The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

As an independent moviemaker, your life tends to be a mobile one.

You’re forever in search of the perfect landscapes, networks, resources and people to take your film from good to memorable, or even to life-changing. And while you’re at it, if you’re like most of us you often find yourself weighing the pros and cons of picking up stakes and relocating to your next home base, where the work promises to be a little bit steadier and the quality of life just a little bit more to your liking.

Whether you’re considering a move in 2017 or just a new place to shoot, we have you covered. For the 17th year running, after weeks of research, interviews with film commissions and surveys of moviemakers, we’ve assessed and ranked the best North American cities to practice your craft. Notice we said “North American,” not just “American.” In our post-election haze we’ve also included three Canadian cities on this year’s list. (Because, let’s face it, options are not bad things to have.)

Day-to-day living in disparate cities is notoriously difficult to compare, of course, even through the lens of moviemaking. That said, our criteria is as follows: film production in 2016 (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 encapsulates lifestyle, weather, transportation and other socio-cultural markers. (“Breweries per capita” is one of them. Seriously.)

This year, we skewed big, compiling a list of 15 big cities (population 400,000 and up—that’s city population, not metro) along with a shorter list of five small cities and towns, for those who like a more intimate setting for creativity. Each list also ends with three cities that were “On the Cusp.” (Who can resist an honorable mention?) As usual, you’ll see some familiar names and some up-and-comers—and yes, one of the lists has a tie for the top spot. We’re confident that the places on these lists offer the finest array of filmic institutions, backdrops and good ol’ community-driven energy available. Sink your roots into any of them, and you really can’t go wrong. What you can do, we hope, is find your people, and from there help to write the next chapter of North American cinema.

Index

Big Cities: 1. New York, New York and Vancouver, British Columbia / 3. Los Angeles, California / 4. Atlanta, Georgia / 5. Chicago, Illinois / 6. Austin, Texas / 7. Toronto, Ontario / 8. Albuquerque, New Mexico / 9. Boston, Massachusetts / 10. Memphis, Tennessee / 11. Montreal, Quebec / 12. Portland, Oregon / 13. Dallas, Texas / 14. Houston, Texas / 15. San Diego, California / On the Cusp: San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Washington, D.C.
Small Cities and Towns: 1. Savannah, Georgia / 2. Santa Fe, New Mexico / 3. Providence, Rhode Island / 4. New Orleans, Louisiana / 5. Richmond, Virginia / On the Cusp: Ashland, Oregon; Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Winter 2017 issue, on newsstands February 7, 2017. Illustrations by Kim Salt.

Read last year’s lists here: Big Cities, Small Cities and Towns. Is there a place you think should be in the running for 2018? Tell us where and why in the comments!

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13 Comments

  1. Larry Anderson

    January 26, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Excuse me but Cleveland Ohio is no where near a small City where do you guys get this misinformation from Greater Cleveland covers 5 counties while the heart of Greater Cleveland which is Cuyahoga County in which Cleveland city proper is the county seat covers roughly 457 SQ Miles and thats not even including the Lake Erie Shoreline

  2. w picket

    January 22, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Savannah is great, until you get a gun put to your head walking down the street by someone who wants the $20 you might have in your wallet. If you’re lucky enough to avoid that, you still have to deal with the drugged up homeless population that harass tourists on every block. I don’t see the movie industry staying long once another area promises the same tax incentives.

  3. angelo misterioso

    January 22, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Yes, Santa Fe IS wonderful.
    But saguaros? They don’t exist here.
    Otherwise, nice artwork.

  4. Ron Merk

    January 21, 2017 at 8:02 am

    I live and work in San Francisco as a filmmaker, film distributor and film preservationist. I was very surprised not to see San Francisco on the list of best places to live and work as a filmmaker in your 2017 survey. There are many filmmakers working here, thousands of them, and some of the best support from organizations, film festivals, and the City of SF. Add to that San Francisco, itself, is one of the most beautiful natural “backlots” in which to film, with great dining and entertainment, and it just doesn’t make sense that San Francisco did not make the list. We are a gigantic tech capital, too. Dolby’s new building is just one block from where I live, and I can literally see into the offices of Twitter from my apartment. It was very disappointing not to see our city on your list.

  5. Kese

    January 20, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    When clicking on the Albuquerque link it takes me to Memphis, TN instead…

  6. AustinCleveland

    January 20, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Cleveland/Pittsburgh are both bigger than Austin… Hmm…

  7. Don O'Keefe

    January 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    So, Pittsburgh is in the small cities and towns category and Albuquerque is in Big cities? Using the city proper population is a strange choice indeed… Don’t you realize that the political structures of city limits bias lists like this to west coast or sunbelt (newer) cities? Don’t you also realize that the same political structures have no effect on economic opportunities for filmmakers? Or do filmmakers usually just refuse to shoot anything if they have to cross a county line? Get real.

  8. Liam Wilmoth

    January 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    As always, a great compilation of places to be as a moviemaker. Nice to see some international coverage as well, like Toronto. As a former resident, I’ve known a handful of people who have had great experiences directing and on the set of films in the area. And all the best people come out of Canada, ey?

    Cheers from Ontario,
    Liam

  9. Alex Michaels

    January 19, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    I am so happy to see my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio here. When I started my company Prelude2Cinema, people always told me I couldn’t be a real filmmaker unless I moved to Hollywood. I am so glad that ideal is finally changing and you can make movies anywhere even in Cleveland.
    Alex Michaels

  10. Casey Moore

    January 19, 2017 at 8:32 am

    New Orleans has some great vendors who will work with indie filmmakers. We also have a lot of crew who have worked both the studio films and the low budget indie films (I am one of the people).

    Also, the credits didn’t take a blow. We simply have a cap now. The credits are still there, and smaller films can get their credits as well.

    We are also getting better with places to see movies.

  11. Dan Stoddart

    January 18, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Also, as the feature “The Mountain Between Us” discovered, the east Kootenay’s area is also a great spot with an international airport (Cranbrook) and endless camera friendly locations. Not to mention a few knowledgeable locals who can create great scenery!

  12. K Matsuoka

    January 18, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    A robust incentive providing solid work opportunites, a strong commitment by the local community in developing the next generation, a state funded creative development program pairing young filmmakers with Hollywood professionals, and an internationally recognized film festival alone should qualify Honolulu for the list, add the beaches, year round tropical climate, and the availability of diverse locations and population (see ‘Lost’ and ‘Hawaii Five-0’) and the Aloha State should easily be a contender for the top 10.

    • Marty Lindsey

      January 29, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Agreed! I’d love to shoot a film in Hawaii. Denver didn’t make the list because our incentive package is shite. However, there were 3 films from Colorado at Sundance this year.