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10 Best Cities to be a Moviemaker

10 Best Cities to be a Moviemaker

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Austin boasts various location types, like Bat Bridge; and
is also a great place to shoot period pieces like The Alamo,
starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jason Patric.

When the new year rolls around
at MovieMaker it means two things to our staff: the annual Park
City issue had better
be at the printer and our annual countdown of America’s top
10 moviemaking havens better be part of the editorial mix.

Based on way too much research and statistical
analysis as well as numerous conversations with local film offices
and individual
moviemakers, this 2004 list contains several of the usual suspects—but
several surprises, too.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed the effect
a changing economy has on location-based film production. When
budgets need to be
cut, state-funded film offices are often the first to suffer. Los
Angeles and Chicago have felt the strain this year, which is reflected
in their rankings. At the same time, Boston, a city without an
official film office, is making its first appearance, offering
a true rags-to-riches story.

But the biggest story of the year has to do
with things really being bigger in Texas—Austin and Houston, to be exact. Complementing
each other’s efforts, the two Southwestern cities are turning
the state into a moviemaking powerhouse, and bookend our list of
picks.

Moviemaking is not an exact science. Just as
there is no formula that will automatically calculate the box
office success of a film,
or what an actor is really worth to a picture, there is no one
correct answer on which city is right for every moviemaker. It
all comes down to personality, and making sure that yours matches
the climate and attitude of the city you’re living in. Luckily,
there’s a bit of something for everyone on this list—and
that should make the task of finding the perfect base for a blissful
moviemaking career a bit easier.

1. Austin, Texas Last year: #4

If it’s not careful, austin may wake up one day to discover it’s
become the new Mecca of American moviemaking. Or has that day already
arrived? Inching up on our list for four years in a row, it seemed
only a matter of time before the City of the Violet Crown wrangled
the top spot. What’s so amazing is that Austin is still in its
indie film production infancy, at least compared to long-established
moviemaking megalopolises like Los Angeles and New York.

In 2003 the city had its “biggest year ever,” says Gary Bond,
director of the Austin Film Office. Austin hosted six major feature
films last year with budgets totaling more than $200 million, including
Alan Parker’s The Life of David Gale, Marcus Nispel’s The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
and The Alamo, which reteamed director John Lee
Hancock and actor Dennis Quaid, who worked together on The
Rookie
in Austin the previous year.

According to Bond, film production has increased “tenfold” over
the past decade in Austin. In large part this is because the
city’s advantages have drawn moviemakers back to town again and again—and
because the city is home to some of the most recognizable names
in the business, like
indie auteurs Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater.

“Austin’s diverse locations and deep pool of crew and talent are
the main reasons the city’s a favorite of independent producers,” says
Bond. This seems to be the consensus among local moviemakers as
well. “You can almost always get free labor here. But beware: the
free labor is usually friendly and intelligent,” warns producer-director
Damon “Tuscany” Chang.

The local film community also agrees that the Austin Film Office
does a more than competent job of helping moviemakers. Besides
performing the obligatory duties, the Austin Film Office also assists
moviemakers with housing needs, sponsors crew appreciation events
and provides welcome packets that include information on the city,
T-shirts and CDs of local musicians. (The Austin music scene, of
course, is one of the richest in the world.)

The office also works closely with a number of local organizations
to help encourage and foster local film production. The Austin
Film Society, for example, provides grants to local moviemakers,
sponsors screenings and serves as the property manager of the city-owned
Austin Studios (which features 20 acres of film and video production
facilities, including a 10,000 square-foot production office building
and 100,000 square feet of production space).

Besides hosting educational and networking events, the Texas Association
of Film and Tape Professionals lobbies for film-friendly legislation.
The Chamber of Commerce Film and Digital Entertainment Committee
is working to develop a stronger film-related city infrastructure.

Austin also boasts two major film festivals,
South by Southwest and the Austin Film Festival—both of which emphasize locally-produced
work. According to Mel Rodriguez, writer-director of Mockingbird, “The
Austin Film Festival is one of the most informative and well-organized
festivals in the country.”

Austin is geographically diverse, and rife
with aesthetic appeal. It provides moviemakers with a variety
of looks, all within a relatively
small area—from grassy flatlands and rivers to deserts and hills.
Although according to Chang, Austin “Can’t give you a true downtown
or metropolitan city feel,” what it can give you is a slew of surrounding
small towns, a number of which are great for period pieces; others
are ideal for representing Any Town, USA.

With every up-and-coming movie town, however,
there are growing pains. “The lack of choice with regard to production houses for
film developing and transfers is generating more and more discussion
around town,” says Chang. Also, according to local director-cinematographer
Michael Morlan, “Austin is, for the most part, a nice place to
live—though recent growth has found the city unprepared and, as
such, construction and traffic are ridiculous.”

Financially speaking, Austin has additional
benefits, like no permits being required to shoot in the city. “Along with the tax
incentives available to filmmakers, we offer free or greatly reduced
housing rates for location scouts and decision-makers considering
Austin,” says Bond. “And frequently, city facilities and property
are available at no charge to filmmakers.” According to Chang, “A
local filmmaker can live (rent, food, other expenses) for about
$800 a month.” Sounds like a city that may just keep growing.

Austin Film Office * 201 E 2nd Street, Austin, TX 78701 * 512/583-7299
* www.austintexas.org

Jude Law (center) on location in New York City for Charles
Shyer’s Alfie.

2. New York, NY Last year: #3

If this weren’t a town which serves $65 cocktails
and $50 hamburgers, New York City might well be number one on
our list. But New York
can be expensive, and because of that cold, hard fact, it can be
a tough place to live and pursue an independent film career. The
surprising thing, perhaps, is that these cold, hard facts have
not been enough to hold the city back. Feature production shooting
days in the city grew 31 percent from 2002 to 2003. Film Commissioner
Katherine Oliver sums it up best:

“NYC is the independent filmmaking capital
of the United States. We have the best resources, location and
all of our services are
free of charge. And films made in NYC win awards! At the Sundance
Film Festival since 2000, four of five Grand Jury prizes in the
Dramatic Film Competition went to films made here.”

Why wouldn’t you want to make a movie in New York? The city is
romantic, scenic and moviemaker-friendly. Few other cities in the
world can be as aesthetically or spiritually rewarding to shoot
in. Plus, the NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting
is one of the hardest-working film offices in the country. It should
be—as the country’s first film commission, it’s had enough time
to perfect its business.

With an inexhaustible list of venues for local moviemakers to
display their work, including some of the most competitive festivals
(New York Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival, to name two)
and great independent theaters (Film Forum, The Angelika), the
potential for success in New York City is endless.

Besides offering free police assistance, the
Film Office now allows moviemakers to apply for permits online—saving
hours of production time by cutting down on the number of necessary
in-person visits.
They also offer such incentives as reduced rates on hotels, car
rentals, limousine services and air travel. Also, sales tax is
exempt on all production goods and rentals.

New York’s production facilities, besides being ample, are also
first-rate—as is the local talent and crew. Says moviemaker Jason
Kessler, director of What’s Wrong With This Picture, “You’re surrounded
by the best and the brightest: theater, music, museums, food and
creative, determined, talented people. The poseurs are weeded out
quickly here, leaving a group of focused, imaginative and hard-working
people. No matter how esoteric your interests or tastes, you’ll
find like-minded people here in New York.”

NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting
* 1697 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 * 212/489-6710 * www.nyc.gov/html/film

Rob Reiner’s Alex and Emma, starring Kate Hudson and
Luke Wilson and Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, with Tim
Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne are just two of
the six major features to shoot in Boston last year.

3. Boston, MA Last year: Unranked

It might seem quite a feat to go from nowhere
on this list to number three. But if any city has proven that
the dedication of
just a few hard-working individuals can pay off, it’s Boston.

In July of 2002 the Massachusetts Film Office,
one of the top film offices in the country (generating about
$500 million annually)
was closed down due to Draconian budget cuts. But just one month
later, the reigns were retrieved by Robin Dawson and Laura Yellen,
the Film Office’s former executive director and marketing consultant,
respectively. The two created the Massachusetts Film Bureau, a
private, nonprofit organization supported by local businesses,
and have been keeping Boston moviemakers busy ever since.

Currently, Dawson and Yellen can boast about
the more than $112 million that has found its way into the area
as a result of six
major productions, including Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, starring
Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon; Mike Newell’s Mona
Lisa Smile
, with Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles; David
Mamet’s Spartan, starring Val Kilmer and William H. Macy; Peter
and Bobby Farrelly’s Stuck on You, featuring Matt Damon and Greg
Kinnear; and Rob Reiner’s Alex and Emma, with Luke Wilson and Kate
Hudson.

Boston is a culturally diverse city, with a
rich and textured arts community, and boasts a large pool of
local talent. Says Josh
Mitchell, who just completed work on his first film, Germ of a
New Insanity, “I was able to use over 60 talented local performers.” C.C.
Chapman, co-founder of Random Foo Productions, echoes the sentiment: “I’ve
been extremely happy with the level of talent I’ve found in the
Boston area. When I first started, I didn’t think I’d be able to
find people who could truly act, but I was happily surprised.”

Beantown’s high cost of living, however, seems to present a common
problem for area moviemakers. According to Chapman, “Living downtown
is insane, and some of the suburbs are not much better. It’s not
as insane as D.C. or New York, but it’s far from cheap, either.”

Financially, local moviemakers benefit from
the Massachusetts Fee-Free Locations Program, which provides
moviemakers with free
office and stage space. “We offer a break on hotel rates: if a
production stays at a particular hotel for 90 days or more, they
get a 100 percent tax break. For those productions staying less
than 90 days, we have established solid relationships with many
hotels throughout Massachusetts, which means rates can be considerably
reduced to gain the sought-after Hollywood business. We also have
established relationships with airlines and rental car companies
which allows productions to film in Massachusetts cost-effectively,” said
Dawson.

Adding to the available opportunities are the
various movie­making
groups—like the Boston Film & Video Foundation and the Harvard
Film Archive—as well as the number of film festival events that
take place throughout the state. Now in its eighteenth year, the
Boston Film Festival is probably the largest of these events, but
the Nantucket, Provincetown, Northampton, Williamstown, Woods Hole,
Roxbury and Boston Independent Film Festivals are all helping to
strengthen the city’s cinema community.

But just what does the future hold for the city? According to
the Film Bureau, the best chance for continued success will be
in convincing the thousands of young moviemakers who go to school
in Boston to stay and launch their careers here after graduation.

Massachusetts Film Bureau * 198 Tremont Street, #135, Boston,
MA 02116 * 617/523-8388 * www.massfilmbureau.com

Though it’s a city steeped in history,
Philadelphia locations like City Hall offer a modern look for
moviemakers.

4. Philadelphia, PA Last year: #5

When it comes to making movies in the City
of Brotherly Love, there’s no better resource than the Greater Philadelphia Film Office—and
no louder cheerleader than Sharon Pinkenson, the office’s executive
director. Adopting a “one-stop shopping” philosophy, the GPFO is
one of the country’s best organized and easiest to navigate film
offices. Anything one needs to make a movie in Philadelphia is
provided by or through the film office, helping to make life relatively
painless (outside the physical and mental trauma of daily film
production, anyway).
According to local screenwriter Steve Beal, “Philadelphia is a great place
to live and make movies. It has great buildings, great history—and it boasts
one the lowest costs of living around.” He does offer one caveat: “The city
wage tax is killer, though.”

Housed within the GPFO is the Greater Philadelphia Filmmakers,
a group that serves the needs of the local moviemaking community
by turning hobbyists into full-time professionals. Not only do
they offer business and technical training, but they provide area
artists with networking opportunities, job and internship information,
health insurance and screenings.

Philadelphia also offers some unique financial
advantages to filming in the city. For instance, it offers fee-free
access to the Civic
Center, the only municipally-owned sound stage in the country.
Adds Pinkenson, “We’ve spent the last year working with the Pennsylvania
legislature on two bills that would rival the tax incentives available
in Toronto, New Mexico and Louisiana—and we expect these tax credits
to be put into effect by early 2004.”

Like New York, Philadelphia provides free police assistance to
qualified productions. Also, members of a film production who stay
in a hotel for more than 30 days do not have to pay hotel tax.
And if city-owned property is available, moviemakers can possibly
shoot fee-free.

The Liberty Bell is one Philadelphia’s most important
landmarks.

But bringing moviemakers to the city and keeping them there are two different
things. The Set in Philadelphia Screenwriting Competition is one way the city
is addressing the latter. As part of the renowned Philadelphia Film Festival,
the competition offers a top prize of $10,000 and a three-day trip to Los Angeles.
There, a writer can show a short film comprised of clips from the winning script
(produced at no charge by members of the local moviemaking community), to a
select group of producers and executives.

Production is on the rise in Philadelphia,
thanks to both the film and television industries. “We’re in season two of the CBS
TV series ‘Hack,’ which is shot entirely on location in Philadelphia,” states
Pinkenson. Philly native Lee Daniels just completed work on The
Woodsman in the city, and will be premiering the film at Sundance.
And the city’s best-known talent—M. Night Shyamalan—is at it again,
too, currently filming The Village with Joaquin Phoenix and Adrien
Brody.

What it all comes back to in Philadelphia is
the tremendous support—both
from the community and the film office. Concludes Pinkenson: “We
never promise what we can’t deliver. Ask anyone who’s ever shot
here before if they would come back and chances are excellent that
they’ll tell you ‘Absolutely yes!’”

Greater Philadelphia Film Office * 100 South Broad Street, Suite
600, Philadelphia, PA 19110 * 215/686-2668 * www.film.org

Orlando doesn’t just mean “Disney,” and “The
Sunshine State” moniker doesn’t do justice to the
region’s diversity.

5. Orlando, FL Last year: Unranked

Orlando may be a relatively new addition to
this list (it received an Honorable Mention two years back),
but the city’s certainly
no stranger to film production. Currently ranked as the third busiest
film production center in the U.S., the city boasts an extremely
sophisticated crew base—and one with experience at every level
of budget and project type. And as one of the world’s premier tourist
destinations, Orlando’s economy is booming. It’s no wonder that
the city is regularly noted as one of the top 10 places in the
world to visit, work and live (you can add ‘to be an indie moviemaker’ to
that list of accolades now, too).

The sheer volume of what Orlando has to offer moviemakers in terms
of production alone rivals New York and Los Angeles. Orlando is
home to 10 state-of-the-art sound stages; it holds one of the largest
working production facility centers outside of LA or NY; and houses
back-lots that can double for just about any national or international
location. The incredible thing is that Orlando is still growing.
In 2002, $585 million was spent in Orlando to manufacture film,
television and digital media productions. Fifteen years ago, that
number was a mere $2.5 million.

There are two nationally-recognized trade associations that have
chapters in Orlando. Both the Florida Motion Picture and Television
Association and Women In Film and Television help provide networking
and educational opportunities to local moviemakers. Young talent
is plentiful, as well, with students from Full Sail and the University
of Central Florida adding their talents to the work pool.

Financially, local artists can take advantage of the Florida Entertainment
Industry Exemption, an up-front sales tax exemption offered to
any qualified production company making films in Florida. In tandem
with the City of Orlando Film and Television Network Incentive
(which cuts production costs by up to 15 percent), a moviemaker
is looking at tremendous financial advantages. Florida also boasts
the Discounts and Deals Program, which gives discounts on video
and film editing, studio and camera rentals, audio production,
hotels, restaurants and retail services.

And let’s not forget why they call Florida “The Sunshine State.” Orlando
has a climate that is conducive to year-round moviemaking and provides
a variety of scenic looks, including hills, swamps, jungles, pastures
and beaches.

Writer-director Stephen Sommers chose Orlando
to shoot the upcoming Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman. And
Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell
spent some time there recently for Minority Report. Let’s face
it: who wouldn’t want to follow in Steven Spielberg’s footsteps?

Metro Orlando Film & Television Commission
* 201 E. Pine Street, Suite 900,Orlando, FL 32801 * 407/422-7159
* www.filmorlando.com

There’s more to Las Vegas than just the casinos. Sin
City offers a variety of looks and highly-trained cast and
crew.

6. Las Vegas, NV Last year: #8

As long as America remains addicted to gambling—and watching others
gamble—there will always be a thriving film and television industry
in the City of Sin—which means there’ll always be a large and well-seasoned
team of cast and crew. According to local moviemaker David Thornton,
executive producer at MTSC Productions, though the local film talent
isn’t up to LA standards just yet, it’s “getting there.” And contrary
to popular belief, casinos don’t define life and moviemaking in
Las Vegas—the glitz, glamour and lights merely add luster to an
already bright and continually growing local film community.

According to Nevada Lieutenant Governor Lorraine
Hunt, Chair of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development
(which oversees the
Nevada Film Office), Las Vegas’ “film-friendly” credibility is
increasing throughout Hollywood and the world. Recently, the Nevada
Film Office announced $125,661,000 as the calendar year total revenue
figure for filming of all types in the State of Nevada. More than
2,500 days of production were generated by 543 projects served
by the Film Office during 2002, “and any year that exceeds $100
million in filming revenue is a great success,” said Hunt.

“Nevada has exceeded that mark consistently for the last several
years, which we attribute to the aggressive and proactive approach
taken by the Nevada Film Office, coupled with exceptional intergovernmental
teamwork and community support,” Hunt wrote in a recent press release.
The city also boasts one of the most personable and experienced
film offices in the country, according to filmmakers we spoke with.

Recent film highlights have included the Coen
brothers’ Intolerable
Cruelty
, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Cooler, Charlie’s Angels:
Full Throttle
and The Hulk. Additionally, numerous smaller budget
indie films have added a grand total of 40 feature films—and more
than $21 million—in revenues.

Besides feature films, Las Vegas is home to
a multitude of television and commercial productions. In fact,
last year, 48 percent of Nevada’s
filming revenue was generated by television series, specials and
other programs. With tens of millions of dollars pumped into Nevada’s
economy as a direct result of television, it’s logical that Las
Vegas is fertile ground for young and blossoming talent, both in
front of and behind the camera.

And don’t forget the financial advantages of shooting here (and
I don’t mean a lucky night at the craps table). For one thing,
there is no state income tax. Also, the Las Vegas area is not aesthetically
one-dimensional. Sin City is not just casinos and tumbleweeds—it
boasts a variety of looks, from vast canyons, to lakeside communities
to new developments. Also, Las Vegas is technically superior to
many film markets. Thornton says, “With the addition of HD video
editing production facilities, Las Vegas is second to none in terms
of new technology.”

Nevada Film Office * 555 E. Washington Ave., Suite 5400, Las Vegas,
NV 89101 * 702/486-2700 * www.nevadafilm.com

Universal Studios’ CityWalk offers
more than 65 options in dining, entertainment, shopping—and
locations.

7. Los Angeles, CA Last year: #7

No matter where you were born or educated,
Hollywood is still the city that your moviemaking dreams are
made of—and it’s still
the nexus of the film universe, both here and abroad. But the city’s
only big enough to bestow success on a fraction of its moviemakers.
Digital media—and the ease with which moviemakers can shoot, edit
and exhibit their films just about anywhere—means that location
shooting outside Los Angeles becomes more common with each passing
year. And it’s not unfair to say that LA is not what it once was
in the independent film market. Specifically, the city has not
been immune to the sweeping effects of a sagging national economy.

For example, the state’s Film California First
incentive program, which reimbursed certain film costs for movies
shot on public land
within the state, lost its funding in the summer of 2003, greatly
reducing cost-saving options available to indies.

But while some cities view moviemaking as an
art, in Los Angeles, it’s strictly a business—and a big one. If that’s your philosophy
on film, and we’re not saying you’re wrong, then there’s probably
no better city for you. Speaking of business: there’s also no denying
that the city boasts the highest number of film production facilities,
including more than 375 sound stages, with over 4.2 million square
feet of production space.

And talk about talent! It’s hardly a secret that a majority of
the world’s biggest stars make their homes here. In addition, LA
has some of the finest film schools in the country, including UCLA
and USC. The city also hosts some of the best film festivals in
the country including, AFI Fest and the Los Angeles International
Film Festival—just to name a few.

Ultimately, if you can afford to move there,
and if you are steadfast, patient and passionate about moviemaking—you’ll find that nowhere
else in the world can provide you with better resources. Just be
sure you can handle disappointment, and working in the shadow of
Hollywood—with all the attendant pressures that implies.

Entertainment Industry Development Corporation * 7083 Hollywood
Blvd., Fifth Floor, Hollywood, CA 90028 * 323/957-1000 * www.eidc.com

8. Portland, Oregon Last year: #9

Like Los Angeles, Portland is no stranger to the tight economy.
With a high concentration of high-tech companies, the Pacific Northwest
has been one of the hardest hit areas in terms of unemployment.
But very much like Boston, this city has proven that all it takes
is a few passionate individuals to see to it that local moviemaking
stays on the agenda.

In Portland, that person is Governor Ted Kulongoski,
who made a personal appeal to save the Oregon Film and Video
Office, the
Arts Commission and the Cultural Trust from elimination by the
legislature. This speak volumes to the level of importance placed
on the continued growth of the Portland film community, and its
place as a pillar of the local economy. In the past two years alone,
the city has succeeded in winning over several big-budget productions,
including Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, with Naomi Watts, and William
Friedkin’s The Hunted, with Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones.
Local indie superstar Gus Van Sant also hails from Portland, and
chose the city to shoot his latest film, Elephant. Indie auteur
Todd Haynes and novelist/screenwriter Chuck Palahniuk make their
homes here, as well.

Quite simply, the consensus among local residents
is that Portland is a great place to make a movie. According
to Gregory Bordeau,
director of The 100 Percent Perfect Girl, “Between big production
houses and rental facilities, as well as crews that own their own
equipment, you can find nearly everything you need to shoot a film
in Portland. Crews are very friendly, professional and willing
to help one another out.” Bordeau also cites the aesthetic advantages
of moviemaking in Portland. “Oregon is one of the few states in
the U.S. that can cover almost any scenic location a film could
desire. Oregon has a sweeping coastline, a rainforest, towering
mountain ranges and Crater Lake. There are also wide-open plains,
farms and the desert of eastern Oregon.”

Like the community itself, the local film office
is small, but extremely passionate and accommodating to local
film artisans.
Of the film office, Zonker Films’ president Tony Fuentes states: “They
really go the extra mile in getting the word out on productions,
and creating networking opportunities for local filmmakers. They
add a unique personal touch to the process. It’s not rare for a
film office person to even place postings in local Internet chat
groups.”

Besides the film office, there are other local
groups which help moviemakers including The Oregon Media Production
Association,
The Oregon Film and Video Foundation and The Northwest Film Center.
There are also several prominent local film festivals, including
The Northwest Film Festival (which showcases independent films
from the Northwest and Canada), the Portland International Film
Festival and the PDX Fest, which showcases experimental films.
Fuentes himself runs two events, the Portland International Short
Short Film Fest and the Portland Women’s Film Fest (or PISS and
POW Fests).

Financial advantages also exist for moviemakers
who want to live and work in this vibrant, culturally diverse
city. For one, the
cost of living is much less than in San Francisco or Seattle. So
it’s easier to be a working artist, not a starving one. “Portland
is wonderfully inexpensive,” says Fuentes. “I escaped the rat-race
in Seattle to a much better life here.”

In addition to cost of living, Portland/Malmouth County currently
offers a parking rebate program for local moviemakers. And in 2005,
a film incentive rebate bill will go into effect statewide. Additionally,
Portland Mayor Vera Katz has recently rolled out the Creative Economy
Initiative, which will award grants of $750 to young artisans and
entrepreneurs between the ages 24 and 34.

Oregon Film & Video Office * 121 Southwest
Salmon Street, Suite 1205, Portland, OR 97204 * 503/229-5832
* www.oregonfilm.org

9. Chicago, IL Last year: #6

Sure, taxes are high in chicago, and the cost
of living is on the rise. And yes, this can be a debilitating
combination for independent
moviemakers on their way up. But film production in Chicago is
alive and well, and the city proves that it’s not only about the
numbers, but the collective passion of the film community and the
rampant independent spirit that it creates.

Financial difficulties are again to blame for
Chicago’s drop from
six to nine, but that doesn’t stop the Windy City from being a
great place to make movies! Beach Productions’ Stanley Majka best
sums up the general sentiment of Chicago moviemakers in saying
that “The local film community is struggling. We’ve been hit hard
by Canadian competition. Many talented people have headed to Los
Angeles to have better opportunities to work.”

Despite its negatives, Chicago is still a cultural
and artistic haven, rivaling the likes of moviemaking Meccas New
York and Los
Angeles. It boasts a high-caliber pool of local talent and crew—particularly
those who appear in front of the camera. “Don’t forget this city
spawned the Cusacks, the Derns and the Second City alums,” Majka
reminds us.

For one thing, Chicago moviemakers have the
help of one of the finest film offices in the nation at their
disposal. According
to producer Brad Wells (Dark, Rome), “The City of Chicago Film
Office is great, and works hard to help the film industry. They
couldn’t make it any easier to shoot here.”

Besides offering moviemakers free use of city locations like police
stations and office and warehouse space, the CFO offers many exhibition
opportunities. 2004 will mark the third year that the CFO has showcased
shorts prior to the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival. In addition,
the CFO is in the process of putting together a program of local
shorts to be run on the local municipal station.

Other groups that help moviemakers include IFP/Chicago, which
offers an annual Production Fund worth $85,000 in goods and services
to a single winner to produce a short film. Also, Chicago Filmmakers
is a group that offers classes and seminars, as well as rents affordable
equipment for independent films. Facets Multimedia, Landmark Century
Theaters and the Gene Siskel Film Center all exhibit local features.

The Windy City is also home to many first-rate film
festivals, including the Chicago International Film Festival, the
Children’s International Film Festival
and The Chicago Outdoor Film Festival. In addition, according to Wells, “For
the smaller independent market, there are film festivals practically every
week of the year that cover every type of cinema.”

City of Chicago Mayor’s Office of Film * 1
North LaSalle, Suite 2165 Chicago, IL 60602 * 312/744-6415 * rmoskel@cityofchicago.org

10. Houston, TX Last year: Unranked

Bookending our list with Austin, Space City completes our dynamic
Texas duo. In fact, it may be only a matter of time until Houston
is not just complementing its Texas sister, but rivaling it. Regardless
of its place on the list, Houston is helping Texas become a major
American moviemaking hub.

As the fourth largest city in the U.S., Houston
has plenty of room for shooting—and further growth. Culturally and geographically
diverse, the city has doubled for locations around the world, including
New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Miami and even Cuba. And it’s
as easy to make movies in Houston as it is to live. According to
Film Office director Rick Ferguson, “Through November of 2003,
we’ve logged 131 projects, 550 shooting days and $23 million in
production. These figures also represent only projects we have
taken an active part in, and represent probably 60 percent of the
production that has taken place in the city.”

Houston boasts the Texas Filmmakers Showcase,
a special screening event consisting of the best of Texas-made
shorts. Chosen movies—and
moviemakers—are sent to Los Angeles to screen their work (and network)
with studio executives, agents and producers. Additional screening
opportunities include the Worldfest International Film Festival
as well as the Aurora Picture House, a local gem that Surface magazine
labeled “The most innovative
outlet for vanguard filmmakers deep in the heart of Texas.”

If you need further incentive to choose Texas, try tax-free equipment
and services. Anything necessary for the production of a commercial
project is free of state or local sales tax. Also, there are no
permits required to shoot in Houston, and productions are exempt
from paying hotel tax after 30 days.

The Texas movie scene is hot; it looks like the Lone Star State
will be hosting a number of stars for years to come. MM

Houston Film Office * 901 Bagby, Suite 100, Houston, TX 77002
* 713/227-3100 * http://filmhouston.texaswebhost.com

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