The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

Big Cities: 3. Los Angeles, California

For anyone moving to Los Angeles, indie moviemaker Lundon Boyd (Dealer, Poor Boy), who moved there from Alaska, offers this advice for keeping your head above water: “Take classes, write more, act more, take every job you can. Never say ‘no’ to a social gathering. Get a smaller vehicle. Already have your reel cut, already have scripts to show. Most people are willing to get a cup of coffee with you. The old cliché of ‘who you know’ really does apply.” In other words, be prepared for networking. Lots of it.

Home to a whopping 430 soundstages and studio facilities, Los Angeles is a prolific provider of jobs for moviemakers and creative folks of all stripes. It’s remarkable how much the endless sprawl can feel like a company town—you’ll find your squad at the gym, in the city’s deep well of restaurants, and of course at the theaters: the Laemmle chain, Downtown Independent, Echo Park Film Center, the raucous Cinefamily and grindhouse-y New Bev, stately American Cinematheque, and so on. And you can join one of the many indie organizations in the city: NewFilmmakers, Filmmakers Alliance or Women in Film…

“I personally love Film Independent,” says Jen McGowan, director of Kelly & Cal and founder of Film Powered, a series of free peer-taught classes for female filmmakers. “I feel very strongly that you must find your people. L.A. is a very spread-out place and it can be very easy to become isolated here, or get distracted and lose your voice.”

As for the moviemaking. California expanded its tax incentive program significantly in 2015, with $330 million now available annually. Be warned, though, that getting your hands on that money isn’t always a walk in the park: The state’s much-decried lottery system was abolished a couple of years ago in favor of a more structured process based on job creation. Many applauded this, but independent moviemakers, allocated just five percent of the subsidies, point out that the job ratio factor favors bigger-budgeted titles—and indeed the minimum spend to qualify is a cool $1 million. (McGowan: “Where filmmakers start their careers is where they build their contacts, and it would be good for L.A. to nurture its filmmakers sooner.”) Indies can take comfort in the fact that while the basic tax credit for larger features is 20 percent, independent features get 25 percent—which, unlike all other categories of production, is transferable.

The City of Los Angeles recently completed a $300 million renovation and restoration of its historic city hall. Photograph by Sharokin Isayo / Courtesy of FilmL.A., Inc.

As anyone who watched La La Land knows, there’s a lot of sunshine (315 days of it, precisely). And though the cost of living is high, Los Angeles doesn’t have to break the bank. Watch beautiful people (and their beautiful dogs) hike Runyon Canyon, or explore an arts scene bursting with underground galleries, comedy shows in taco shops, and alternative music venues in a place where car culture is still king, but the public transit system is increasingly robust. And if you’re savvy about your neighborhood, the city can be—dare we say it—delightfully walkable.

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17 Comments

  1. RT

    September 1, 2017 at 10:52 am

    LOS ANGELES: You can make movies anywhere now. Unless you’ve just been offered a studio/TV directing gig, don’t fall into the LA trap. LA is like a casino. They tell you that if you just spend that extra money on a class, or on coverage, or on a pitch, or whatever, you’ll be close. The best advice I got while here in LA is to go and make films anywhere but here. It’s about the films you make, not where you live. Save your money and put it into your work. The cavalry in LA is NOT coming to help you. Everyone in LA has their own project and everyone wants something from someone else. You’re best to do your thing from wherever. Again, it’s about your film(s) not the parties and networking events you go to. The best place to network is at film festivals with your film. Unless you’re an actor and then yeah, you should be here in LA.

    • Marquese Clack

      September 1, 2017 at 11:50 pm

      Well said…

    • Cheri Mackey

      September 6, 2017 at 7:16 am

      Wow, I think that has been the best advice I have gotten anywhere.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. angelo misterioso

    January 22, 2017 at 6:39 am

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

  5. 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.

  6. Kese

    January 20, 2017 at 12:20 pm

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

  7. AustinCleveland

    January 20, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Cleveland/Pittsburgh are both bigger than Austin… Hmm…

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

      • Adam Stanton

        August 9, 2017 at 7:22 pm

        Silly question, how bad is the Tax incentive in Colorado ? I looked at the Colorado Film Office and their incentives are at 20%. My guess is that it’s not great compared to 40% in Atlanta ?

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