Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2016: Top 10 Big Cities

6. Chicago, Illinois

Perhaps no moviemaker celebrated the city of Chicago’s onscreen majesty with more zeal than the late, great John Hughes, who showcased the city as a virtual Candy Land of locations: between the iconic skyline, gorgeous brownstones, suburban mansions, gritty urban backdrops, the “L,” and Lake Michigan, the city can be made to look old, new, warm, cold, polished, rough and beachy.

Beyond mere aesthetics, Chicago has all the gravitas of the nation’s third biggest city—culture, nightlife, arts and good eats—with a Midwestern vibe, reasonable housing costs, deep dish pizza, and a miraculous infrastructure by which cars and a far-reaching public transportation system coexist in harmony.

Chicago EMPIRE Street scene

A street scene for TV’s Empire unfolds in Chicago in 2015. Courtesy of Fox

With hundreds of feature films and TV productions coming through each year and a healthy 30 percent statewide tax incentive, the Windy City draws coveted properties to its shores. 2015 saw the productions of Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, Melissa McCarthy’s forthcoming comedy, The Boss, Mark Williams’ The Headhunter’s Calling, the Sundance 2016-premiering Southside with You, broadcast TV’s highest rated series of the season, Empire, and Starz’s adaptation of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, to name a few.

Chicago also has a rich tradition of theater and improv comedy—with companies such as Goodman, Steppenwolf, TimeLine and Second City—from which some of our nation’s most beloved characters emerged. But while this talent pool often grew up in Chicago and then migrated to larger markets like New York and L.A., local filmmaker Kris Swanberg (writer-director of Sundance 2015’s Unexpected) is spearheading a trend toward staying put. “I’m hoping that when people like Joe [Swanberg, her husband] and me and other filmmakers here in the city choose to make work here, more and more talent will stay and it can become a symbiotic relationship.”

Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Amazon Pictures

Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios

Chicago cinephiles seem dedicated to keeping moviemaking talent local. A whopping 40 annual film festivals call Chicago home, and with eight film schools and a lion’s share of long-running indie cinemas, Chicago makes a great home for the independent moviemaker looking to crew up or make their own work. As long as you can stand the winters.

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8 Comments

  1. Chris

    January 21, 2016 at 12:24 am

    Man… Shreveport snubbed again. Louisiana snubbed again. Chicago? Really? Dallas? Hardly. I’d love to see some real love for one of the nation’s biggest states for production where resources, talent, and infrastructure flourish: Louisiana. All that without mentioning the huge indigenous filmmaker incentives from the state, the world’s largest cash prize short film contest. Hundreds of short films shot here a year from all over the country. Low cost of living, downtown currently being revitalized, home of louisiana’s #1 ranked beers, right at the intersection of I-20 (connecting Dallas and Atlanta) with I-49, which will eventually be a straight shot to New Orleans. Take a look. Shreveport deserves to be on this list more than about half the places.

  2. Tom Lenard

    January 20, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    I filmed this about 50 miles south of Albuquerque back in June of 1980. Crew based itself in Albuquerque. Hired a makeup person locally…His first name was Chip.. Casted Uncle Same in Georgia..rented film gear and Uncle Sam wardrobe in Atlanta and flew from there to Albuquerque. (Got caught in a major sand storm out in the desert..got no warning about such from NM Film Commission) Guess I was ahead of the curve eh…

    (Remember, at one time, it was truly thought that we were running out of oil..Oil Topping Point they called it)

    (Note: This was a reedit of the original film with a new temp track used to convey the public service message..project was not funded…Temp Track appplied was the incredible music of the incredible composer John Barry’s “Dances With Wolves” Wolf Theme..

    https://vimeo.com/14162036

    • Tom Lenard

      January 20, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      Done…..

      Meant to write “Uncle Sam”

  3. Michelle

    January 20, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Did Ant Man really employ that many “Georgians” or were many of them Californians who have moved here to work in the movies. I would be curious to know how many were actually Georgians.

    • Alice

      January 20, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Most of the crew was LA-based. And many also moved on to Captain America and likely to Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Ditto Furious 7, which spent $15 million just on hotels for the nonresident workers.

      On another note, X-Men Apocolypse filmed in Quebec, Canada…not Georgia. And Quantico only shot the pilot in Atlanta. The series moved to Montreal.

      • Rob

        January 21, 2016 at 7:39 am

        I don’t know where you’re getting your information from but it would be nice if you’d stop trying to sabotage our industry. As an atlanta local I can tell you that there are hundreds of locals working on these films and our union has grown by the hundreds each year that these films shoot here. Every single department has local workers in it, and we depend on these jobs to feed our families. Please stop the negative propaganda, it does nothing to help the locals that you pretend to care about.

        • Alice

          January 21, 2016 at 12:19 pm

          I am sorry if you think facts are sabotaging “your” industry. My facts about the Marvel films come from the set. The Furious 7 spending info comes from the MPAA in a press release.

          Sure, some projects have tons of locals. Some have almost 100% locals. And others have very few. It’s not good or bad, it’s just a fact.

      • Michelle

        January 21, 2016 at 8:57 am

        So that is just my point. I object to articles like this that make it look like the movie industry employed 3500 Georgia residents. I am not impressed that millions were spent on major hotel corporations. That does not put meals on Georgia resident’s tables or pay their bills. The industry needs to be employing residents. We have a lot of talented Georgia residents who belong to the local union who are being passed over for LA crews that the production brings in. They need to hire Georgian’s first then bring out of state workers in to cover the gap.

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