Austin film company shoots sci-fi series near Alpine
By NICK WINCHESTER
ALPINE – I’m standing in a pasture, surrounded by a patchwork mess of rusting ranch vehicles, feeding troughs and a disused grain store. The wind whips dust up from the south. People stand closed in by mountains on two sides on a ranch north of Alpine. Some stay eyes-fixed on small screens, while others sit in the shade, large headphones and mics on their heads. Whatever they are doing, the cast and crew all look weary, as much from the heat as their 12-hour plus work days. If the scene looks post-apocalyptic, it’s because post-apocalyptic is the aesthetic these people are aiming for. I’m on the remote location set of “Day 5,” an online streaming drama.
“This is playing for Nevada,” Ezra Venetos tells me, looking around. “I mean it kinda looks like this all the way to California really, until you get over the mountains into Los Angeles. But we’re Texas filmmakers so it was important for us to find a place in Texas.”
A few moments before, I’d exited off the highway between Alpine and Fort Davis after seeing the brightly-colored “D5” signage I’d been told to look for. I meet Venetos, who is the producer on the second season of Day 5, Austin-based Rooster Teeth’s first scripted live-action series, available this summer on the production company’s own streaming service. Day 5 is set in the aftermath of a health epidemic that wiped out most of the world’s population as they slept. The first season takes place in Austin and Dallas and was all shot in Austin. Graham Reynolds, who curated “The Marfa Triptych” at Marfa Ballroom between 2013 and 2016, composed the score for season one of Day 5 and is currently working on this season.
Asked what he looks for in a filming location, Venetos tells me, “what I consider a good-sized town. Having a hospital close by is very good to have when you’re filming. Restaurants for the cast and crew, obviously being able to eat afterwards.
“It’s great to go down to Terlingua and film for that beauty but at the end of the day people need to get back to their hotel rooms and take a shower. So, this was suitable for that. Being ten miles from Alpine. It’s called the o6 Ranch, it’s beautiful.”
Venetos says there’s been a recent rush to pick up Texas Film Commission incentives, which aim to build an economy around the film industry while creating jobs in Texas. The grants go toward funding for production expenditures, including wages paid to Texas residents.
The production equally helps inject cash into the local economy. “I think it’s good for us to be out in these lesser populated areas, probably spending $200,000 in this community,” Venetos says. “We’re here for three weeks and we’ve got 70 people with us renting rooms, using Airbnb, HomeAway.”
Venetos, alongside the location manager, worked closely with the Alpine Chamber of Commerce who provided a list of film-friendly ranches to work on in the area.
Alongside YouTube shows, a sitcom and comedy sketches, Rooster Teeth’s output also includes RTX, a gaming and Internet convention, which has grown from 400 attendees in 2011 to 60,000 in 2016. Venetos likens the convention to a crossover of SXSW and Comic Con. Held each year in Austin since 2011, RTX announced a convention in Sydney, Australia, which has attracted tens of thousands of fans over the last two years.
Back on the set it’s hot, the wind is picking up, causing the tents the crew huddle under to flap violently. It’s a slow process and from where I’m positioned, about fifty yards from the filming, a few of the assistants, runners and crew look hot and bored. People play with their phones and check out the drinks table, bottled water and cans of coke long cooked by the sun. It’s hardly surprising as the chaperon, Lauren Burckhard, tells me it’s standard for the crew to work 12-and-a-half hour days at a minimum. When the shots needed aren’t coming together, it can go on a lot longer.