7. Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis is a home for blues, the famous Sun Studio, Elvis Presley’s Graceland… and a distinct independent film culture all of its own. Between July 2013 and June 2014, Memphis saw 81 film commission-assisted projects, which shot a total of 299 shooting days and generated 626 production jobs in the city.
Instead of tax incentives, Memphis doles out a 25 percent preferred cash refund administered by the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission on qualified in-state spending. The office also offers free office space on Beale Street to qualified productions.
The city is home to Malco Theatres, Inc., a fourth-generation, family-owned business with two boutique theaters which regularly host art films, independent films, and premieres of local filmmakers’ work. (Moviemakers looking to four-wall their projects, take note: Malco offers a run at all of their 33 regional theaters.) And don’t forget about festivals like our perennial Coolest Film Festival nominee, Indie Memphis, which brings the barbecue-tinged flavor of its home in contact with world-class cinema.
Memphis and Shelby County Film Commissioner Linn Sitler is the longest consecutively serving film commissioner in the U.S., and she’s seen it all: from the boom of studio filming of John Grisham novels The Firm and The Client, the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire!, Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt, to the city’s current era as a home for music videos and indies.
Sitler said, “There’s no such thing as a little project. Because we don’t have the tax incentives, we’ve lost projects to Georgia, but we still get episodic TV, corporate films, documentaries. One of our first clients was an independent filmmaker—Jim Jarmusch, when he shot Mystery Train. We still get lots of independent filmmakers.”
It’s one thing to shoot in a bustling, busy moviemaking city, and another to shoot in an environment of comparative intimacy, where you can be sure that careful, dedicated attention will be showered upon your project. Sitler recalled the birth of digital filmmaking, and how it charged every member of the Memphis community. “When director Craig Brewer did The Poor & Hungry in 2000, everybody was so excited. Digital was available, and everybody in Memphis was a filmmaker.” That feeling, Sitler said, persists today.