Waco, the 2018 Paramount Network miniseries, is seeing a resurgence of viewers since it recently dropped on Netflix. The true story, documenting the events that led up to the 1993 51-day standoff between the FBI/ATF and the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, ended in a tragic fire that not only burned down the Mount Carmel compound, it also killed 76 of the site’s residents, including the leader and 20 children.
With its realistic sets—from the room where Koresh gave his sermons to the bunks where the Branch Davidians slept—one would think that the network went back to film in Waco in order to get a realistic feel of what life was like while residing at the compound. It turns out that despite there being a new group of Branch Davidians currently living on the grounds, cast and crew members for the miniseries never actually stepped foot on the site where the incident occurred.
Where was Waco actually filmed?
From April through June 2017, the miniseries filmed in various locations around Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranging from office buildings to studios for interior shoots. The town’s surrounding rural area was used as a stand-in for the exterior shots of the Waco compound. According to a report at the time from the Santa Fe New Mexican, the miniseries isn’t the first production to use New Mexico as a movie backdrop. Parts of the 2017 film Logan got their rustic aesthetic by shooting in the state, while the Chris Pine-led film Hell or High Water used various parts of the Santa Fe to mimic that movie’s broad Texas landscapes.
Was there a specific reason why New Mexico became the place to film the miniseries? Not necessarily, but KWBU reported at the time of filming that New Mexico is one of a few Southern states that offer decent incentives for filmmakers to shoot their projects in those areas, instead of having to rely on a relatively unstable incentive program from Texas. Whatever the reason was for the production to shift to New Mexico, the series looked as lifelike as one could imagine.
David Thibodeau, one of the sole survivors of the fire and a consultant on the miniseries, was particularly shocked at how realistic the sets were, down to the room where Koresh gave sermons to his parishioners. “The chapel looked exactly like it did 25 years ago,” he told The Dallas Observer in 2018. “It was amazing. I remember I just went and I laid out on the stage for a while and just kind of took it in.”