Filmmaking in Waco has been a focus of the Deep in the Heart Film Festival since its inception six years ago and was highlighted this year. Several Waco filmmakers, writers and musicians had entries, and special posters touting “Waco Is Made For Movies” were commissioned.
For the first time, the winner of the screenplay competition received an incentive package including hotel accommodations, $2,500 off, a camera and lighting package, and directing consultations to encourage filming in Waco.
Is Waco made for movies? Perhaps, when you put the parts together.
Waco location scouting
Moviegoers hoping for a major feature film shoot in Waco have recently had their morale, if not their eyebrows raised, with the news of a planned movie about a group of Korean boys stranded in Waco.
Carla Pendergraft, the city’s assistant director of tourism, organizes a guided tour of Waco for filmmakers participating in the Deep in the Heart Film Festival. These tours have included Austin and Elm Avenues, Oakwood Cemetery, Historic Bill and Vara Daniel Village at the Mayborn Museum, Cameron Park, Paul Quinn College Old Campus, Anthem Stories, Balcones Distilling, and the Library and Museum Lee Lockwood.
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She is often the town liaison who answers queries from scouts, directors and producers interested in filming in Waco. Most often, Waco is used as a B-roll or secondary sequence and establishment shots, with aerials of downtown, the Waco Suspension Bridge, and the brand of Brazos cattle tans the usual subjects.
The pandemic has snuffed out many film and video shoots due to travel closures and funding cuts, but movie interest in Waco could start to rebound, she said.
This summer, film crews from France and England traveled to town to film Branch Davidians specials, and Waco’s Castle will capture national attention as the revamped subject of an eight-hour “Fixer Upper.” episodes in October.
Few – if any – film or TV projects in recent years have put images of Waco in front of more people than Waco’s Joanna and Chip Gaines, first through their groundbreaking home renovation 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, Longhorns and Cowboys Branding the Brazos at Indian Spring Park, Downtown Waco, Baylor University and McLane Stadium, as well as Magnolia properties and prairie sunsets outside of town, fill transitions between home renovation footage. Viewers from out of town get the impression that Waco is a contemporary, clean, comfortable, and slightly Western place to live.
This 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 contests held at Magnolia Market at Silos and likely in front of live local audiences, Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano said.
Waco businesses that have had a big shot in the “Fixer Upper” segments include Rock Creek Forges, vintage vinyl store Spin Connection, Kent Mill & Supply, and Jesse’s Tortilla Factory.
A production team of approximately 80 people plans and oversees the filming of Magnolia productions with smaller teams of 5 to 15 crew members filming on location.
“The City of Waco is truly the hub 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 our ‘home’ to all of us,” Marsicano said.
Damon Crump, owner of Jackalope Entertainment and director of 2008’s “Risen,” hopes to see feature film projects come to town.
“I’ve always wanted to film in Waco, something that showcases the city without making it a travelogue,” he said.
With roughly 35 years as a filmmaker and videographer working in Waco, Crump has seen plenty of film productions coming to town and worked on many of them. Corporate and commercial jobs as well as occasional documentaries pay the bills and more shorts are made in Waco than feature films, he said.
Bigger film grants offered by New Mexico and Louisiana in recent years have attracted film and television projects that might otherwise have come to Texas. Those coming to Texas often gravitate to the Dallas or Austin areas rather than Waco due to experienced technical team resources and post-production support.
“Waco just doesn’t have the infrastructure of Dallas or Austin,” Crump observed.
Short films in preparation
Film production company Vision Vehicle Studios shot its first feature film in Waco in November, the first of what Steve Moffatt considers a regular local production stream using local talent. Moffatt and his partners Malcolm Goodwin and Victor Hawks, all with years of experience directing, directing and producing films, moved Vision Vehicle to Waco two years ago, in part because of its central location. between Austin and Dallas.
“The Great Wall of Warren,” written and directed by Hawks and filmed largely at local residences, is about a man (played by Goodwin, also in Amazon Prime Video’s “Reacher”), whose elevated lifestyle s is collapsing with the pandemic shutdowns, which makes him aware of the need to find love and connection as ways to cope. 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 could also see a 2022 release. “There are other movies in the works that we would like to shoot in Waco as well,” Moffatt said. “We would like to bring more of the film industry culture to Waco,” he said.
Waco’s small 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 graduate has 12 years of experience in film, including acting, director, screenwriter and producer. He returned to Waco in 2017 and shifted much of his work towards writing, although he still occasionally produces and directs short films.
“Milton,” the 12-minute short he shot in Waco, was originally set in Santa Fe, with a specific farmers’ market and bed and breakfast he had in mind. Passing the local bed and breakfast The Inn on Austin Avenue, everything suddenly clicked: he could be shooting the same movie in Waco.
Eastside Market, held monthly at Brotherwell Brewing, replaced the one in Santa Fe and The Inn would serve as the film’s bed-and-breakfast. Even better, the Waco bed-and-breakfast housed some of the Machate cast and crew during their stay in Austin.
His short film, which he hopes will be picked up at Texas film festivals such as the Austin Film Festival and the 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 their years together on what could be their last road trip. Milton, the main character, turns out to be a cactus bought at the market.
Back to action
Russell Clay, partner at Waco’s The Backyard music venue and restaurant, is getting back into acting after a few years’ hiatus. He and New Breed Productions partner George Nelson recently released their new movie “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 ability to stream video beyond that.
It’s the enjoyable action genre that characterizes Waco-based Red C Productions, which produced movies like “Live or Die” and the online series “Cowboy & Lucky” more than seven years ago. Clay and Red C’s partner Chris Cox then shifted his energies from filmmaking to creating The Backyard as a live music venue.
Clay believes the success of The Backyard now gives him the leeway to return to making the low-budget, passionate films 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 them to 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 thinks. What’s important to Clay are engaging stories and showcasing local talent. “The tools are there if you’re willing to craft a good story and put in the hard work,” he said.