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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
10. San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is a city with a distinctly different, but no less dynamic, vibe from its Northern sister Austin. Like most of Texas, the unemployment rate is relatively low compared to the rest of the country—4.7 percent—and the city’s cost of living ranks among the lowest among large metropolitan cities in the U.S.
While we’re talking numbers, note that the San Antonio Local Filmmakers Grant, established in 2012, awards $25,000 annually to a local with a feature in pre-production. Also, the Supplemental San Antonio Incentive gives qualified productions an extra 2.5 percent to Texas’ base rate tax incentive (of up to 20 percent).
Equipment rental houses include Indie Grip and Bull Grip, with production and post facilities at Geomedia, Bauhaus Media, Apple Productions and Cibolo Films. The city requires virtually no shooting permits, other than for the major attractions of the famous River Walk and the Alamo Plaza.
The local film community is less extensive than Austin’s, but a similar sense of intimate mutual support rules. Writer-director Pablo Véliz (whose La Tragedia de Macario screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006) says, “San Antonio’s a big city, yes, but it’s a very small community. When something is happening, we all know about it because one of us is on every set. It’s like one big high school—‘I may not know Joey, but I know Joey’s friend because we had Physics together.’”
Veliz says that it’s the variety of locations in his native San Antonio that appeals to him. “I could be filming in a very gritty alley in a big city and, 20 miles away, in the country for a Western look; then I could move to a suburban location. People are receptive to us filming in their locations—small businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations. For independent film, which requires creative storytelling, we have a good canvas to work from in San Antonio.”