jesse’s Tortilla Factory.
A production team of about 80 plans and oversees filming for Magnolia productions with smaller teams of 5 to 15 crew members filming on location.
“The city of Waco is very much the nucleus of our media ecosystem and it’s a priority for Chip and Joanna to shine a light on all of the people and things that make Waco ‘home’ for all of us,” Marsicano said.
Damon Crump, owner of Jackalope Entertainment and director of 2008’s “Risen,” is hopeful for feature projects coming to the city.
“I’ve always wanted to film in Waco, something that showcases the town without making it a travelogue,” he said.
With some 35 years as a working filmmaker and videographer in Waco, Crump has seen a lot of the film productions that come to town and has worked on many of them. Corporate and commercial jobs plus the occasional documentary pay the bills and more short films get made in Waco than features, he said.
Fatter film subsidies offered by New Mexico and Louisiana in recent years have drawn movie and television projects that otherwise might have come to Texas. The ones that come to Texas often gravitate to the Dallas or Austin areas rather than Waco due to resources in experienced technical crews and post-production support.
“Waco just doesn’t have the infrastructure that Dallas or Austin has,” Crump observed.
Short films in the pipeline
Film production company Vision Vehicle Studios shot its first feature in Waco in November, the first in what Steve Moffatt sees as a stream of regular local production using local talent. Moffatt and partners Malcolm Goodwin and Victor Hawks, all with years of experience in movie making, acting and producing, moved Vision Vehicle to Waco two years ago, in part due to its central location between Austin and Dallas.
“The Great Wall of Warren,” written and directed by Hawks and filmed largely in local residences, concerns a man (played by Goodwin, also in Amazon Prime Video’s “Reacher”), whose high-living lifestyle crashes with pandemic lockdowns, making him aware of the need to find love and connection as ways to break out of it. The film is in post-production with a release later this year and distribution discussions with Amazon and Apple, Moffatt said.
Vision Vehicle Studios shot scenes in Waco last March for a second movie that may also see a 2022 release. “There are other films in the pipeline that we’d like to shoot in Waco as well,” Moffatt said. “We’d like to bring more of the film industry culture to Waco,” he said.
Waco’s smaller scale and affordability made it a choice for Kevin Machate, who shot his first film in Waco earlier this year. The Texas native and McLennan Community College grad has 12 years’ experience in film, including acting, directing, writing and production. He moved back to Waco in 2017 and has shifted much of his work to writing, although he still produces and directs the occasional short film.
“Milton,” the 12-minute short he filmed in Waco, originally was set in Santa Fe, with a specific farmers market and bed-and-breakfast he had in mind. Driving past local bed-and-breakfast The Inn on Austin Avenue, it all suddenly clicked: He could shoot the same film in Waco.
Eastside Market, held monthly at Brotherwell Brewing, stood in for the Santa Fe one and The Inn would serve as the film’s bed-and-breakfast. Even better, the Waco bed-and-breakfast housed some of Machate’s cast and crew while they were in Austin.
His short film, which he hopes gets picked up at Texas film fests such as the Austin Film Festival and Lone Star Film Festival later this year, follows two elderly women (actresses Libby Villari of “Friday Night Lights” and Gayland Williams), who look back on their friendship and years together on what may be their last road trip. Milton, the title character, turns out to be a cactus purchased at the market.
Back in action
Russell Clay, a partner in Waco’s live music venue and restaurant The Backyard, is getting back into filmmaking after pausing for a few years. He and New Breed Productions partner George Nelson recently released their new film “Bite the Ground” in Arizona, two years after their “Road To Revenge.”
The story, written by Stephanie and Christopher Sheffield, involves bounty hunters, exploited orphans and an evil mine owner. Clay expects it to be in 40 theaters by October and the possibility of streaming video beyond that.
It’s the sort of enjoyable action that characterizes Waco-based Red C Productions, which turned out films like “Live or Die” and the online series “Cowboy & Lucky” more than seven years ago. Clay and Red C partner Chris Cox then shifted their energies from movie-making to establishing The Backyard as a live music venue.
Clay feels The Backyard’s success now gives him the breathing room to return to the low-budget, high-passion movie-making that the former stuntman enjoys. This time, he anticipates more time behind the camera than in front. “It’s a lot of fun, but at 55, I want to create and be behind the camera,” he said. “We’re talking about another movie, something like ‘Hell or High Water,’ and I want to direct. And I want to make them use the people who are here.”
There’s plenty of room for “short, short films” that viewers can watch online or even on their phones, he believes. What’s important to Clay are engaging stories and showcasing local talent. “The tools are out there if you are willing to create a good story and work hard,” he said.