Over the years, sales-tax exemptions on production-related supplies and equipment as well as the diverse landscape and year-round warm weather have drawn filmmakers to Texas. And that’s okay with folks in Texas towns—they’re benefiting from the money that’s being pumped into their economy. Take, for example, El Paso, where Spike Lee filmed his 2002 movie The 25th Hour and spent $87,000 on lodging, food, equipment, labor, and transportation. Since this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Giant, which was filmed in Marfa, Texas Monthly pays tribute to some of the great movies that were filmed right here in the Lone Star State.
Giant (1955): This film adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel, Giant, has shaped the way the world thinks of Texas. Director George Stevens filmed this movie during the summer of 1955 in Marfa, which was then a tiny West Texas ranching town of 3,600 residents. The crew built a false front for the Reata mansion on the plains, took all the available rooms at the Hotel Paisano, and constructed miniature oil derricks. Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean star in the film, which is about the changing face of Texas—from cattle ranching to oil and the rise of the Hispanic population. Most of the outdoor scenes were shot in Marfa, but the interior scenes were all shot at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California.
The Last Picture Show (1971): The movie was set in Anarene, but the film was actually shot in Archer City, the hometown of Larry McMurtry, who wrote the novel The Last Picture Show. When director Peter Bogdanovich and McMurtry were scouting out locations, McMurtry stopped by his hometown, and Bogdanovich decided he wanted to film there. This coming-of-age movie portrays the cycle of poverty in the fifties and a dying town as it follows the lives of best friends Sonny and Duane at the end of their high school days.
Urban Cowboy (1980): This cult classic, directed by James Bridges and starring John Travolta as Bud Davis, was mostly filmed at the Pasadena honky-tonk called Gilley’s, which was owned by country singer Mickey Gilley. The story goes something like this: Bud is a country boy who moves to the city (Houston, where part of the movie was filmed on south Main) to visit his uncle, where he gets a job at a refinery, meets and marries a cowgirl named Sissy, and starts to frequent Gilley’s. (According to the Guinness Book of World Records, at the time the film was shot, Gilley’s was the largest nightclub in the world in terms of space available to patrons.) Bud and Sissy then go through a series of problems and ride some mechanical bulls. Everything takes a turn for the better in the end.
Terms of Endearment (1983): The Oscar-winning movie, which was directed by James L. Brooks, was filmed in many locations, including Nebraska, New York, and (most famously) Houston. The story is about Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter, Emma Greenway Horton (Debra Winger)—their struggles and loves and Aurora’s interludes with Garrett Breedlove, the retired astronaut who lives next door. The houses were located in the Avalon district, with some of the filming done in River Oaks. It is rumored that the cast of the film stayed at Allen Park Inn for months, turning it into a place for actors and musicians to reside when in Houston.
D.O.A. (1988): This movie, starring Texan Dennis Quaid, was filmed at Southwest Texas State University (now known as Texas State University), in San Marcos, as well as in Austin. Quaid plays a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin who discovers that he has been poisoned shortly after one of his students commits suicide. Directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton used the Capitol to substitute for UT as needed.
Slacker (1991): Director Richard Linklater, a native Texan, made his debut with this independent feature about a day in the life of unmotivated young people living in Austin. The film shifts between characters as they waste their days discussing politics (a UFO buff insists the United States has been on the moon since the fifties), philosophy (an anarchist shares his philosophy of life with a robber), and pop culture (a woman claims she has Madonna’s pap smear on a glass side). With a $23,000 budget, Linklater created a cult classic.
Dazed and Confused (1993): Linklater’s second film, which chronicles the social development of a group of kids at a suburban Texas high school, proved just as successful as Slacker. Starring Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson (Texan Renée Zellweger also has a bit part in the movie), the film details the last day of school in May 1976. Linklater portrays teenage encounters with sex, drugs, and rock and roll with such accuracy that his former high school classmates from Huntsville filed a lawsuit against Universal Studios in October 2004. They claim that Linklater did not get permission to use their surnames or likenesses and that they now suffer from ridicule.
Bottle Rocket (1996): This is a story about three Texas boys living out their friendship and loyalties as they pursue a life of crime. Written by Owen Wilson and director Wes Anderson (the two met at a playwriting class at the University of Texas at Austin), the story begins with Anthony’s discharge from a mental hospital. Adventures ensue when he teams up with his friend Dignan and neighbor Bob for a “crime spree” of sorts. The film was shot at various locations in Dallas, including St. Mark’s School of Texas, where Wilson was expelled in the tenth grade.
Waiting For Guffman (1996): After twenty-nine days of filming in Lockhart (with a Super-16 camera, eight starring roles, and no script) came the story of the town of Blaine, Missouri, preparing to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Corky St. Clair, an off-Broadway director, puts on an amateur theater show starring locals (including a dentist, a Dairy Queen waitress, and a car repairman) and invites a Broadway theater critic, Mr. Guffman, to opening night. Lockhart was chosen to represent the quaint town of Blaine partly because of its proximity to Austin, where director Christopher Guest had access to recording studios as well as talent for the cast and crew.
All the Pretty Horses (2000): This movie is about the tale of a Texas rancher named John Grady Cole (played by Matt Damon) who leaves his beloved West Texas, which has become filled with highways, to follow his cowboy dreams in Mexico. The filmmakers, including director Billy Bob Thornton, flew in helicopters low over the landscape in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in search of a traditional hacienda to use for the film. They finally found one at Hill Ranch, thirty miles west of San Antonio, near the town of Helotes. The scenes where John Grady and Alejandra (played by Penélope Cruz) first meet were taped at a beer hall 25 miles north of San Antonio.
Miss Congeniality (2000): Leading lady Sandra Bullock must have felt right at home filming this movie about a killer obsessed with the Miss United States beauty pageant in the state’s capital city (she has a house in Austin). There were a few scenes shot in San Antonio, but for the most part, Austin’s arts district at Fourth and Colorado was taken over by film crews. In fact, the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre claims to have experienced less business during that time because of the blockage of foot traffic in the area.
The Rookie (2002): Directed by John Lee Hancock, this film tells the story of Jim Morris, a minor league baseball player turned coach (played by Houston-native Dennis Quaid) who ends up trying out for a major league team. The setting is a West Texas town called Big Lake, but the movie was actually filmed in Thorndale, which is located northeast of Austin and might explain why everything looks too green to be West Texas. In the movie, road signs that show the distance to towns that lie ahead have the “mi” abbreviation after each number. However, Texas signs just carry the actual number.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003): This remake of the 1974 slasher, which was loosely based on Ed Gein’s life, follows four teenagers who are driving down to Mexico in search of drugs. Director Marcus Nispel used a newsreel footage–like style for the movie, which had a handful of people believing the story was real. The remake was filmed around Austin and stars Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour.
Friday Night Lights (2004): The film is based on H.G. Bissinger’s book of the same title, which chronicles the journey of the Odessa Permian High Panthers, the heroic high school football team. After watching his first Permian game, director Peter Berg was inspired to film at the Ratliff Stadium in Odessa (some scenes were shot at the Houston Astrodome) and chose Austin, Houston, and Odessa as the locales for the film. A cast featuring Billy Bob Thornton, Tim McGraw (in his first Hollywood starring role), and eight former University of Texas football players recreates the 1988 quest for the state championship.
For more information on movies filmed in Texas, go to www.governor.state.tx.us/divisions/film.