It’s been more than 10 years since MovieMaker began citing the best cities to be an independent moviemaker—those places that go the extra mile in welcoming lower-budget productions just as much as they do the “big guns.” Whether through production support and assistance, tax incentives and waivers, local and experienced crew bases or all of the above, certain cities are becoming go-to locales for indie film production, offering moviemakers the biggest bang for their limited bucks. With more and more moviemakers opting to shoot in their own backyards, a city’s ability to offer a sustainable, creative community has never been more important to the indie industry. Read on to discover which cities topped our list for 2012.
1. New Orleans, LA
According to Pollina Corporate Real Estate’s annual ranking of the top pro-business states, Louisiana has risen to 18th place—which is no surprise to the moviemakers who are flocking there for its film-friendly milieu. Incentives-wise, Louisiana offers a generous 30 percent investor tax credit based on the total in-state expenditures of productions of least $300,000, as well as an additional five percent labor tax credit for hiring Louisiana residents, and both credits are fully transferable. In New Orleans in particular, where a substantial crew base complements the easy availability of camera, grip and electrical equipment, moviemaking is experiencing a heat wave that matches the area’s warm-weather temperatures.
Film New Orleans: ?www.filmneworleans.org
2. Austin, TX
With its strong incentives, substantial crew base and infrastructure and overall warm embrace of film production—not to mention its diverse topography and year-round mild and sunny climate—Austin has attracted countless moviemakers over the years, many of whom have made the city their permanent home, including Robert Rodriguez, whose Troublemaker Studios is based here. “Independent filmmakers have a wealth of resources in Austin,” says Gary Bond, director of film marketing for the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Aside from our office, the Texas Film Commission and a film-friendly government, Austin is home to the Austin Film Society [founded by Richard Linklater], which has awarded more than $100,000 to new filmmakers, local film support organizations, filmmaker newsgroups, networking communities and film festivals, notably the Austin Film Festival and SXSW.”
Austin Film Commission: ?www.austintexas.org/filmmakers
3. Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque has played host to such acclaimed films as No Country for Old Men and Little Miss Sunshine as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s soon-to-be-released comeback The Last Stand, with The Lone Ranger saddling up there this spring. With nearly year-round sunshine, an aggressive slate of incentives and a diverse landscape of urban, suburban, prairie and forest settings, it’s easy to understand why Albuquerque continues to attract movie productions, small- and big-budget alike. “New Mexico is a fantastic state to shoot in,” says Craig Butler, who made the micro-budgeted The Righteous and the Wicked in New Mexico. “It has great incentives and numerous production resources, such as a prop/costume warehouse filled with things left behind by past productions, and entire Old West towns that have been preserved as film locations. The Albuquerque Film Office is amazing and local businesses are film-friendly. The independent filmmaker couldn’t ask for a better place to work.” ?
Albuquerque Film Office: www.cabq.gov/film/
4. Seattle, WA
For writer-director Lynn Shelton (Humpday), shooting in her hometown of Seattle is a given. “The Seattle filmmaking community is a nurturing, inclusive and vibrant one, filled with folks who have a genuine passion for making movies,” she says. “Whether it’s a local director or an out-of-town company, our local crews bring so much talent, good spirit and artistry to everything shot here.” The Emerald City offers a 30 percent cash-back film incentive to productions that shoot there in addition to sales tax exemptions on rental equipment, vehicles used in production and 30 consecutive days of lodging, as well as discounts on below-the-line costs from participating vendors. The one-stop Seattle Film Office provides permits for use of all city-owned property and the former naval airbase at Sand Point by “low-impact feature and short indie films” for just $25 per project for up to 14 days (with some restrictions).
Seattle Film Office: www.seattle.gov/filmoffice/?
5. New York, NY
“I don’t think there’s anything quite like New York City, in terms of creative energy and production value, that inspires great filmmaking,” says writer-director-producer David Spaltro, who shot his second indie, Things I Don’t Understand, in New York. “Hollywood may be the film capital of the world, but independent cinema and the arts have always thrived here in the Big Apple.” Judging by 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Spaltro is far from alone in his sentiments. The motion picture and television industry turned to New York that year for a variety of projects that ultimately created more than 141,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly related to production. Production incentives have played a major role in the momentum. New York State offers a 30 percent refundable tax credit applied against qualified expenditures, and $420 million has been allocated through 2014 for tax credits, with no per-project caps.
New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting?: www.nyc.gov/html/film
6. Boston, MA
“Boston is, and always has been, a particularly strong independent film town,” remarks Lisa W. Strout, director of the Massachusetts Film Office (MFO). “There are scores of companies creating and supporting documentary work and indigenous narrative production. The indie filmmakers that live and work in greater Boston are a tight community and are responsible for countless awards and international recognition.” One of the first official state film offices, the MFO offers one-stop shopping for indie moviemakers, nurturing a growing crew base and assisting with everything from location scouting and permitting to dealing with government relations and union issues. Also noteworthy are the financial incentives: A tax credit equal to 25 percent of in-state production costs, provided half of the film’s total expenses or production time are spent in Massachusetts, and a 100 percent sales tax exemption on any production-related items purchased in the state.
Massachusetts Film Office: ?www.mafilm.org?
7. Atlanta, GA
From its majestic mountains and beautiful beaches to its small towns and big cities, Georgia is a location paradise. It boasts significant studio space in Atlanta as well, with EUE/Screen Gems building a 30-acre production complex near downtown Atlanta in the Lakewood Fairgrounds, Raleigh Studios standing strong just 45 minutes outside the capital and Tyler Perry operating a 200,000-square-foot facility in the city. More than 700 film and TV projects have shot in the state, and figures for the 2011 fiscal year underscore the burgeoning growth of Georgia’s film industry, with producers investing nearly $7 million in the state’s economy. Georgia is also a national leader in film incentives. The Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, passed in 2008, offers a transferrable tax credit of 20 percent for in-state production expenses and an additional 10 percent tax credit for embedding a Georgia promotional logo in titles or credits or in promotional trailers or other negotiated placements. Credits can be applied toward any state tax liabilities or sold to third parties.
Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office: ?www.georgia.org/georgiaindustries/entertainment
8. Chicago, IL
“The core strength and future of Chicago’s independent film community resides squarely in its hometown talent: An internationally acclaimed theater community and a growing population of emerging storytellers and new-skills technicians,” says Rich Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office. “Chicago also has a rich diversity of creative institutions and film schools that are consistent in launching fresh approaches to the medium and the industry.” Furthermore, the Chicago Filmmakers organization dedicates itself to independent moviemakers by providing opportunities for shooting, distributing and exhibiting projects made outside the mainstream marketplace. And in December 2008, the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit Act was passed, offering a 30 percent transferrable tax credit for qualified expenses with no sunset, along with a 30 percent credit on Illinois salaries of up to $100,000 per worker (there is an additional 15 percent tax credit on total salaries of at least $1,000 paid to residents of economically disadvantaged areas).
Chicago Film Office?: www.explorechicago.org
9. Richmond, VA
This year’s roundup marks Richmond’s third time on this list. Without a doubt, Virginia’s capital city continues to nurture a thriving film community that welcomes indigenous and out-of-state moviemakers alike—Steven Spielberg recently chose Richmond as the backdrop for his highly anticipated feature Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. “The people are what make shooting films in Richmond such a joy,” notes local writer-director Joey Tran (Singularium). “Not only is there a large number of really skilled people who are more than happy to contribute to the creative side, but even non-filmmakers are willing to help out with locations, like houses or other kinds of property. There are financial incentives for creating films, but the biggest draw for me is the open atmosphere for creativity.”
Virginia Film Office: www.film.virginia.org
10. Wichita, KS
Slowly but surely, Wichita is becoming an indie moviemaker’s Eden. Kansas’ largest city has welcomed such productions as Mars Attacks and Twister, and its film office has been working diligently in assisting both local and visiting moviemakers interested in shooting in Wichita. “Wichita is a great place for independent filmmaking,” proclaims Lela Meadow-Conner, executive director of the Tallgrass Film Association, which presents Wichita’s Tallgrass Film Festival. “Shooting is easy here. There’s very little red tape, permits aren’t required for filming on public property and there are plenty of local people who are experienced in all aspects of production and readily available for shoots.”
Wichita Film Commission: ?www.gowichita.com
San Antonio, TX: City on the Rise
Like its Lone Star sister city, Austin, indie moviemakers in San Antonio have the venerable Texas Film Commission and the state’s bevy of tax incentives at their disposal. A budget of $250,000 in in-state spending is all it takes to qualify for the state’s 7.5 percent cash grant, with projects spending $5 million eligible for a 17.5% grant. Up-and-comers can get in on the grant action, too; the San Antonio Film Commission’s Student Film Project will see film students compete for $25,000 to produce their student film in the city. With a government that understands the importance of a thriving film community—and is willing to put their money where their mouth is—San Antonio is one city that embraces its moviemakers.
San Antonio Film Commission: www.FilmSanAntonio.com MM