As an independent moviemaker, your life tends to be a mobile one.

You’re forever in search of the perfect landscapes, networks, resources and people to take your film from good to memorable, or even to life-changing. And while you’re at it, if you’re like most of us you often find yourself weighing the pros and cons of picking up stakes and relocating to your next home base, where the work promises to be a little bit steadier and the quality of life just a little bit more to your liking.

Whether you’re considering a move in 2017 or just a new place to shoot, we have you covered. For the 17th year running, after weeks of research, interviews with film commissions and surveys of moviemakers, we’ve assessed and ranked the best North American cities to practice your craft. Notice we said “North American,” not just “American.” In our post-election haze we’ve also included three Canadian cities on this year’s list. (Because, let’s face it, options are not bad things to have.)

Day-to-day living in disparate cities is notoriously difficult to compare, of course, even through the lens of moviemaking. That said, our criteria is as follows: film production in 2016 (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 encapsulates lifestyle, weather, transportation and other socio-cultural markers. (“Breweries per capita” is one of them. Seriously.)

This year, we skewed big, compiling a list of 15 big cities (population 400,000 and up—that’s city population, not metro) along with a shorter list of five small cities and towns, for those who like a more intimate setting for creativity. Each list also ends with three cities that were “On the Cusp.” (Who can resist an honorable mention?) As usual, you’ll see some familiar names and some up-and-comers—and yes, one of the lists has a tie for the top spot. We’re confident that the places on these lists offer the finest array of filmic institutions, backdrops and good ol’ community-driven energy available. Sink your roots into any of them, and you really can’t go wrong. What you can do, we hope, is find your people, and from there help to write the next chapter of North American cinema.


Big Cities: 1. New York, New York and Vancouver, British Columbia / 3. Los Angeles, California / 4. Atlanta, Georgia / 5. Chicago, Illinois / 6. Austin, Texas / 7. Toronto, Ontario / 8. Albuquerque, New Mexico / 9. Boston, Massachusetts / 10. Memphis, Tennessee / 11. Montreal, Quebec / 12. Portland, Oregon / 13. Dallas, Texas / 14. Houston, Texas / 15. San Diego, California / On the Cusp: San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Washington, D.C.
Small Cities and Towns: 1. Savannah, Georgia / 2. Santa Fe, New Mexico / 3. Providence, Rhode Island / 4. New Orleans, Louisiana / 5. Richmond, Virginia / On the Cusp: Ashland, Oregon; Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Winter 2017 issue, on newsstands February 7, 2017. Illustrations by Kim Salt.

Read last year’s lists here: Big Cities, Small Cities and Towns. Is there a place you think should be in the running for 2018? Tell us where and why in the comments!

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