Wanderlist - Movie Sets in Texas
Texas has been the stage for many epic movies over the years. On this Wanderlist, we’ll discuss films that put Texas on the silver screen. From wide landscapes to small towns, it’s lights, camera, action in the Lone Star State.
UTTS: S3:E17: WANDERLIST – MOVIE SETS IN TEXAS
[SPONSOR] Under the Texas Sky is Brought to you in part by Toyota, a proud supporter of Texas Parks and Wildlife Programs. Toyota, Let’s Go Places.
[SFX —FILM PROJECTOR]
[NARRATIO] Texas has had its share of the Hollywood spotlight. The state has provided a backdrop for such great movies like Giant, The Alamo, Urban Cowboy and even Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
[SFX—PEE WEE IN TEXAS] “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.”
And Texas also claims a host of iconic film directors, like Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Catherine Hardwicke, Mike Judge, Forest Whitaker and Tommy Lee Jones. The list could go on forever.
On the Wanderlist, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine Editor Louie Bond and I are talking about famous films shot in Texas. We’ll also reveal some of your favorite Texas films you submitted to us on our Instagram account last week.
Stay with us.
[MUS—FLEA THE CIRCUS]
[NARRATION] From Texas Parks and Wildlife, this is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist. I’m Randall Maxwell and with me is Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine Editor, Louie Bond.
[RANDALL & LOUIE]
[RANDALL] Hi Louie, how are you?
[LOUIE] I’m doing great Randall. How are you?
[RANDALL] Well I’m just fine. I’m excited about this week’s Wanderlist. And when we put our question up last week on Instagram. I had no idea how many responses we were going to get. But there were several, several answers to our question; what films were your favorite shot in Texas?
[LOUIE] You know, I’m really excited about this episode too. I think everybody’s a film buff these days. We have so many opportunities to just watch movies whenever we want to. I’m old enough that when I was a kid I had to wait every year for The Wizard of Oz to come around and sit in front of the TV at the right moment to let those winged monkeys scare me.(laughs) But now, you can just watch anything you want to anytime, and what a luxury that is. And you know, I’m a proud Texan, born and raised, so I’m proud that we have so many great movies made right here in Texas. There’s a few stinkers too Randall.
[RANDALL] There were some stinkers weren’t there?
[LOUIE] There really were. You know I really wasn’t much aware of movie-making until I moved to the Wimberley area. Wimberley is just Southwest of Austin. It’s very scenic, so quite a few movies have been made there, and when I first moved there in the early 1980s, they were still talking about a movie that had been made there in 1975. When my husband and his friends were college students at Texas State University, they had all taken the day off to come watch the filming of a movie called Race With The Devil. It’s an American action horror film starring Peter Fonda, so it was a big deal in a little town like Wimberley in 1975 to have Peter Fonda around. But the big attraction that particular day was, you know, Race With The Devil and it was some crazy horror movie that was all you know shot in a car racing along these Texas highways. But this particular day they were going to run this flaming car off the bridge in Wimberley. Everybody gathers on the low-water bridge to see them take the whole day to try to get this car to go off at the perfect moment in the perfect place and of course it didn’t (laughs), and so it was a really memorable day that they talked about years later when I first visited Wimberley. Since then they’ve made lots of movies there. Maybe one of the most recent is the TV series, Fear The Walking Dead with all the zombies.
[RANDALL] Well that’s cool. Did you see any other movies shot out in Wimberley?
[LOUIE] Well there was really actually was one in particular that I had some, oh I don’t know. What would you call them? Run-ins with the stars, I guess. I was working as the Wimberley View editor, the local newspaper editor. Clint Eastwood was directing a movie called A Perfect World. He was also in the movie with Kevin Costner. It’s the story where Kevin Costner is an escaped convict. He makes friends with this young boy, and they go on this kind of cross-country journey. And Eastwood is the Texas Ranger in pursuit. So, of course everyone knew they were in town. They were huge stars then. This was 1993. I had four children at the time and it was summer, so we had some teenagers babysitting our kids while we worked at the newspaper. So I went out to this place called Little Arkansas where they were filming and made friends with the crew, and they let me in close to the set to take some pictures for the newspaper. And there’s Clint Eastwood, I mean, twenty feet away from me doing all of his directorial stuff, and the nice guy who lets me in there says: “Now, don’t bother Mr. Eastwood” and I’m like oh believe me, I’m not going to bother Mr. Eastwood. But apparently I did.
[RANDALL] Oh no.
[LOUIE] And so, I’m looking through my viewfinder, zooming in trying to get that perfect Clint Eastwood look, and he looks over at me and gives me the look of death.
[RANDALL] Oh wow.
[LOUIE] Like the Dirty Harry look of death. Somewhere I have it...
[RANDALL] And of course you snapped the picture, right?
[LOUIE] Of course I did and we ran that photo, and I got teased about it for a long time. But if that wasn’t enough to get the withering look of death from Clint Eastwood. Later on, I don’t know if it was that same day or maybe the next day, I had this huge suburban full of my four kids, maybe a couple of other kids, and we drive past a car parked on the side of the road, and leaning against it, leaning his back against it with his arms folded is Kevin Costner. And I hit the brakes. And the girls start squealing. And Kevin looks up, and we look over. I don’t even think any intelligible sounds came out of our mouths except for squealing. And he just looked and looked very amused and waved at us, gave us a little salute, a little tip of the head and we squealed our way away, and it was so memorable, for everybody in the car at the time. And that’s one of the beautiful things. If you have a movie being shot in your town, the whole town turns out. Everyone wants to see what’s going on.
[RANDALL] Yeah, you know as far as brushes with greatness, I’m sure we could do a six-hour long podcast. So we had a lot of Instagram interest in the movie Giant. There was J Birch, Mickey Shelly, Andrea McClure. I mean, there were so many people that mentioned this movie.
[LOUIE] Yes. Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. It was a really big deal.
[RANDALL] And the original Rock was in that. Rock Hudson. What a cast.
[LOUIE] You know, Giant might be one of the most famous movies made in Texas. And there’s a famous hotel out there that you can still visit where the cast and crew stayed, but it really made its mark on West Texas.
[RANDALL] You know and not as many films shot lately, but it has been a big film state.
[LOUIE] It really is a huge film state, and if you look at this Wanderlist that originally ran in the magazine, you’ll see that the photographer who took these great shots of these old abandoned sets across Texas himself is an actor. Earl Nottingham. He’s been in quite a few movies. Including the Alamo, which we’ll talk about later.
[RANDALL] Well Instagrammer Summa Sun certainly jogged my memory when she posted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
[LOUIE] You know I don’t think I actually ever saw the whole movie cause I’m not a horror movie buff, but it kind of came out when I was in high school so I definitely remember Leatherface and his family of cannibals. I think they wound up making eight of these movies, but the first was definitely the classic. It was filmed in Texas. It was actually made in Kingsland. I think it was made for $140,000., and by the time that the whole eight of them had been made, they made like 250 million dollars, so they were actually quite successful for being pretty horrible. So there was this café, you can actually eat in the same room as the family of cannibals. The original café was located in Round Rock, a little Queen Anne style cottage. They cut it into pieces, appropriately enough.
[LOUIE] Moved it to Kingsland in 1998 and restored it. Now it’s called the Grand Central Café, and I guess maybe they thought cannibals weren’t really a good draw for a restaurant, so they’re starting to play it down. They used to have a leather dummy of Leatherface at the top of the stairs. And they’ve removed that and some of the mentions. But you can go and know that you’re eating in the same place as the cannibals.
[RANDALL] Umm. Cannibalism and cafes. Suddenly that movie Motel Hell comes to mind where I guess the lead chef, he confessed: “I used preservatives.”
[LOUIE] (laughs) Because I love a good cannibal movie. (laughs)
[RANDALL] Well I know another one. I think it was back in 1971, in Archer City I believe. I know one of our Instagram followers, Jan-Tex, she mentioned this movie. It was called The Last Picture Show, and I remember that from film school.
[LOUIE] It was a really cool movie. Very classically made. Filmed in black and white. Very artsy. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. And of course it was based on a book by Larry McMurtry, of the same name, The Last Picture Show. And the thing that really struck me I think was Cybill Shepherd, she was so beautiful and it was also quintessentially Texas. It was all centered around this theater, the iconic Royal Theater, and it was fully rebuilt and is now an art center. Back then they did some restoration of the front of the theater to use and they filmed the interiors in a theater in nearby Olney. But the fame that was gained from this movie really turned Archer City into a center for performing arts. And actually the author has these huge bookstores there, and people come to read the books and see him. The film was not only shot in black and white, but it also featured a lot of Texas music, a lot of old country music, like Hank Williams, Eddie Arnold, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell. It was actually nominated for eight academy awards, and not only that, in 1998, it was deemed culturally, historically and aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress, so it’s been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It’s a very important film to have been made in Texas.
[SFX— THE LAST PICTURE SHOW] (Sound of faint radio in background) “Never you mind honey. Never you mind.”
[NARRATION] Next, Louie and I will discuss movies people from all over can associate with Texas. They’ve got a little grit in them. But first…
[SPONSOR] Support from Toyota allows us to bring you stories from Under the Texas Sky. Toyota has been a proud sponsor of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation since 2002, providing generous support to help the department provide outdoor programs for Texans and conserve the wildlife of the Lone Star State.
[NARRATION] This is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist from Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Randall Maxwell…Wanderlist is a collaboration with Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. Editor, Louie Bond, and I have been talking about about Texas films, specifically ones you sent us via our Instagram account. And that’s where we pick up our conversation.
[RANDALL & LOUIE]
[RANDALL] Well, rivertaminator suggested Hope Floats, and I know that movie was actually shot just East of Austin, in Smithville right?
[LOUIE] Yeah, Smithville is a beautiful little town full of all these historic homes and so it’s really a perfect setting for kind of a small town, old-timey Texas romance. Hope Floats is kind of a like its name. It stars Sandra Bullock who we also claim in Texas these days. She loves Texas and has opened a restaurant in Austin so she’s made several movies in the Austin area and in Texas. Smithville really turned out for this movie and an additional movie that was filmed ten years later with Brad Pitt called Tree of Life. Used several of the same locations, actually filmed around the corner from the Hope Floats house. So there’s a whole main street historic district with 18th to 20th century homes that really conveys that feel of small central towns. One interesting thing about Hope Floats is it was directed by Forest Whitaker, which I had no idea. He’s been in a lot of weighty movies. I was kind of surprised, but you know, he was also born in Texas, lived four years in Longview. So a lot of Texas connections in Hope Floats and the subsequent Tree of Life.
[RANDALL] You know, films like that, that really capture small town Texas. I like that the rest of the world gets to see how special Texas is.
[RANDALL] Well of course when you talk about Texas, you know you gotta talk about Westerns as far as movies go. And, that’s been a big genre for Texas. I remember standing in line around the block with my parents to get into the theater to see True Grit with John Wayne.
[SFX—TRUE GRIT] (Sound of gunfire) “I’m a federal officer. Speak up. Who’s in there?”
[RANDALL] But there’s actually been two versions of True Grit, right Louie?
[LOUIE] There were. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen both of them. I really love True Grit. I really love old westerns, and I especially love ones set in Texas. The first one was in 1969 with the great John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. I mean, what a character Rooster Cogburn is. Glen Campbell was also in the movie and sang the song. Robert Duvall. And of course in True Grit there’s always the young angénieux who sort of plays the tomboy who’s off looking for the guy who murdered her dad. She enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn, who is like the crustiest old Marshall around to help her and along the way there’s another guy who’s looking for the bad guy too because he’s also murdered a Senator, so it’s just a really great movie. The original was such a classic.
[RANDALL] And I believe that film was the only one John Wayne was awarded an Oscar for, correct?
[LOUIE] You’re so right. He won his only Oscar for his performance in the film. And when he accepted the Oscar, do you know what he said?
[LOUIE] He wears an eye-patch in the film as Rooster Cogburn, I have to set you up first, but he says “Wow, if I’d known that, I’d had put that patch on thirty-five years earlier.” (laughs) So, along comes 2010 and who’s going to remake a movie like that. Well, sure enough it’s Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, and they’re in Granger, Texas, and they’re making a remake of True Grit. And it really came out very well. There’s a street that goes through Granger, it’s 100 feet wide, it’s called Davilla Street. And it bisects the town and it was paved with red bricks in 1912. And one of the stipulations of the movie contract was that they had to be in and out of Granger in four months, and everything had to be restored perfectly because they had a big festival that was going to be happening. So they covered up the red bricks of the main street through town with 6 inches of dirt, which they then had to suck back up and clean before the festival started. It was actually in the contract that they could not ruin those bricks. Those bricks are very important in Granger. They built several new building facades and hitching posts. They covered up all the electrical lines and any evidence of the 21st century. But the detail that really cracks me up about this movie, when scenes required trees, and there weren’t any there, the crews drilled holes into wooden poles and inserted makeshift branches to use movie-magic and bark-like covering to produce trees. So they made their own trees when the trees weren’t in the right place.
[RANDALL] Oh the magic of Hollywood.
[LOUIE] Oh Hollywood magic. It was a great story.
[RANDALL] Well, staying with our Western theme, there was another huge movie shot in Texas down near Brackettville called, The Alamo.
[RANDALL] And there was a second Alamo made several years later, not quite as popular though.
[LOUIE] Well, again, yeah. Two different versions. And you know John Wayne directed the 1960 version of The Alamo. They used 400 acres near Brackettville, which is West of San Antonio, and they created a replica Alamo village. And it was constructed by this guy James T. “Happy” Shahan, and this was the first movie set built in Texas back in 1957. It was used for dozens of movies and TV shows, and music videos, and commercials. There was a full scale replica of the mission, plus a cantina, trading post, jail, blacksmith shop, it was incredible. It actually closed in 2009 when Shahan’s daughter passed away. In addition to the 1960 version of the Alamo, there was another version in 2004, also shot in Texas with huge Texas connections, but a totally different kind of a set. It was shot on Hamilton Pool Road at a place called Reimers Ranch, which is a very popular rock climbing facility near Austin, and it was the largest set ever built in North America at that time. A number of the buildings including the mission were constructed for the film, it cost about ten million dollars, but a lightning storm came along several years later and just destroyed the whole thing. It was thought to be the most accurate full-size reproduction of the Alamo ever built at the time.
[RANDALL] Wow, that’s sad.
[LOUIE] Yeah, it wasn’t really durable like the Alamo Village in Brackettville. It was kind of a flimsy set made of plywood and other materials, and it really had begun to deteriorate. And of course, you know, it didn’t do very well at the box office (laughs), it’s called one of the biggest box office bombs in film history.
[RANDALL] That’s really unfortunate. But like you said, there were some stinkers. (laughs) Well, here’s an Instagram post I noticed by Glenn Dill, I happen to know who he is. He’s a great graphic artist and editor here in town. He mentioned The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
[LOUIE] I have watched it actually. It’s a very good movie.
[RANDALL] And it starred and was directed by Texan Tommy Lee Jones. And they shot all over West Texas. Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Lajitas, Midland, Monahans, Odessa, Van Horn, it was all over the place and even in the little town of Redford. It’s based on an actual real-life story about an event that happened down near the US-Mexico border, which involves Border Patrol kind of having a run-in with a local cowboy working on the border there with goats. Shots are fired at a coyote and the Border Patrol officer thinks that cowboy is actually firing at him. It’s a really intriguing movie and a great direction by Tommy Lee Jones.
[LOUIE] Gosh Randall, we’ve gone from just a few movies to lots and lots and lots of movies. I think we’ve barely scratched the surface.
[RANDALL] So many good movies Louie. Several people mentioned No Country For Old Men, another great film shot in Texas. Tarnished Texas and Chrissy Garcia mentioned the film starring Jennifer Lopez that paid tribute to the late Selena. There was The Rookie with Dennis Quaid.
[LOUIE] There were some other ones on there too like Powder, that was a super cool movie. There were some really neat movies that they brought up.
[RANDALL] So many great responses from our Instagram followers.
[LOUIE] Hopefully we’ll inspire some more great Texas movie watching.
[RANDALL] I hope so too, Louie. Thanks for your time.
[LOUIE] Thanks, Randall.
[MUS—GOT THAT HAY FEVER]
[NARRATION] We’re done wandering for this podcast…but Louie Bond and I—or our executive producer, Cecilia Nasti—will be back with more fascinating things to see and places to explore in the Lone Star State.
Before heading to any state park, historic site or natural area, call ahead.
Also, keep an eye on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Instagram account, which is @TexasParksWildlife. We’ll use it to notify you of some of the Wanderlist subjects we plan to cover in the weeks ahead and give you a chance to ask questions, some of which we’ll answer on the podcast.
Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife. We produce our Wanderlist series in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine in the Media Production Studios in Austin, Texas. Yours truly did our sound design. Whitney Bishop does our social media. And we get distribution and web help from Susan Griswold and Benjamin Kailing.
Stream or download Under the Texas Sky and Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist wherever you get your podcasts. And please leave a review while you’re there and let us know how we’re doing and what you’d like to hear.
Until next time…keep on wandering Under the Texas Sky. I’m Randall Maxwell.