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Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2015: Top 10 Big Cities

Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2015: Top 10 Big Cities

Winter 2015

All this week, we’re releasing the 2015 edition of our annual Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker list, in three parts: the Top Five Towns, Top Five Small Cities, and Top 10 Big Cities in the United States. Where should you make your next film—and your next home? Previously we ranked our favorite towns and small cities; finally we’re unveiling the 10 most filmmaker-friendly big cities in America.

Director Wim Wenders once argued, in a speech entitled “In Defense of Places” delivered at photographic exposition Photo LA, that places in film are taken for granted; that they can be as important as the story. In fact, story and characters may be dictated by their place within a place, so to speak. Wenders’ thoughts ring particularly true now that filmmaking has become increasingly decentralized across the United States. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the digital revolution is that stories can be told anywhere. Nobody has to follow the well-worn paths of decades past; instead, we can blaze new trails. The moviemaker of 2015 is free to explore fertile new cinematic territory, inhabiting it with characters at once unique and universal.

So welcome to MovieMaker’s annual countdown of the Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker—the 20 best communities for moviemaking in the United States this year. As with last year’s list, we’ve categorized our places into three pools: Big Cities (pop. 400,000 and up), Small Cities (pop. 100,000 to 400,000), and Towns (pop. under 100,000); numbers are based on actual city population, rather than metro area.

Morgan Jon Fox shoots the web series Feral for Sawed-Off Collaboratory Productions in Memphis. Photograph by Breezy Lucia

Morgan Jon Fox shoots the web series Feral for Sawed-Off Collaboratory Productions in Memphis. Photograph by Breezy Lucia

We hope these brief overviews may help you decide if a place has the right atmosphere and infrastructure for your moviemaking style and your lifestyle. As usual, all places were rated according to six criteria: Film Production in 2014 (shooting days, number of productions, dollars generated), Film Community and Culture (film schools, festivals, independent theaters, film organizations), Access to Equipment and Facilities, Tax Incentives, Cost of Living, and a General category that includes lifestyle, weather, transportation and other “livability” categories. These factors were compiled into a rubric, distributed to film commissions across the country, and the resulting information, along with our own research and insight from sites like and, provided the final results. Along the way, we spoke to working moviemakers in each city and town—that’s right, people who actually make their living in these places—who told us their stories of career success and personal fulfillment.

Of course, no matter how objective we strive to be, a community’s true spirit isn’t perfectly quantifiable, and we all know that nuances of culture aren’t as clear-cut as state lines. Case in point: Albuquerque and Santa Fe, two places on this year’s list, are a mere 62 miles apart, but their vibes are as different as Los Angeles and San Francisco (Unlike Los Angeles and San Francisco, though, crews in New Mexico take better advantage of that short distance, commuting to work in both.) Want to make a case for your hometown? Send a letter to [email protected]. We’d love to hear where you live and shoot—even if it’s outside of the United States entirely (now recruiting: a volunteer army of researchers for that article, hopefully to appear here in 2016…)

One thing everyone we spoke with this year seemed to have in common: Moviemakers love where they’re living, and would love to talk you into making their place yours, too.





On the Cusp:





10. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is a city with a distinctly different, but no less dynamic, vibe from its Northern sister Austin. Like most of Texas, the unemployment rate is relatively low compared to the rest of the country—4.7 percent—and the city’s cost of living ranks among the lowest among large metropolitan cities in the U.S.

While we’re talking numbers, note that the San Antonio Local Filmmakers Grant, established in 2012, awards $25,000 annually to a local with a feature in pre-production. Also, the Supplemental San Antonio Incentive gives qualified productions an extra 2.5 percent to Texas’ base rate tax incentive (of up to 20 percent).

Equipment rental houses include Indie Grip and Bull Grip, with production and post facilities at Geomedia, Bauhaus Media, Apple Productions and Cibolo Films. The city requires virtually no shooting permits, other than for the major attractions of the famous River Walk and the Alamo Plaza.

The local film community is less extensive than Austin’s, but a similar sense of intimate mutual support rules. Writer-director Pablo Véliz (whose La Tragedia de Macario screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006) says, “San Antonio’s a big city, yes, but it’s a very small community. When something is happening, we all know about it because one of us is on every set. It’s like one big high school—‘I may not know Joey, but I know Joey’s friend because we had Physics together.’”

Veliz says that it’s the variety of locations in his native San Antonio that appeals to him. “I could be filming in a very gritty alley in a big city and, 20 miles away, in the country for a Western look; then I could move to a suburban location. People are receptive to us filming in their locations—small businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations. For independent film, which requires creative storytelling, we have a good canvas to work from in San Antonio.”

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  1. SomeGuyInSA says:

    “San Antonio … from its Southern sister Austin.”

    Did any one look at a map before they wrote this?

  2. Pfl says:

    San Franciscos minimum wage is not $15. More like $11.25?

    • Mark Sells says:

      Thanks for pointing that out to us, Pedro! You’re absolutely right. Currently, San Francisco’s minimum wage stands at $11.05 per hour. Back in November 2014, the city approved measures to bring that up to $15, but it will be a gradual increase over the next three years. $12.25 per hour in May 2015. $13 per hour in July 2016. And one dollar every year until July 2018 when it lands at $15. We’ve updated the article to reflect the change.

  3. GT says:

    Regarding Austin resident filmmakers you could also mention Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green

  4. Rain says:

    dont forget about the first web fest in Texas!

  5. Martin says:

    Chicago? Are you serious? Because of a couple TV shows and a few movies? Please tell me where all the job postings are for film related jobs in Chicago? Because I can’t find them.

  6. Rip says:

    You might want to add “in the USA” to your title. There are cities and filmmakers outside the US after all. There are several Canadian Cities that could knock many of the US cities on this list down several notches.

  7. Nick says:

    I noticed Seattle has been left off the list this year. Have they dropped the ball or did they just miss out?

    Thinking of moving there this year….

    • Mark Sells says:

      Good eye, Nick. Yes, Seattle has routinely been in our Top 10 list over the years. As a matter of fact, it’s been in our Top 5 over the last three. But year to year, lots of things change from tax incentives to film production. Even though other cities may have upped their game and are on target to outperform Seattle in 2015, it’s still a terrific city for moviemaking. Not to mention, they have a pretty good team playing in the Super Bowl.

  8. Dastardly says:

    This article is a joke, the writer knows nothing about the film industry.

  9. Alan G Button says:

    I have a 117 page screenplay “Dance of the Firewalker” that needs serious attention by a producer/director. This fictional mystery takes place in Maine and has many twists and turns surrounded by ancient Native American beliefs. Anyone interested in pointing me in the right direction?

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