UTLEY, Texas (KXAN) - The scenery in Bastrop County is a big change from Los Angeles, California. Film writer and producer Tommy G. Warren decided to firmly plant his roots in the Texas film industry.
About 28 miles east of Downtown Austin on FM 969, a small temporary banner that reads “ Spiderwood Studios ” is tied to a barbed wire fence. The brand new barn-like buildings behind it would blend in with the country landscape without the row of palm trees in the parking lot.
They serve as a small reminder of the time Warren spent at Paramount Pictures.
"I think it's the place to be for future filming,” said Warren, creator of Spiderwood Studios.
When he started searching for land, large-scale studios were not in the picture. His goal was to find a spot for a back lot – an open space to build outdoor sets.
"There was not one dedicated to film-making,” said Warren.
He found the perfect 200 acres along the Colorado River in a small town called Utley. Warren said in the 1800s, it had a booming population when cotton was king. The population now hovers around 30, which will increase when the three high-tech indoor film studios are full of film crews.
Warren said the goal was not to compete with the studios Austin already offered, but add features filmmakers cannot find in the area.
“We want to work with low budget films and big budget films,” said Trent Warren, Tommy son. After working at a recording studio and as a film editor, he and his father put their heads together on the project.
One of the highlights is the 24-foot tall by 100-foot wide chroma key wall that takes up an entire wall of the largest studio. The cinematographer, who worked on all three “Lord of the Rings,” helped design the one-of-a-kind infinity wall.
The wall was a big draw for a low-budget sci-fi film Trinity Films and Back in the Saddle Productions are about to begin shooting.
"Unlike a lot of the other studios or warehouses where you have to makeshift, this is actually a real studio,” said Production Designer and Co-Producer Jesus "Chuy" Carrera.
A catwalk stretches across the top of the 38-foot high ceiling in the largest studio. Warren said the technology is set up for artificial rain and snow to fall. Plywood planks were designed to cover up the concrete floor to create sets.
From the make-up rooms to the control room, construction began nearly two years before state legislators passed new film incentives. Warren said he already knew how the story would end.
"Texas is not gonna let other states have something they don't have,” said Warren. “They just don't do that - Texans don't do that, so I bet on it."
Now he is hoping winning the bet will draw more filmmakers in. Several commercials have already been shot at the studios before construction was complete. The film commissioner from South Korea even dropped in on his way to the Korean Consulate in Houston. Folks from England, Poland and Mexico have even shown an interest.
Warren's connections with friends at Dreamworks and Paramount could put Utley, Texas back on the map and help the local film industry grow.