Never underestimate the power of Sunday dinner.
Filmmaker and producer Chris Charles Scott remembers how Sunday dinners — actually, the openness and generosity of Waco couple Don and Jo Guest, who provided them — helped him find a second home in Waco when he was a student at Baylor University nearly a decade ago.
Scott, 35, met the Guests when visiting Crestview Church of Christ early in his freshman year, and their invitation to that Sunday meal soon became a weekly invitation, a rich relationship and roots in the community.
“I was a poor old country boy from Tyler . . . (but) I got to where I made Waco my home,” he said during a break in filming in Waco this week. “I built a life outside the (Baylor) bubble.”
So much so that he served on a city building standards board and even ran for Waco City Council in 2001.
That love for Waco, its residents and their stories has brought the Baylor graduate back to Waco this week to start filming on what he envisions as a four-part look at Waco history and culture. He plans for the series, titled “What About Waco,” to be capped with a gala premiere, a theatrical run and DVD sales.
The Historic Waco Foundation is interested in backing Scott on his project, and this week’s filming is for a pilot that would become part of the series.
The historical series model worked recently in Shreveport, Louisiana, with the documentary “The Shape of Shreveport.” The four-episode series, each one 15-20 minutes long, sampled stories from the city’s history that had helped mold Shreveport’s culture and community: a deadly yellow fever epidemic in 1873, visits by Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr., city namesake Captain Henry Shreve and more.
Telling a story
Scott joined the Shreveport project as imagined by its producers Will and Jim Broyles and soon found producing, writing and directing connected him to what brought him to Baylor more than 15 years ago: storytelling. Well, a form of storytelling.
“I was enchanted by the black preachers I grew up with,” said Scott, who is black. “They were the town’s leaders, the orators, and I wanted to be one.”
Scott graduated from Baylor in 2007 with a political science degree, then went on to Princeton Theological Seminary before deciding his place wasn’t the pulpit. Stints in Dallas and Washington, D.C., followed, before he ended up in public relations in Las Vegas in 2013.
Scott’s work with “The Shape of Shreveport” proved a success. More than 2,000 tickets sold for its debut at the city’s historic Strand Theatre, and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities picked it as Documentary of the Year. What started as a four-part series now has expanded to some 20 episodes.
Looking for other cities with which he could use his Shreveport experience as a template, Scott debated between Tyler, near where he grew up, and Waco.
The Sunday dinners and the Waco people and stories behind them won out.
His “What About Waco” proposal and their working titles look at four slices of Waco history and culture, some told from fresh perspectives and some rarely told:
“A Mighty Wind” — The devastating 1953 tornado that levelled parts of downtown, the city’s challenge in rebuilding during a time of suburban growth and how it shaped today’s Waco.
“A Bridge Over Troubled Waters” — How the Waco Suspension Bridge realized Wacoans’ transformative vision of their city’s potential and the part the bridge played in the city’s history with the Brazos River.
“Three Years In Waco” — The three-year period 1916-18 contained the horrific, public Jesse Washington lynching, the construction of the sprawling Army base Camp MacArthur and the closing of the Reservation, Waco’s district of legal prostitution — all representing threads in the city’s emerging cultural identity.
“The Epistle of Paul” — A look at Paul Quinn College, the oldest black college west of the Mississippi River. Financial problems eventually caused it to leave Waco in 1990, but the school’s existence influenced Waco’s black community.
“I want to tell histories from both sides of the Brazos River,” Scott said.
He pitched his project to the Historic Waco Foundation in January and caught board members’ attention.
“We were impressed with his eye. Chris is a really creative individual,” said Stephen Sloan, the foundation’s board president and director of Baylor’s Institute for Oral History.
Scott’s storytelling skills, as seen in his “The Shape of Shreveport” series, seemed like they would appeal to a younger Waco audience, Sloan said, and could add to a surprisingly small body of documentaries of general Waco history.
One of those films, in fact, is the Institute for Oral History’s 1991 documentary “Crossroads.” In an effort to introduce Waco history to a wider audience, the institute also has developed a phone app for Waco history, with information on historic people, events and buildings linked to their locations on a map.
A contemporary film on Waco’s history and culture would fit into the foundation’s mission of bringing Waco history to the public as well as attracting younger supporters.
“It would give us more opportunities to share with a larger spectrum of the Waco community,” the foundation’s executive director Don Davis said.
With greater attention on the city, in part because of the national popularity of the “Fixer Upper” television series, there also may be a larger number of people interested in Waco’s past.
“I think it’s really good timing for something like this,” Sloan said. “The public’s understanding of Waco history is way too narrow, and the national understanding of Waco history is narrower than that.”
Geoff Hunt, the Texas Collection’s audiovisual curator, said that while there’s film footage of certain events in Waco history in the collection, there aren’t any general film histories of Waco or footage beyond a specific topic. The Collection has film footage of the 1953 tornado’s damage and cleanup, for instance, and some shots of cars on the electric rail line that linked Waco to Denton and Dallas.
In addition to Scott, another filmmaker is working with the collection on a Waco documentary, Hunt said, adding that any addition of audiovisual material on Waco’s history would be welcome.
A quick check of Waco-related film and video documentaries in the Waco-McLennan County Library turns up films on a number of topics, most of which were produced by Waco’s Municipal Information Office for its Waco City Cable Channel.
Sloan said the Historic Waco Foundation board will vote soon on its support of “What About Waco.” The next stage would be raising the $150,000 Scott feels is needed for the four-part series. To help that effort, Scott is producing the “A Mighty Wind” episode, underwritten by private funding, and intending to have a working copy by Aug. 1.
He and a crew of Waco filmmaker Damon Crump and “Shape of Shreveport” cinematographer Rob Senska were in Waco last week, filming at the Tribune-Herald, KXXV studios, McLennan Community College and other locations.
Back in the city where a love for storytelling had drawn him to college, Scott is relishing the chance to tell its stories.
“I cried when I had to leave Waco . . . Baylor was my first love, and Waco was definitely a part of that first love,” he said.