Think global but shoot local. Here’s where you’ll love doing that.

Used to be if you wanted to work in the movies there were only a couple of places to be, kid. No longer: In 2016 you can audition actors in Tokyo via Skype, then upload your projects to Dropbox and send them to New York for instant review while still in your jammies. What’s more, if you build it, they really will come; cities around the country that have invested in large-scale production are drawing Hollywood shoots to their home turf in growing numbers, affording moviemakers the opportunity to explore a spectrum of lifestyles, cultures, and communities. So the question is more pervasive than ever: Where to?

In our continuing mission to make the lives of independent moviemakers even better, we take time each year to spotlight the most promising and fertile places in the country to put down roots. We scour the nation, poll film commissions, trawl through data, and interview moviemakers in hundreds of localities. Because there are so many variables endemic to comparing the Big Apple with Orange County, for example, we assembled the rankings based on the following factors: Film Production in 2015 (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 encapsulates lifestyle, weather and transportation.

As per recent tradition, we put together a standalone list of 10 big cities (pop. 400,000 and up), but this year we combined small cities (pop. 100,000 to 400,000) and towns (pop. 100,000 and under) into a single list, also of 10. (Note: To maintain uniformity across our rankings, we measured population by the city proper, and not the surrounding metro areas.) We hope that whatever you’re looking for, these two lists convey the best of the places where you, the future of American cinema, can live well and make your home a wellspring for your cinematic ambitions. Welcome to your next adventure.

[Note: Wondering where our 2016 Best Small Cities and Towns list is at? It’s right here.]

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1. Atlanta, Georgia

You don’t always have to be the center of attention to get noticed. Such is the case for this bustling metropolis. Atlanta’s doing everything right and then some to accommodate moviemaker locals and transplants, without having to endure a perma-celebrity culture.

In recent years Georgia has quietly become home to one of the biggest film industries in the U.S., ranking third in production levels amongst states. Between the support personnel, infrastructure and increasing workforce development, Atlanta has been steadily securing a stable and exciting future in the feature film world. The state’s tax incentive program offers, effectively, 30 percent transferable credit (20 plus 10 if you use the state’s logo in your credits) for qualifying productions, which contributed $6 billion generated to the state last year. There’s no cap or sunset clause.

Georgia on our minds: stately Atlanta rang in at sixth place on 2015’s list, but comes out top in 2016.

Georgia on our minds: stately Atlanta rang in at sixth place on 2015’s list, but comes out top in 2016. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Film & Entertainment

This was largely due to studio films and series such as Ant Man, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Barbershop 3, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, The Walking Dead, Quantico and Furious 7. Ant Man alone employed more than 3,500 Georgians, and the title “Hollywood of the East Coast” feels thoroughly earned. (On a smaller scale, Rob Burnett’s Sundance 2016 closing night film, The Fundamentals of Caring, also shot in the city.) Much of that traffic came out of Pinewood Studios, a full service film and entertainment complex comprised of 11 sound stages on 700 acres just south of Atlanta.

“It seems that the east and west are meeting here in Atlanta,” says casting director Tiandra Gayle of Atlanta’s NightinGayle Casting. “It’s certainly much more cost-effective to shoot here!”

The Atlanta set of the upcoming Captain America 3: Civil War

The Atlanta set of the upcoming Captain America 3: Civil War. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Film & Entertainment

Atlanta actor Derrick LeMont Sanders agrees. “The Atlanta community is growing and talent is being added to the pool every month. And the studios are beginning to cast larger roles here. Add to that several new production studios in the works, and I’m looking to a bright future for Georgia film.”

Don’t worry, indies; it’s not all Hollywood expats and Tyler Perry acolytes. Atlanta’s independent scene is expanding, as well, with support from the Independent Media Artists of Georgia, the respected Atlanta Film Festival, Women in Film and Television Atlanta, and the Atlanta Film Society. Industry job growth can also be attributed to Mayor Kasim Reed and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local (IATSE) 479. They recently launched the City of Atlanta Entertainment Training Program, the first job training program in the United States focused on helping the film industry build a talent pool of trained below-the-line workers with relevant experience.

Atlanta Swan House - HG Mockingjay

The Atlanta History Center’s Swan House appeared in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 as President Snow’s mansion. Courtesy of Lionsgate

This city has a hip-hop scene that rivals New York and L.A. The restaurant culture is thriving. Housing is affordable—the average rent for an apartment in metro Atlanta is $1,003 per month. There are four distinct seasons (although the humidity might be a fifth) and 217 days of the year are pure sunshine.

You might not ever have—or want—to leave. With so many actors, writers, directors and producers in the city, you can schedule your next big meeting at one of Atlanta’s 132 Waffle House locations instead of flying to some vaulted office thousands of miles away. Waffles, grits and a greenlight? Win-win-win.

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