If you build it, will they film?
That's the sticky question surrounding construction of sets for Ron Howard's proposed Disney remake of "The Alamo" north of Dripping Springs, near Hamilton Pool in western Travis County.
"Yes, they're hiring people and, yes, there is activity out there," said Tom Copeland, director of the Texas Film Commission. "But we're still sitting like everybody else waiting for them to say yea or nay."
A metal gate leads to the private ranch where a flurry of activity has been noted this week. A security guard blocks the entrance and freely admits what is the worst-kept secret in the area: They are building the "Alamo" film set inside. But admittance is strictly limited to workers.
Speaking at the Governor's Mansion in March, Howard and producing partner Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment said they were interested in geographic accuracy but hinted that the lure of filming incentives in Canada is enticing to studio executives dealing with a potential $100 million movie.
"It wouldn't quite make sense to make it anywhere else," Howard said then of Texas.
Since hobnobbing with Gov. Rick Perry, Howard went on to win Oscars for best director and best picture this year for "A Beautiful Mind." The director, also known for his roles on "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Happy Days," directed "Apollo 13," "Backdraft" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" among other popular movies.
A spokesperson for Imagine Entertainment at the film's Los Angeles production office said no comment can be made on the official shooting location until a publicist is assigned to the film.
In the neighborhood around the construction site, caravans of trucks are a familiar sight. At Hamilton Twelve, an events facility, owner Georgia Coleman has had inquiries from Imagine about rentals for luncheons but nothing definite. "There's a little bit of a buzz in the neighborhood," she said. "Mostly it's talk of how much beer sales will go up at Bert & Ernie's."
The sign outside Bert & Ernie's General Store, a convenience store, restaurant and pool hall, advertises beer, ice, bait, groceries and movies. No movie stars so far have been spotted (none have been cast), but "Alamo" workers who stop in for a cold one make no secret about what their business entails.
"A lot of people stop in here for lunch or on their way out there," Sandra Soto said from her perch behind the cash register. "I hear little bits and pieces from them."
Soto has seen a slew of gravel and cement trucks go down the road and was among the first to know when phones lines were installed on the set. "It's fixing to get real busy," one worker said as he handed her cash in exchange for a six-pack of beer.
Joe Gieselman, Travis County's executive manager of transportation and natural resources, said the county has only limited ordinances to govern construction of the set, but he is scheduled to meet Monday with an engineer for the project.
Unconfirmed word is that up to 80 buildings and an Alamo replica will simulate 19th-century San Antonio. Some say the newly built old town will be burned to the ground during filming, which is not likely to begin until fall.
That is, if filming does indeed occur.
Copeland, familiar with the fickle turns of the movie industry, says it's important to remember that the film business is a business. "We feel confident everything is going to work out," he said, "but as far as a formal announcement, there isn't one."
©2002 Austin American-Statesman