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

6. Chicago, Illinois

“I found Chicago to be invigorating,” says writer-director Travis Stevens, who after building a rep as an indie producer with titles such as Buster’s Mal Heart and Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed his debut horror feature, The Girl on the Third Floor, in 2018. Trendy Chicago suburb Frankfort was chosen as a prominent location due to its “haunted” Victorian-style mansions, one of which the crew made their own. “Having made films in Los Angeles, New York, Louisiana, Montana, Canada, the U.K., and Mexico, I grew accustomed to struggling to find the balance between budget, resource availability, and experience,” Stevens recalls. “Often that balance can handicap the creative vision and become taxing on the crew. The further you travel from cities with a healthy film infrastructure, the cheaper many of your day-to-day costs are, but your access to equipment and experienced crews becomes limited.”

Stevens adds that Chicago and its surrounding environs have struck a balance, nurturing both a robust slate of TV production and a thriving indie film scene, which support each other. “The high-volume needs of a TV production gives a crew and actors experience on high quality sets,” he notes. “They then bring that experience to projects like ours. Many of our crew on The Girl had only been in the business a short time, but they were some of the most competent professionals I’ve had the pleasure to work with.” Stevens also praised Illinois’ film office, firefighters and police, caterers, and merchants who opened their doors to The Girl, calling it a “solid foundation” for the production. “They all made one hell of a case for why the Windy City is such an exciting place to shoot now,” he adds.

The word may be getting out: In early 2018, Film Illinois Director Christine Dudley announced that Chicago’s growth as a film production destination had placed Illinois in the top five states for film and TV production, and acknowledged a chorus of voices calling for Illinois to adopt a tax incentive of Georgia-level generosity, as opposed to the current credits, which are aimed at Illinois residents and geared toward employing locals. 

Angie Gaffney, co-founder of film industry incubator Stage 18 Chicago, professes optimism at Chicago’s future: “It’s the right time to be in Chi-town. The city’s film industry has expanded greatly in the past five to ten years,” she says. “It’s incredible to see what a healthy film economy has done to increase quality of life for moviemakers here: Everyone from independents to union workers have seen benefits, and students can transition out of school to the working industry. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring.”

Phil Brooks as Don Koch in a scene from Girl on the Third Floor, writer-director/producer Travis Stevens’ 2018 Chicago-shot feature. Photograph by Andy Goodwin, courtesy of Queensbury Pictures

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10 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. Peter Matthews

    January 16, 2019 at 9:01 pm

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

  5. 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’.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

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