Director Wim Wenders once argued, in a speech entitled “In Defense of Places” delivered at photographic exposition Photo LA, that places in film are taken for granted; that they can be as important as the story. In fact, story and characters may be dictated by their place within a place, so to speak. Wenders’ thoughts ring particularly true now that filmmaking has become increasingly decentralized across the United States. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the digital revolution is that stories can be told anywhere. Nobody has to follow the well-worn paths of decades past; instead, we can blaze new trails. The moviemaker of 2015 is free to explore fertile new cinematic territory, inhabiting it with characters at once unique and universal.
So welcome to MovieMaker’s annual countdown of the Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker—the 20 best communities for moviemaking in the United States this year. As with last year’s list, we’ve categorized our places into three pools: Big Cities (pop. 400,000 and up), Small Cities (pop. 100,000 to 400,000), and Towns (pop. under 100,000); numbers are based on actual city population, rather than metro area.
We hope these brief overviews may help you decide if a place has the right atmosphere and infrastructure for your moviemaking style and your lifestyle. As usual, all places were rated according to six criteria: Film Production in 2014 (shooting days, number of productions, dollars generated), Film Community and Culture (film schools, festivals, independent theaters, film organizations), Access to Equipment and Facilities, Tax Incentives, Cost of Living, and a General category that includes lifestyle, weather, transportation and other “livability” categories. These factors were compiled into a rubric, distributed to film commissions across the country, and the resulting information, along with our own research and insight from sites like bestplaces.net and filmproductioncapital.com, provided the final results. Along the way, we spoke to working moviemakers in each city and town—that’s right, people who actually make their living in these places—who told us their stories of career success and personal fulfillment.
Of course, no matter how objective we strive to be, a community’s true spirit isn’t perfectly quantifiable, and we all know that nuances of culture aren’t as clear-cut as state lines. Case in point: Albuquerque and Santa Fe, two places on this year’s list, are a mere 62 miles apart, but their vibes are as different as Los Angeles and San Francisco (Unlike Los Angeles and San Francisco, though, crews in New Mexico take better advantage of that short distance, commuting to work in both.) Want to make a case for your hometown? Send a letter to email@example.com. We’d love to hear where you live and shoot—even if it’s outside of the United States entirely (now recruiting: a volunteer army of researchers for that article, hopefully to appear here in 2016…)
One thing everyone we spoke with this year seemed to have in common: Moviemakers love where they’re living, and would love to talk you into making their place yours, too.
5. Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine resident and award-winning cinematographer Zach Zamboni (Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and No Reservations) said, “Of all the places I’ve been in the world, Maine is my favorite.”
His foodie filmography makes perfect sense in the context of Portland, which has long been considered a dining gem in the Northeast, having once been named America’s Foodiest Small Town by Bon Appétit. “I grew up in the vast forests of the North, but now live close by the sea, so I can sail on a daily basis and eat fresh oysters,” Zamboni added.
In 2014, Portland, Maine welcomed the productions of Five Nights in Maine starring David Oyelowo, Rosie Perez, and Dianne Wiest, as well as Night of the Living Deb, Kyle Rankin’s crowdfunded romantic comedy set in the midst of a zombie outbreak. These indies took advantage of a state tax incentive of up to 12 percent, requiring only a $75,000 minimum spend.
This idyllic town is small, but has room for indie theatres, a series screening art house fare at the Portland Museum of Art, and schools like the New England Film Academy and Maine College of Art.
“Maine has always attracted artists and craftsmen, thinkers, vanguard-types,” said Zamboni. “I think it’s the weather; perfect summers and beautiful, deadly winters. It’s an inherently dramatic place which forces us to be hard workers. I’d say that makes it a filmmaker’s paradise.”