The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

Small Cities and Towns: 2. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Moving up from last year’s fourth place to a strong second, the city of Santa Fe placed a concerted emphasis on moviemaking in 2016. While Savannah expanded its preexisting local commission, the New Mexico town established a brand new one: the Santa Fe Film Office, a joint city/county office with a full-time staff and additional contract employees which opened in March, 2016.

The move is a ringing endorsement of Santa Fe’s big-screen potential, and coincided with a wave of big productions. Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, with Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, was shot among the red rocks of the nearby 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch. Jessica Chastain plays the real-life woman who met with Native American leader Sitting Bull in the 19th century in Woman Walks Ahead. Other buzzy titles rounding out the pack were Granite Mountain, Villa Capri, Ideal Home, Cliffs of Freedom, Titan and Justice—a veritable star-studded bonanza.

Why is half of Hollywood decamping to the second smallest town in these pages (population 70,000)? Beyond an uptick in neo-Westerns, perhaps, it’s likely for that excellent New Mexico refundable tax credit of up to 30 percent (and the lack of a minimum spend to qualify for the incentive is pretty indie-friendly). The production and post resources befit a much bigger city, from MBS Equipment at Santa Fe Studios to Garson Studios at Santa Fe University of Art and Design (SFUAD), housing the largest permanent green screen in the state.

Make good friends within the industry in order to have the very best crew members possible,” suggests Smoke Signals and Edge of America director Chris Eyre, who’s also on the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival advisory board, “because everyone wants them in New Mexico!” He believes that moviemakers can have a “very good lifestyle here, by networking and participating as a crew member for other television and film happening all around the state. The New Mexico community is not massive, so relationships mean more.”

A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin owns the local Jean Cocteau Cinema, which he says he wants to make “important a part of Santa Fe’s future: the most eclectic and unpredictable venue in town, with its mix of films old and new, large and small, author readings, book signings, live music, comedy, burlesque, magic shows and karaoke.” Indeed, beyond cinema, Santa Fe is famously arts-focused. The UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts teems with museums, galleries and jewelry shops, plus the world-class Santa Fe Opera and acclaimed Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

Cart blanche: Indie features like Odd Thomas get full creative control in Santa Fe. Photograph by Don Gray

Acclaimed Hawaii-born underground moviemaker Jon Moritsugu now calls New Mexico home. He loves the fact that there are “mainstream as well as total scuzzball productions always going off.” But more than that, he says, “there is something sublime about the space out here. I’ve done my best writing and filmmaking in Santa Fe and I know it’s because of what ‘isn’t here.’”

Eyre concurs: The place is just plain inspiring. “It is really still an untapped place for storytellers in America to discover.” Just don’t forget to figure out how you like your chiles: red, green or Christmas.

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13 Comments

  1. Larry Anderson

    January 26, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Excuse me but Cleveland Ohio is no where near a small City where do you guys get this misinformation from Greater Cleveland covers 5 counties while the heart of Greater Cleveland which is Cuyahoga County in which Cleveland city proper is the county seat covers roughly 457 SQ Miles and thats not even including the Lake Erie Shoreline

  2. w picket

    January 22, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Savannah is great, until you get a gun put to your head walking down the street by someone who wants the $20 you might have in your wallet. If you’re lucky enough to avoid that, you still have to deal with the drugged up homeless population that harass tourists on every block. I don’t see the movie industry staying long once another area promises the same tax incentives.

  3. angelo misterioso

    January 22, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Yes, Santa Fe IS wonderful.
    But saguaros? They don’t exist here.
    Otherwise, nice artwork.

  4. Ron Merk

    January 21, 2017 at 8:02 am

    I live and work in San Francisco as a filmmaker, film distributor and film preservationist. I was very surprised not to see San Francisco on the list of best places to live and work as a filmmaker in your 2017 survey. There are many filmmakers working here, thousands of them, and some of the best support from organizations, film festivals, and the City of SF. Add to that San Francisco, itself, is one of the most beautiful natural “backlots” in which to film, with great dining and entertainment, and it just doesn’t make sense that San Francisco did not make the list. We are a gigantic tech capital, too. Dolby’s new building is just one block from where I live, and I can literally see into the offices of Twitter from my apartment. It was very disappointing not to see our city on your list.

  5. Kese

    January 20, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    When clicking on the Albuquerque link it takes me to Memphis, TN instead…

  6. AustinCleveland

    January 20, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Cleveland/Pittsburgh are both bigger than Austin… Hmm…

  7. Don O'Keefe

    January 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    So, Pittsburgh is in the small cities and towns category and Albuquerque is in Big cities? Using the city proper population is a strange choice indeed… Don’t you realize that the political structures of city limits bias lists like this to west coast or sunbelt (newer) cities? Don’t you also realize that the same political structures have no effect on economic opportunities for filmmakers? Or do filmmakers usually just refuse to shoot anything if they have to cross a county line? Get real.

  8. Liam Wilmoth

    January 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    As always, a great compilation of places to be as a moviemaker. Nice to see some international coverage as well, like Toronto. As a former resident, I’ve known a handful of people who have had great experiences directing and on the set of films in the area. And all the best people come out of Canada, ey?

    Cheers from Ontario,
    Liam

  9. Alex Michaels

    January 19, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    I am so happy to see my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio here. When I started my company Prelude2Cinema, people always told me I couldn’t be a real filmmaker unless I moved to Hollywood. I am so glad that ideal is finally changing and you can make movies anywhere even in Cleveland.
    Alex Michaels

  10. Casey Moore

    January 19, 2017 at 8:32 am

    New Orleans has some great vendors who will work with indie filmmakers. We also have a lot of crew who have worked both the studio films and the low budget indie films (I am one of the people).

    Also, the credits didn’t take a blow. We simply have a cap now. The credits are still there, and smaller films can get their credits as well.

    We are also getting better with places to see movies.

  11. Dan Stoddart

    January 18, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Also, as the feature “The Mountain Between Us” discovered, the east Kootenay’s area is also a great spot with an international airport (Cranbrook) and endless camera friendly locations. Not to mention a few knowledgeable locals who can create great scenery!

  12. K Matsuoka

    January 18, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    A robust incentive providing solid work opportunites, a strong commitment by the local community in developing the next generation, a state funded creative development program pairing young filmmakers with Hollywood professionals, and an internationally recognized film festival alone should qualify Honolulu for the list, add the beaches, year round tropical climate, and the availability of diverse locations and population (see ‘Lost’ and ‘Hawaii Five-0’) and the Aloha State should easily be a contender for the top 10.

    • Marty Lindsey

      January 29, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Agreed! I’d love to shoot a film in Hawaii. Denver didn’t make the list because our incentive package is shite. However, there were 3 films from Colorado at Sundance this year.

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