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The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2018: Small Cities and Towns

The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2018: Small Cities and Towns

Winter 2018

1. New Orleans, Louisiana

“I think some local crew jumped ship a few years ago when the tax incentives changed,” says local cinematographer Natalie Kingston (All Styles), referring to a move by state lawmakers to plug the 2015 budget gap with a three-year cap on tax credits at $180 million per year, down from $246 million in 2013. “But the industry is starting to thrive again,” she says. “It seems people have been moving to the city again…there have been tax incentives and opportunities like #CreateLouisiana, designed for Louisiana filmmakers to encourage homegrown independent productions.” One such feature, Lost Bayou, described as a “Cajun folktale,” will begin production in early 2018 with Kingston and other local creatives behind the scenes.

Speaking of renewal, the city’s population has returned to 95 percent of its pre-Katrina levels and a number of rebuilding projects and revitalization efforts are underway. Meanwhile, Hollywood’s continued presence in New Orleans is attested to by recent productions such as the Viggo Mortensen-starring historical drama Green Book, the James Caan crime drama Out of Blue and the heist film Cut Throat City starring New Orleans’ own Baby and Lil Wayne. New Orleans-based film producer Josh Penn (Beasts of the Southern Wild) offers this: “Louisiana is and always has been a singular place to make films, and with the adjustment of the tax credit this year it should encourage more films to come to town, and take advantage of all it has to offer.”

The cast and crew of the Hurricane Katrina-set heist feature Cut Throat City cut loose on their New Orleans set. Photograph courtesy of IMDb.

2. Savannah, Georgia

Could Georgia one day have two major production hubs duking it out for bragging rights? You never know. Atlanta is still #1 for now, but with a population of under 150,000 (and a cost of living 14 percent below the national average) Savannah is punching above its weight. Feature films that came to Savannah in 2017 include Galveston, with Elle Fanning, Killerman, with Liam Hemsworth, and The Front Runner, starring Hugh Jackman. In fact, local casting director and filmmaker Chad Darnell reports that The Front Runner “shot right in front of my home for a week—best commute ever.”

“When I cast Magic Mike XXL here in 2014 I couldn’t cast a single local actor because they lacked experience,” Darnell says. “Four years later, nearly 50-80 percent of the roles I cast are Savannah locals—there was a demand for work and the community answered.” Darnell adds that his own “Savannah-inspired” dark comedy script Darlene is prepping for a shoot in early 2018 (possibly in Savannah) with Pet Sematary’s Mary Lambert helming. Thriving film schools, an expanding base of vendors and negligible travel times throughout the region are keeping business booming, and we haven’t mentioned Savannah’s additional 10 percent local rebate for productions and crew relocation incentive, on top of Georgia’s already very competitive 30 percent tax credit.

Living the Dream‘s drone unit flying in Savannah. Photograph by Andy Young.

3. Santa Fe, New Mexico

To say there’s a wealth of history in Santa Fe is an understatement, considering it’s the oldest state capital city in the U.S., dating back to 1610. Sharp-eyed tourists strolling down San Francisco Street will find a plaque commemorating the site of a long-gone Santa Fe jail that held legendary outlaw Billy the Kid throughout the winter of 1880. Two projects about New Mexico’s most notorious resident shot in Santa Fe in 2017: a TV pilot called At the End of the Santa Fe Trail and a film called The Kid, with Ethan Hawke as the Kid’s nemesis Pat Garrett. Both projects publicized their intentions to hire local New Mexicans during their shoots.

“Productions coming in from elsewhere now use 90-95 percent or more local crew and, increasingly, talent” says Eric Witt, Executive Director of the Santa Fe Film Office. “State and local government have put lots of resources into supporting the industry overall, training our crew and above the line talent so locals have the opportunity to make a good living in the business, and productions can source as much local cast and crew as possible.” New Mexico offers a 25-30 percent refundable tax credit with no minimum spend and a $50 million rolling cap, as well as lease-free location use of certain government lands/facilities. No wonder Santa Fe is seeing, as Witt says, an “explosion” of film-related activity.

Michelle Dockery (R) in Godless which filmed in Santa Fe last year. Photograph by Ursula Coyote, courtesy of Netflix.

4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“A lot has changed in Pittsburgh over the last several years,” says Kathryn Spitz Cohan, Executive Director of non-profit film group Film Pittsburgh. “Lots of factors have elevated Pittsburgh’s stature in general but they’ve also benefited the filmmaking community.”

Specifically, she cites an influx of young artists, a stable Pittsburgh crew base, true affordability, new cinema openings (she counts six that now offer at least partial indie fare) and a “skyrocketing” restaurant scene among factors that’ve made the city a more enticing draw for film professionals.

Pittsburgh creatives can take advantage of a 25 percent tax credit for films that spend a minimum 60 percent of their budget in PA, and those eligible may qualify for an additional five percent credit if the production is meant for national audiences. Cohan says that local productions will “always want more tax credits than they have at the moment,” but what’s on offer has been sufficient to draw in marquee productions such as Netflix’s Mindhunter and the Denzel Washington drama Fences.

The David Fincher-helmed series Mindhunter is set in Iowa, but is being filmed in Pittsburgh. Photograph courtesy of Netflix.

5. Ashland, Oregon

Although we might refer to a city with a population of only 21,000 as a hamlet, that would be taunting the pun police in Ashland’s case; the city is known for hosting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which stretches from February through October each year. Production is flourishing in the city, thanks to Oregon’s state tax incentives, a cash rebate of 20 percent on goods and services and 16.2 percent on labor for spends over $1 million. An increase in the state’s incentive budget that passed in 2017 also directed funds outside of Portland metro, another boon for Ashland-bound productions on top of an identical measure in 2016.

Quality of life is high for those who can spend to settle (some local restaurants even hold film noir nights), but Sid & Nancy director Alex Cox, who put down roots in Ashland, offers a word of caution: “Houses are overpriced due to California retirees and second-home owners, and rentals are in very short supply. If you’re making a living as a filmmaker, more likely you’ll live in an adjacent town like Talent or Phoenix, or in our big city, Medford—an increasingly cool place.” Cox concedes that Ashland is “a great-looking town, particularly in the fall and winter, and you could shoot a good film noir here. The city and residents welcome film production, but they don’t seem to be lowering the rents for filmmakers.”

Director Alessandro Circiello shoots Magic Carpet, the Search for Now in Ashland. Photograph by Mary Wilkins Kelly.

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