The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

Small Cities and Towns: 1. Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is the returning champion of our Small Cities and Towns list—not bad for a population of just 145,674!

Dare we say that its ascendance this year was even more emphatic than before? For one, an impressive armada of features took to the cobblestone streets (lined by giant oak trees covered with Spanish moss). On the major side, there was Paramount’s Baywatch, the TV sensation-turned-blockbuster; on the indie side the list goes on: Lizzie, with Chloe Sevigny as Lizzie Borden; horror film Mara with Olga Kurylenko; John Cusack thriller Misfortune; the William H. Macy-directed Krystal; comedies The Divorce Party and Coup D’etat… Elsewhere, in the TV realm, Underground shot its second season, and Tyler Perry’s Savannah-set soap opera The Haves and the Have Nots shot its fifth season, among other scripted and reality shows. All told, that’s $62 million in estimated expenditure.

Beth LaMure’s indie drama Daisy Winters, starring Sterling Jerins (in tree) and Brooke Shields, in Savannah. Courtesy of Daisy Winters the Film, LLC

That figure shouldn’t surprise, considering Georgia’s whopping 30 percent tax credit—and the fact that Savannah moviemakers now receive an additional 10 percent local rebate for their projects, and even relocation incentives for crew. According to Beth Nelson, executive director of the Savannah Area Film Office, “The Savannah Entertainment Production Rebate Incentive has had tremendous success during its first year, exceeding expectations.” A TV series and several feature films utilize the incentive, Nelson reports, and the annual cap was reached in November.

With this flurry of activity, it’s no wonder the City of Savannah Film Office expanded in 2016 to become the Savannah Area Film Office, with added staff and a new website, covering multiple municipalities in Chatham County.

Local moviemaker Samone Norsworthy (producer and director of My Brother’s Keeper) says you can make a living here once you tap into the intimate film circle. “I’m proof positive of that statement—I returned to my hometown of Savannah from L.A. four years ago and have been working here consistently ever since. It’s a tight community; we look out for one another.”

Last year’s opening of the Georgia Film Academy through Savannah Technical College established GFA’s fourth location in the state. For now, though, Savannah College of Art and Design, and its companion annual Savannah Film Festival, are the institutions that largely dominate the landscape, and deservedly so—the school lends its students truly state-of-the-art spaces, and the fest puts the town’s gorgeous and historic movie theaters to good use. And while the infrastructure admittedly isn’t as extensive as in larger moviemaking cities, production services and rental companies like Savannah Film Company and the new branch of High Output, and studio facilities like Savannah Film Factory and the recently opened River Oaks Film Studios, are holding down the fort.

Blank slate: on the set of Craig William Macneill’s film Lizzie in Savannah. Photograph by Katie Schuck

Yes, you’re thinking, but what about the lifestyle? We’re happy to report that it’s as charming as you’d hope: the beautiful vistas come alive with food and music festivals, farmers markets and outdoor sports. Norsworthy puts it this way: “Savannah is addictive. Staying focused can be difficult when surrounded by such amazing people and scenery. And weight gain is likely.”

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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.