The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2019: Big Cities

What are the best places to live and work as a moviemaker? It depends on what you want. But one prominent director says many cities can make a play to become the center of the industry.

“The film business as we know it is never going back to Los Angeles,” Carnahan said recently. “It’s a jump ball in terms of what the next big city that could build the industry is going to be.”

That sense, of the entire motion picture business thrown into the air and all of us waiting for it to come back down, is where we are at the close of 2018. The only thing we know for sure is that when the industry lands and is “rebuilt” it won’t look the same as before. Creative destruction will breed new power centers, with new players who’ve been underrepresented in the past, and new ways of imagining, making, and distributing a century-old product.

The sugar rush phase of this new reality is nearly a decade behind us already; in 2009 there were 44 states offering some form of incentive, but retrenchment has pared that down to 31 as of 2018. A new industry titan has emerged—Atlanta, Georgia—and some rival cities are being held in check by the disinterest of their state governments (looking at you, Lone Star State), while others make the right moves to become a regional powerhouse, such as our pick for #1 this year, Albuquerque, New Mexico. And how did we make it this far into the intro without mentioning Netflix? The true impact of this industry-shaking colossus won’t really be felt until rivals such as Disney copy its streaming first, theatrical maybe business model. 

So, what does this Game of Movie Thrones episode have to do with you? It makes a personal decision all the more personal. What’s your tolerance for an itinerant lifestyle, perhaps picking up and moving a few times before age 30? How does the state you’re thinking of moving to treat the industry you’ll depend on? Quality of life is a bear to measure, data or no. That said, here’s some of what went into our rankings: a city’s film activity in 2018 (number of productions, economic activity generated, shoot durations), infrastructure (health of film commissions and non-profits, number of film schools and VFX houses), and local luminaries. Then there’s population and geographical size, state and local incentive programs, and ease of movement and traffic. Lastly, we’ve erred on the side of letting quotes from the representatives of our selected cities and towns breathe a bit. These folks have lived and worked in the places you’re considering, so hopefully their stories will impact yours.

(Scroll through part one of our full list for the top 20 big cities on the continent.)

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16 Comments

  1. Melani

    September 4, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    I can personally say there is no work in Philadelphia. The very few films that film here use outside hires. Unless you want a job at a news station, I’d look elsewhere.

  2. CorVatta

    August 6, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Twelve years ago I wanted to break into film, originally from New Mexico, at the time I was living in Las Vegas. (Side note – Not Las Vegas New Mexico where much of Longmire was filmed but Las Vegas Nevada, where the hookers have teeth and wear heels.)

    At the time I moved from Vegas LA to pursue film only to find out filming was becoming popular in my home state, thanks to Governor Richardson and other advocates. So I moved back where I was a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Networking was easier and immediately started working and haven’t stopped since. Recently a group of producers and I purchased a studio building and will shoot our first collective feature this fall.

    The New Mexico film community is also the most inclusive I have ever experienced. As a gay/trans Actor/Comedian, Producer my film family has helped foster my authentic self. I am thankful to have moved back and get in on the ground floor.

    With very little natural disasters, no gridlock traffic, beautiful locations, amazing food and film friendly people, New Mexico is the place to be and you’ll love free time in Santa Fe.

  3. Joseph Centofanti

    July 8, 2019 at 12:01 am

    I have been acting for 10 years in independent movies. I would love to go to Albuquerque. Currently live in Tucson.

    • Richard Schoenberger

      July 11, 2019 at 4:18 pm

      Joeseph, then do it! This industry does not favor the meek, you need to get on it! There will never be a “good time” to move, you have to decide what your priorities are, pack your stuff and get in the car. A super easy (and beautiful) drive from Tucson.

  4. BeepBop

    February 11, 2019 at 1:21 am

    So are we talking mostly production crew jobs for these cities? What about post-production? Seems like a lot of productions are still farming out the post work to post houses back in LA, including overnighting dailies back and forth via FedEx.

  5. Mike Thomas Leghorn

    January 17, 2019 at 6:31 am

    LOL Cinestate in Dallas – “Dallas has the most bang for the buck”
    However they only shoot their micro budget films in Dallas. Anything with a decent budget goes out of state to an incentive based area.

  6. j

    January 16, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    This is for Bruce…

    If you’re new or just entering this industry LA and NY are the last places you want to go… that is unless you want to either a) edit for a porn house or b) work at a red Lobster to survive while to wait your turn to get in behind a million others wanting to do the same thing. As for Altanta- good luck with that. How ya gonna network with people? It’s so sprawled out your chances of running into another industry person at a restaurant, bar or other social atmosphere is right up there with being struck by lightning. As for Texas, it’s not a film hub state. Ontario you say? Well, might as well be in Atlanta. Not only is New Mexico a thriving production hub, it’s a MAJOR incentive state, so much so Netflix outright purchased Albuquerque Studios just a few months ago. Aside from that few major studio executives want to travel to Atlanta. On the other hand Santa Fe is a luxury city, just 1.5 hr flight from LA, and major studio executives make excuses to visit and that leads me to networking. Santa Fe while being posh it really quaint. Literally every time I’ve visited, stayed at a hotel, visited a bar, or just grabbed a coffee I’ve met someone in the industry. Next, less competition… in New Mexico there is high demand for crew and not always enough crew available, making it easier for someone to break in. For those of us that have a strong personal network it doesn’t matter where you live because your network keeps you gainfully employed. So starve in LA and NY with a high cost of living, or start working, networking and learning in a place like New Mexico?

    • Gabrielle

      June 20, 2019 at 8:32 am

      Hey J, I really appreciate this because I never would have thought to look in New Mexico. I will definitely start my search. I do love California, but maybe once I actually have connections I’ll then consider moving.

      Thanks again!
      Gabrielle

  7. Peter Matthews

    January 16, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    Very interesting. Did you only consider the Americas in this survey?

  8. Frank Casanova

    January 16, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    Outside of the top 10 or 11 noted here, the rest are generally considered “locations”, not production centers. A city must have significant production infrastructure to be a production center. Most don’t have that. Moreover, the “deals” will still be made in Los Angeles and New York. Carnahan is just wishin’ and hopin’.

  9. Alex C.

    January 16, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Absolutely stunned that this compilation left out Cleveland, Ohio–where many comic book block busters have been made in recent years. Cleveland has a wonderful, hard-working Film Commission, and a significant tax credit. Plus there is a great talent base there, the people are friendly, and cost of living is relatively low. What more can you ask for?

  10. Bruce

    January 16, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Meh. If you want to work as a filmmaker – meaning getting paid for your work, and working consistently – you’re still better off in Los Angeles or New York. Or Atlanta, which has done great work in positioning itself as a hub where production professionals can work steadily.

    This is not to say that the other cities on the list don’t have thriving film scenes (as an ex Austinite with many friends in the Austin and San Antonio film communities, I am well aware that much talent and passion exists all over the country), but unless you want to make your income primarily from, say, car dealership commercials, you’re better off in ATL, NYC or LA.

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with doing car dealership commercials, btw! The tone of the article suggests that we’re primarily talking about feature film and TV work, though)

    • Jon

      January 17, 2019 at 1:59 am

      .Arrogant ass. Our crews are THE BEST and would kick ass over any orher city’s production team(s). What an idiot.

      • ANTI-SNARK

        January 17, 2019 at 11:58 am

        Jon, you come off just as arrogant! Our crews are very good but many have left NM for NYC. Your war cry makes us look bad. Back off and let our work do the talking!

      • Lamont

        January 17, 2019 at 1:34 pm

        Jon, seems like you’re the arrogant ass. Bruce was only being truthful about the best production cities. At the end of the day, there’s plenty of talented crews in the states mentioned. What have you done that’s “so called” better than other crews? Grow up. The TX tax incentives suck and there’s really not any productions going on in the state. Only Robert Rodriguez movies, who is an awesome filmmaker. How about you move to where the action really is and prove yourself??? You’re immature ego is ridiculous.

    • Anne

      October 9, 2019 at 8:59 am

      This is such a snobby ignorant comment. I’ll agree that New York has the best rates, it’s easy to move up, and there’s constant work. Los Angeles rates are lower and not worth the cost of living or traffic. New Orleans, Atlanta, and Albuquerque are great options if you want steady work, a lower cost of living, and a less stressful city overall. I came up through New Orleans and never worked on a car commercial. Baltimore was hot for a bit, but I think died down after House of Cards ended. I think the Atlanta and Albuquerque crews impressed me the most with the friendly personalities and work ethic to match.

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