Roll Cameras! Action! Austin Water Facilities Goes Hollywood

It’s not every day a movie star shows up at your wastewater treatment plant. But in Austin, where the film industry is growing, it’s just part of another workday.
Roll Cameras! Action! Austin Water Facilities Goes Hollywood
The series Revolution was shot at the Govalle Wastewater Treatment Plant in Austin. The plant is not longer operational, and is used only for training purposes.

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Bad guy’s hideout. Post-apocalyptic town. Not exactly what you’d imagine when you think of wastewater treatment plants, but for Austin, Texas, it’s just another day at the movies, er, work.

Several Austin Water Utility plants have been featured in films and television shows.

“It’s just part of the Austin sort of entertainment industry,” says Mike Welch, superintendent of Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. “All around Austin I see more and more businesses and neighborhoods being used.”

Scouting for hideouts
The Walnut Creek plant was the site of the 2012 filming of the Robert Rodriguez film Machete Kills.

The facility, at the Austin city limits, occupies about 50 acres within a 300-acre site along Walnut Creek, which empties into the Colorado River. The 75 mgd (design) facility was built in 1977.

While only one scene was shot there, crews filmed for three or four days, 12 hours a day. The facility has an Aztec-looking exterior.

“That’s what kind of drew them here was the architecture of the administration building,” Welch adds.

The administration building became, as it were, the “bad guy’s lair,” says Welch. Crews took over the building, and at times the space became a bit tight.

The control room was right upstairs from the lobby, and stairs were the only way in and out.

“We had to double-occupy the space,” Welch says. “Sometimes we literally had to postpone them filming for 30 minutes so we could get into the control room.”

Crews brought their own lights and power, used a conference room for editing, and were extremely conscientious about cleaning up when they finished. For the most part, Welch says, it was a successful, exciting and not very intrusive few days.

Welch got to shake Rodriguez’s hand and was there when the “bad guy” was filming, but none of the Austin Water employees were included in the film. Welch has not watched the film.

“It’s not really my thing,”  he says.

Hornsby production
Austin’s 1,200-acre Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant provided a backdrop for another film: the 2012, independent production Joe, starring Nicolas Cage as an ex-convict.

“Because of the size of our facility, the filming took place on some of the surrounding property,” says Ken Lockard, superintendent. “None of the filming was in the way of day-to-day business.”

With overgrown trails and old buildings that have an abandoned feel, “It kind of fit the bill of what they were looking for. I thought it was pretty cool that we were thought of.”

The Hornsby Bend site has been used by the film industry for years, adds Kevin Anderson, director of the Center for Environmental Research at the plant. The property is a popular ecotourism site and a bird–watching venue.

Anderson, who lives on site, says the film crew used his house and front yard in shots, and he even got to meet Cage, who took time after a long shoot to meet students at the research center and sign autographs.

Having such a large-scale filming on-site can be exciting. Anderson notes: “The biggest thing that impresses you is the scale. It’s a huge infrastructure that rolls in temporarily.”

The facility teams have learned over the years how to deal with various expectations. “You can anticipate the impacts … and the logistics,” says Anderson.

Other than outbuildings and lots, none of the site’s facilities were shown in the film or in Revolution, the now-cancelled NBC series filmed at Hornsby Bend. In that post-apocalyptic show, “a lot of the stuff is disguised,” Anderson says.

Some of the houses were made to look more dilapidated, and crews used spaces on-site that Anderson calls “pretty evocative,” such as roadways, trails and an old aquatic greenhouse. That show shot for almost a year; crews moved in and out every few months.

According to Welch, local scouts find the sites for the film crews. Most sites require the crews to sign an agreement that they won’t disrupt operations.

And even though none of the plant staff members have had their 15 minutes of fame on screen, who knows? It could happen.

“Since the city supports the film industry, we do too,” says Anderson.


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