an. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that this tour-de-force moviemaker has re-energized the city as fertile production ground. With The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and the pseudo-period piece The Village, Shyamalan has shown the area’s diverse looks and locations to audiences and aspiring moviemakers everywhere.
They seem to be getting the picture. Jon Turteltaub shot part of National Treasure in Philly, Kevin Smith brought in Jersey Girl and Curtis Hanson is wrapping In Her Shoes here.
But perhaps the biggest supporter of the City of Brotherly Love is hometown boy Lee Daniels (who put New Orleans back into the spotlight with Monster’s Ball). He brought writer-director Nicole Kassell and fellow Philly native Kevin Bacon to town for The Woodsman and came back again to make his own directorial debut with Shadowboxer, starring Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
|Cities On The Rise|
SAN ANTONIO, TX
If the last few years have taught us anything about the Texas arts scene, it’s that the Lone Star State loves its movies—and its moviemakers. Witnessing the success of Austin and Houston, San Antonio seems to be the next Texas city destined for stardom.
“The city of San Antonio has a rich history in maverick filmmaking, beginning in the silent era and leading up to today,” states Drew Mayer-Oakes, the city’s newly-appointed Film Marketing Manager.
The city is so steeped in history that Mayer-Oakes reminds us that “the term ‘maverick’ is an eponym originating from Samuel Maverick, a San Antonio cattleman in the 1800’s—but that’s another story.” Perhaps it’s a story that one of the city’s local moviemakers will one day tell.
San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
There’s two sides to every movie success story: the moviemakers and the audience—each one completely dependent on the other. So what better place to grow a new crop of moviemakers than where a vibrant community of film lovers already exists.
“The real up-and-coming independent film location in Virginia right now is Charlottesville,” says Mary Nelson, communications manager at the Virginia Film Office. “Home of the University of Virginia, the town has the kind of intellectual atmosphere that a major university town can provide, but lately it has really been growing into a vibrant and exciting film community.”
If a handful of the city’s current residents speak to Charlottesville’s creative potential, the cities on our Top 10 list had better watch out: Sissy Spacek and her husband, film designer Jack Fisk, have a home here, as does director Hugh Wilson and writer John Grisham.
Virginia Film Office
Sometimes, all it takes is just one film to put a quiet little location onto the moviemaking production map. But three recent indies have loved what they found in Butte, Montana, making this turn-of-the-century mining city into a haven for international indies.
Moviemaker—and Butte native—Travis Wilkerson spent two months here filming Injured Party’s Turn (his second project in Butte) and Aura Entertainment spent 24 days filming their $1 million feature, Love Comes to the Executioner. But leading the charge is Wim Wenders, who came to Butte in July of 2004 for four weeks of shooting for his next project, Don’t Come Knockin’.
“Butte’s biggest draw for independent feature films is probably the landscape and architecture,” says Sten Iversen, manager of the Montana Film Office. “But coming in at a close second are the local people and businesses who welcome film productions of any size with open arms.” Can you feel the love?
Montana Film Office
Pennsylvania’s new tax incentives, which give a 20 percent transferable credit to features spending at least 60 percent of their budget in the state, have been attractive enough to cause at least one relocation—Justin Lin and his film Annapolis (which was originally slated for Maryland). More features will undoubtedly follow. The city just introduced a new 26,000 square-foot soundstage, surrounded by 125,000 square-feet of support space in the back-lot of the city’s Naval Shipyard (which was first used by Smith).
But ask any local moviemaker why they choose to shoot here and the answer you’re most likely to hear is: The Greater Philadelphia Film Office. “Before you call M. Night Shyamalan, make your first call to the film office,” jokes writer-director Robert Child.
“They really want to foster a professional community so people like me, who might be without huge financial resources, can have a decent shot at focusing on the moviemaking, rather than fighting over extra parking spaces,” says writer-director Alexander Ballas.
“The Film Office has loads of useful information and film resources, as well as contests, festivals and spotlights for filmmakers,” says Daylight Entertainment’s Randy Williams.
“If any office deserves a 10, it’s those folks,” adds Kathilynn Phillips, president of Kat Scratch Films. “The staff members are not only very approachable and accommodating, but they’ve also been known to go that extra step to help get a picture made.”
That extra step includes free assistance with parking (which is extremely helpful in a city where “there is none,” according to Child), permits, hotels, labor and locations. The office’s Greater Philadelphia Filmmakers offers seminars and training to help better educate the local film production community and they also host the Set in Philadelphia Screenwriting Competition, an international contest presented at the Philadelphia Film Festival.
And what you can’t find in Philadelphia, you can get easily elsewhere. “Because of Philly’s strategic location, filmmakers have access to a plethora of talent,” states Phillips. “There is a strong production community locally, including individuals and companies utilizing the latest high-tech equipment and techniques. Philly also has easy access to all that NYC can offer in the form of services, equipment and actors. At the same time, it still has that small city feel with direct and friendly access to the film office and all the assistance it can provide.”
While the Philadelphia Film Festival does honor local moviemakers, some say that one improvement would be the number of options available for getting new works seen. “The forums in Philly to get work out there, appreciated and distributed are limited and sometimes laughable,” says Rebel Films’ Chris Mich. “Hollywood and New York rarely go fishing for talent in our neck of the woods.” Luckily, the rapidly growing festival circuit is helping to make considerations like this moot. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get into festivals all over the world and travel to them to network,” Mich says.
But if the city and its moviemakers have proven anything to us in the past five years, it’s that when they want something badly enough, they’ll make it happen.
“Philadelphia has a community of trained professionals who strive for the betterment of not only their careers, but for growth of the local film industry,” says writer-director Robert Yula. “When I think of the film community in Philadelphia I think of people who are devoted and passionate.”
“Every city has its drawbacks, but you can easily work around any obstacles in Philly and get what you need,” concludes Ballas. “In the end, what you get on film is what matters—and there is definitely a mystique about Philadelphia that you just cannot find anywhere else, like New York or LA. Parts of the Old City are romantic, with the gaslights and cobblestones, and then there are urban areas if you want grit and grime. There are also parks, the river and the financial district—all within a few miles.”
The Greater Philadelphia Film Office
100 S. Broad Street, Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19110
|4. NEW ORLEANS Last year: unranked|
Tax Credit Law Has City Racing to the Top
Ray Charles may have had Georgia on his mind, but director Taylor Hackford knew that Louisiana was the place to film his bio-pic of the late, great musical genius. Louisiana “was the first state to pass a tax credit law. And it was great because we got $3.7 million back,” says Hackford of his decision to shoot Ray in and around New Orleans, which doubled for New York, Chicago, Houston, Seattle and Atlanta.
But Hackford isn’t the only one catching on to the Big Easy. Since the Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Act, which includes sales and use tax exclusions as well as employment and investor tax credits, was put into effect, the production scene has literally exploded.
“Since the legislation for incentives went into effect in July 2002, Louisiana has seen an unprecedented amount of activity come our way,” says Alex Schott, director of the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Film & Television. “What the incentives have done, more than anything else, is create opportunity and potential that was not available to film industry workers prior to the incentive program. It is through the incentive program that Louisiana is able to lure productions to our state and create jobs for our local qualified and skilled workforce. We see this as a foundation upon which we can build an industry here, and eventually become a production hub.”
|Unique opportunities abound in New Orleans, like shooting trailers for the New Orleans Film Festival, a task given
to Souzan Alavi.
As of November, the state counted 15 new productions, for a total of $250 million. In addition to Ray, the city has played host to films as varied as Steven Zaillian’s All the King’s Men, Wayne Wang’s Last Holiday, Keoni Waxman’s Poolhall Prophets, Iain Softley’s Skeleton Key and Shainee Gabel’s A Love Song for Bobby Long.
The influx of projects is great for the state’s pocketbook, but some local moviemakers feel that, because the projects are originating elsewhere (mainly LA and New York), the benefit to them is short-lived. “Very little work originates here,” says moviemaker Souzan Alavi. “These projects that are coming in town are great, but they aren’t looking to employ any above-the-line people from here. There’s this weird misconception that if you haven’t joined the race in LA or NY, that somehow you are not as talented.”
|Christopher Reeve’s The Brooke Ellison Story sets up a shot in New Orleans.|
Historically, New Orleans has been a city of creative inspiration. It’s the city where William Faulkner wrote his first novel, and in which Anne Rice continues to spin her spooky tales. Hackford himself owns a home here, as does indie auteur David Gordon Green. But local indies aren’t waiting for Hollywood to realize the breadth and talent that exists within the local production personnel—there’s too much work to be done. And the Louisiana Film Office is there to help, offering assistance with production, resources, technical advice and educational opportunities.
“Come here and soak up the environment,” advises Alavi. “Don’t go on first impressions. Just hang so you can see the texture of New Orleans—and really the whole state, as well… This place is like a village unto itself. Once you’ve taken the time to absorb it, you see that the creative possibilities are endless. Just secure your funding elsewhere.”
Louisiana Office of Film & Video
800 Distributors Row, Suite 101
Harahan, LA 70123
|5. PORTLAND, OR Last year: #8|
New Fund and Consistently Going the Extra Mile Keep Portland Competitive
Athree-spot climb within our top 10 during the past year may seem an unlikely leap for the small film community of Portland, Oregon, but that’s only if you’re looking at this city on the surface. As with any report card, effort counts. With their proximity to Canada, the folks in Portland definitely have to work harder to keep indies in town. The city’s benefits and financial incentives allow them to do just that—year in and year out.
After 32 years in the business, the Oregon Film & Video Office knows what they’re doing—and how to get what they want. Portland was the first-choice location for producer Susan Johnson to shoot her upcoming Nearing Grace. But “like any business, it’s always the bottom line that makes the difference,” she says. When the numbers did not add up in Oregon’s favor, Governor Ted Kulongoski approved the use of Strategic Reserve Funds in order to accommodate the film (the same type of grant given to the Keanu Reeves’ movie, Thumbsucker, in order to lure them back to Oregon).
|Rory Culkin stars in Jabob Aaron Estes’ Oregon-shot Mean Creek; director Craig M. Johnson looks for a shot on the rooftop of a downtown Portland parking garage.|
Produced by Johnson and Rick Rosenthal (who will also direct) and written by Jacob Aaron Estes (who directed the feature Mean Creek), Nearing Grace marks the trio’s second film in Oregon in just the last two years.
“There are a lot of crazy people in Oregon,” laughs Estes. “And when I say crazy, I mean great—[people] who are willing to believe that film is art and as such one should go the extra mile to risk life and limb for the betterment of the form.”
What else is included in that extra mile? How about no sales tax on anything (which means less time filling out paperwork, etc.). Or no lodging taxes on rooms held longer than 30 days. And if you shoot in a state park they’ll waive any fees in exchange for a credit! (Considering that there are more than 200 parks in Oregon, including the entire coastline, this means that you can easily locate almost any “look” within the park system). A majority of state and city buildings can also be had for nothing.
Most exciting is the Oregon Production Investment Fund (OPIF), put into effect on January 1, 2005, which offers a 10 percent rebate on production expenditures in Orgeon. “The legislature did not appropriate money to the fund, but did allow us to market Oregon tax credits in return for contributions to the fund,” says OFVO executive director Veronica Rinard. “So we will be in a fundraising stage for probably the first couple of months of the program. As soon as we have sufficient monies in the OPIF, we can then commit rebates to productions. Considering the decline of the U.S. dollar against the Canadian dollar, this incentive will mean Oregon can meet or beat a Canadian budget on many film productions.”
While this bill may not mean a lot to local indies for their own projects (it requires a minimum $1 million spent), it does ensure a constant flow of bigger-budgeted projects into the area. These are films that locals can work on and learn from, fostering a community of young pros that seems to be so much a part of what makes this city tick.
“Portland has a pretty solid filmmaking community,” says moviemaker Craig M. Johnson. “As for indies, well, it’s every man for himself. A lot of local productions use Craigslist for employees or use friends for crew. If you’re looking to learn, Portland is great.”
“The film community is small but growing—and healthy,” offers writer Ian Smith. “There’s not much in the way of film schools here, so it’s time to get your hands dirty and make it happen now! Finish the script, put a posting on Craigslist and scare up some crew. It worked for me!”
Of course, no discussion of the Pacific Northwest would be complete without making mention of that historically pesky weather. “Unless you’re looking for rain, it’s very unpredictable here from October to May,” warns Johnson. “What most people don’t know is that our summer is one of the driest in the U.S.,” adds Smith.
“Stop thinking about making a movie and just do it,” enthuses moviemaker Greg James. “Also, look us up. We won’t give you a paycheck (at least not at the moment), but we have a great group of people currently making some great things happen—the more the merrier when it comes to building talent. Every great success story started somewhere… Why not in Portland?”
The Oregon Film & Video Office
One World Trade Center
121 SW Salmon, Suite 1205
Portland, OR 97204
|6. CHICAGO Last year: #9|
Up, Down and Back Again: Tax Incentives Create “Busiest Months on Record”
|Andrew Douglas’ The Amityville Horror and Rick Rose’s Dirty Work are just two of the features that shot in the Chicago area in 2004.|
Few cities have managed to make our top 10 list all five years and still shown so much movement—in both directions. Take a look at a map and you can probably see why production has become rather scattered in the Windy City. Since 2001, 18 films that were set in Chicago have been filmed in Canada.
But the tides seem to be turning positively again for Chi-Town. Recognizing the amount of money left on the table from lost production, film offices on both the city and state levels have recently become more aggressive in their pursuit of projects that should rightly be shot here.
In late 2003, Governor Rod Blagojevich introduced new financial incentives to moviemakers, offering a tax credit equal to 25 percent of the wages paid to Illinois residents working on qualified projects in the state. Shortly thereafter, the moviemakers started circling. This past summer, four major productions shot in and around the city, including Malcolm Lee’s Roll Bounce, Mike Meiners’ Dee Dee Rutherford, Andrew Douglas’ remake of The Amityville Horror and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
“We have always taken a proactive approach to servicing the industry,” says Richard Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office. “The addition of the recent financial incentive sweetens the production value that Chicago has maintained for years. Our goal remains the same—to service the industry in a manner that encourages repeat business as well as positive word of mouth.”
But it’s not just the big-budget films that the city cares about—they want to make sure that moviemakers of all ranks and budgets get the assistance they need. “When we did our small film, the film office was very helpful in setting the rules straight and giving us recommendations,” says Melissa Centazzo, president of Scaramouche Productions.
“Governor Blagojevich’s tax incentive program has had a great effect on Illinois production and has been the key to increasing our marketability and success at bringing the film industry back to Illinois,” says Brenda Sexton, director of the Illinois Film Office. “Our office has had the busiest December and January on record, with inquiries from producers up 500 percent.”
“If you’re looking for a unique city to be another character and add flavor to your film, look to Chicago,” swears writer-director Rick Rose. Now only if they city could regulate that infamous weather!
Chicago Film Office
One N. LaSalle Street, Suite 2165
Chicago, IL 60602
|7. LOS ANGELES Last year: #7|
Unions and Guilds in the Industry’s Town Have New Deals in Place for Indie Budgets
Readers have often lamented the fact that Los Angeles usually lands on the bottom half of our list, but the numbers—and indie moviemakers—speak for themselves. Since 2000, the city has seen an increase in on-location production days of just one percent per year, according to the Entertainment Industry Development Corporation (EIDC), with many indies relocating to nearby cities like San Diego (see sidebar), where their production dollars stretch further.
“While there are a lot of really visually fantastic locations here, the city itself is no longer really ‘film-friendly,’” says writer-director Jon Lawrence. It’s more ‘film burned-out,’ as so many films shoot here and so many crews and production companies burn location owners that it is very hard to find reasonably priced locations.”
In fact, for Lawrence’s last film, “we ended up taking our entire crew from LA to Yuma, Arizona, where even with motel and per diem meal costs we came out way ahead. We shot our film with 11 locations, which cost us a total of $158 (we had to pay two nights lodging fees for a motel we wanted to shoot at) and the film permit was $50. Then, as much of the film takes place on the road, we were permitted to tow a picture car up and down country roads for three days for free. All we did was hire a local sheriff to roll with us, and that cost $30 an hour, plus his vehicle at $3 an hour (which, by the way, they also let one of our actors drive for a full day, as a picture car, for no extra charge).”
Compare that to shooting the film in LA where, Lawrence says, “even if I want to shoot a movie in my own house, I am still required to pay for a $500 film permit.” Such is the price of surrounding yourself with some of the greatest film talent in the world, though—which brings with it some obvious benefits.
“The cost of doing things is a bit higher, but things get done right and done faster,” offers director Scott McCullough. “Should things occur that were not planned, the reaction time from crew is great, due to knowledgeable technicians.”
Unions and guilds are now paying more attention to the “little guys,” too, developing new programs to target indies.
“LA thrives on the production industry and it abounds in every corner as a viable and practical business for the city. The unions and the crews have deals available for lower budget productions, with no compromising of their abilities,” says McCullough.
|Producer Justin Routt, soundman Ken Nelson and director Steve Sanacore direct Jeannie Garcia and Mike Dane in Clear Cut.|
Whether it’s this additional indie focus, the number of top-notch film schools, the widespread availability of digital technology, the close proximity to A-list talent or a combination of these and many other things, the city’s independent community does seem to be growing. As of November, 2004, the EIDC had logged over 44,000 shooting days—an increase of 20.53 percent from the previous year, with feature films specifically showing an 18.63 percent increase (up from an 8.66 decrease last year).
“Los Angeles is definitely the place to be in order to make the relationships that will help you make your movie and get it seen,” says Lawrence. “There are a lot of professional associations that you can get into, or at least hang around, for little to no money. And if you show a willingness to learn, a lot of the old pros are willing to teach. It’s a wonderful place to find great collaborators if you look hard enough,” says Lawrence.
“Sit in any coffeeshop and you could put a movie crew together,” says director Jason Moore. “Actors from this table, screenwriters with their laptops over there, directors at the cash register. And the below-the-line crews are the best in the world. As an indie filmmaker, it’s probably the only place in the world where someone on your ‘freebie’ crew might actually have an Oscar or an Emmy on their shelves.”
For McCullough, it’s persistence that pays off in Hollywood: “Getting agents and managers to look beyond their ‘comfort level’ and recognize a worthy project or your reel takes a lot of effort. Pitching projects and slinging your reel takes time and patience and not many projects get the go-ahead without years of development. Have some funds on hand so you can avoid filling out your application to Starbucks.”
Entertainment Industry Development Corporation
7083 Hollywood Blvd., Fifth Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90028
|8. MIAMI, FL Last year: unranked|
From Weather to Accommodating Officials, Many Reasons to Make Miami Home
|Tracey Ullman stars in John Waters’ A Dirty Shame.|
There’s something to be said about an area that requires three separate film commissions. So let’s just say it: Miami is presently very hot.
Okay, they’ve had their problems in the past—like the infamous 2002 MacArthur Causeway shutdown for Bad Boys II that had locals screaming about a two-hour commute between downtown Miami and Miami Beach (which usually takes about 15 minutes). But to our mind, all that proves is that the city understands the value of film production—and is willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of their moviemakers. “Miami is a culturally rich community with a million untold stories just waiting for master storytellers to share them,” says Graham Winick, the City of Miami Beach’s Film and Event Production Manager. “Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to see the value in this and we welcome anyone willing to give it a try.”
Ask any local moviemaker the best reason to shoot here, and they’ll be hard-pressed to stop at just one. “The greatest benefit for shooting in Miami takes more than one answer. It’s an abundance of unique and inexpensive locations, ease of getting insurance and permits, plenty of experienced personnel and a huge array of talent from all parts of the world,” states writer-producer Justin Routt.
As of November, 2004, film and video production had brought almost $100 million into the Miami-Dade County area. As a still-burgeoning film community, though, numbers can rise or fall within any given year, depending on how often Hollywood comes knocking.
|TOP 10 CITIES: HONORABLE MENTIONS|
Atlanta may be new to MM’s list, but it’s no stranger to the film industry. In the past two years the city has hosted a variety of film productions both big and small, including Darren Grant’s Diary of Mad Black Woman, Anghus Houvouras’ 20 Funerals, Rowdy Herrington’s Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius and Pieter Jan Brugge’s The Clearing.
Whether it’s the gorgeous weather, the varied terrains (the state boasts rolling hills, mountains, coastlines and, of course, a bustling city of more than four million), the talented crew base of more than 3,000 moviemaking professionals or the great financial incentives (including point-of-purchase tax exemptions on production-related services and equipment), who’s to say? What we do know is that Atlanta is a city on the verge—all it needs is a little more time to grow.
“The film community here may be small,” admits moviemaker Justin Curfman, “but it’s hungry for new material. If our filmmakers can become as prolific as some of our insanely successful musicians, this city will start cranking out some decent films.”
Georgia Film, Video and Music Office
SAN DIEGO, CA
If there’s one word an indie moviemaker likes to hear, it’s “free.” And they’re getting that a lot these days from the San Diego Film Commission. As in “free use of public properties owned by the city, county and port,” “free permitting” and “free street closures.”
Establised in 1976, the San Diego Film Commission is the oldest film office in the state, which means these guys know what it takes—and costs—to make a movie. “San Diego is a perfect fit for the indie filmmaker,” says the office’s director of communications, Kimberly Hale. “We do not have permit fees, we do not charge for our services, we offer free use of public properties and discounted police and hotels. But, most importantly, filmmakers receive unbelievable production value, regardless of the budget. We like to say that San Diego has a fresh face, fresh attitude and a wealth of untapped location looks that have not been overshot.”
At least not yet. Recent indie productions in the area have included Alexander Payne’s Sideways, Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown and Sergio Arau’s A Day Without a Mexican.
But San Diego is not immune to studio pictures, either. Most recently, Will Ferrell came here for Anchorman. But in recent years San Diego’s set the stage for Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and Barry Levinson’s Bandits and Tom Shadyac’s Bruce Almighty.
“San Diego embraces this industry and our government is looking to foster its growth,” says Hale. “We believe 2005 will be even bigger and better than previous years… Making a movie is hard work, but filming it in San Diego is a day at the beach.”
San Diego Film Commission
“It really depends on the number of large films that shoot in a particular location each year as to how important motion picture revenues are relative to television, commercials, still photo, music videos, etc.,” states Jeff Peel, director of the Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office of Film & Entertainment. “For instance, this year, motion pictures will contribute about $20 million, or 20 percent of the total production revenues in Miami-Dade.”
Though some locals warn that the cost of production personnel can sometimes rival that of LA, the area’s natural beauty—and warm climate—make it a great place to ensure plenty of year-round production. (Though DP Osvaldo Silvera cautions to “bring your slicks and rain boots, ‘cause when it pours, it pours!”)
“In the future,” promises Peel, “we hope to be able to offset some of the variability of the motion picture sector by growing more local independent filmmakers who will choose to stay in Miami to make their films.”
For those moviemakers thinking of relocating to Miami—to shoot or live—Routt offers this: “Come here and do it! You have at your disposal plenty of beautiful and unique locations, lots of film production equipment and personnel, and a community that is very willing to help. You also have state and local film commissions that will help you, and major nonprofit film organizations that assist filmmakers. Best of all is the Entertainment Incubator, which just sponsored a film contest this year. And you have major film festivals here and state-wide, along with competent actors and production personnel, police departments that go out of their way to cooperate, lots of great things to do in your off-time and almost perfect weather year-round. Finally, you have many film schools that assist filmmakers with people and equipment and a press that will readily speak to filmmakers and write stories on them.” All this makes sense to us, and it’s why Miami made our 2005 list.
City of Miami Office of the Mayor
2700 S. Bayshore Drive
Miami, FL 33133-5409
Miami Beach Office of Film & Print
1700 Convention Center Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office of Film & Entertainment
111 NW 1 Street, #2540
Miami, FL 33128
|9. BALTIMORE, MD Last year: unranked|
Freebies, One-Stop Shopping, Independent to the Core
It’s impossible to mention “moviemaking” and “Baltimore” without paying homage to the city’s undisputed film heavyweight, John Waters. For more than 40 years, the once-dubbed “Pope of Trash” (or “Prince of Puke”) has made all of his films within the city’s borders, including 2004’s A Dirty Shame. So it comes as no surprise that Waters himself is one of the first moviemakers itching to praise “Charm City,” his hometown. “We have the best film commission that ensures you ‘cinematic immunity,’ great crews (you don’t have to bring people from LA), a strong and diverse SAG contingent and a general public that isn’t sick of you making movies on their front yard.”
|Lee Bonner directs 21 Eyes in Baltimore, MD.|
Each year, the city plays host to a number of television projects (including the HBO series “The Wire”) and large-scale Hollywood film productions like Jay Russell’s Ladder 49 and Lee Tamahori’s upcoming XXX: State of the Union. But it’s the independent work happening here that makes Baltimore so special, with a film community that remains true to the maverick spirit of its cinematic godfather.
For the feature film 21 Eyes, writer-editor Sean Paul Murphy did not even utilize the services of the local film office. “The director, Lee Bonner, and the producer, David Butler, are both experienced members of the local film community. Through our past experiences, we had all the access we needed to the plentiful film resources.” But that didn’t stop the Maryland Film Office from stepping in where it counts. “The local film office offered to help us promote the film,” Murphy continues “and talked us up to representatives of various film festivals.”
Speaking of film festivals, Baltimore’s got the Johns Hopkins Film Festival and the Maryland Film Festival—not to mention a host of other places to see great films. The Baltimore Film Club (of which Murphy is president), watches and chats about a flick together twice a month, while the Imaginative Cinema Society gets together once a month to discuss a film within the science-fiction/horror/fantasy genre. Cineastes looking for a more frequent film fix can check out Cinema Sundays at Baltimore’s Charles Theatre, where you’ll find brunch and a lively film dialogue.
Even the most daring of indies would be wise to work with the local film office, as there are a number of incentives available to moviemakers in the area, even as early as pre-production (including free project registration with the Division of Film, Video and Television and parking passes for location scouts).
Baltimore offers free use of selected city-owned properties and facilities and a “one-stop shopping” system when it comes time for permits and fees. All qualified projects are also eligible for a five percent tax exemption on vehicle rentals, camera and equipment supplies, lighting and sound supplies, props and scenery, wardrobes and costumes, film and tape, special effects supplies and more.
The film office may be well aware of the importance of post-production assistance, but some local moviemakers say that isn’t reflected in the number of local facilities available to indie feature filmmakers. “The post-production facilities tend to specialize in shorter form projects like commercials,” admits Murphy. But Baltimore’s close proximity to Virginia, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and even New York make it a minimal problem. “As it is now, we generally send our film to New York and get our video dailies back the next morning,” says Murphy.
“Anything and everything is available for purchase or rent within a 50-mile radius,” concurs DP-director Pepi Singh Khara. “I’ve lived all over the world, but I’ve lived in Maryland since 1988; I simply love this place. For a visual person, our state offers a wealth of resources for filmmakers to pull from. We have big cities and small-town charm; we have the talent pool, too, and are within hours of other major cities and airports. Marylanders are warm, hospitable people who love their moviemakers.”
Maryland Film Office
217 E. Redwood Street, 9th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21202
|10. ORLANDO, FL Last year: #5|
Diversity is the Draw; Entertainment is the Lifeblood
|Orlando, FL provides a variety of gorgeous backdrops.|
Okay, so the weather here can be a bit “unpredictable” at times. But that hasn’t stopped hundreds of moviemakers from setting up shop here—or a number of big-name studios from choosing Florida as their home away from Hollywood.
As one of the world’s premier tourist destinations, the entertainment industry is the lifeblood of Orlando—and to prove it the city has earned the distinction of being the nation’s third busiest production center. So why is Orlando in the tenth spot on our list? Like Miami, much of the city’s production revenue comes from non-film related projects—TV, commercials and print ads. Still, like its Sunshine sister, the possibility of year-round shooting—coupled with a low cost of living—make Orlando a great place for indies, too.
|Universal Studios’ director of production, Charlfie Krestul selected Orlando’s Wet N Wild for an indie film series’ shipwreck scene. “If your indie needs snow in summer,” he says, “it can be done at Universal Studios Florida Production Group backlot."|
“There is a lot of underemployed (and therefore underpaid) talent in Orlando,” says producer Rick Austin. “Orlando has a lot of infrastructure and support crew that escaped from Los Angeles for a better quality of life. Thus, we can get very good quality work done here in Orlando for very low cost.”
For all the great savings, locations and helpfulness of the local film office, however, there is one key element that Orlando does not offer—financing.
“Bring financing with you,” warns one Orlando moviemaker. “Local investors are unsophisticated and gun-shy after being burned in several crooked financing deals.” Austin agrees: “The biggest drawback is the lack of capital and the lack of understanding from the investment community about the film business. Until the financial community ‘gets it,’ this will continue to be a low-budget or ‘location’ film community.”
But what a location it is! The Metro Orlando area consists of four counties which are chock full of gorgeous locations—from “rolling hills, wild swamps and jungles to unspoiled pastures and great bodies of water.”
“If you come to Orlando,” enthuses Austin, “you can make it look like you’re shooting in 50 different locations—just by moving your camera down the street.”
Metro Orlando Orlando Film & Television Commission
301 East Pine Street, Suite 900
Orlando, FL 32801-2705