Big Cities: 11. Montreal, Quebec
You don’t have to be fluent in French to find your voice in Montreal. According to Someone Else’s Wedding writer-director Pat Kiely, “SODEC [Société de développement des entreprises culturelles] and Telefilm Canada in Quebec have a mandate to support auteur filmmakers. If you’re lucky enough to get funding, there’s a lot of freedom that comes with it. They provide an opportunity to make your movie.”
Montrealers’ laid-back joie de vivre is epitomized by their adorably nicknamed “Picnic Law:” Public alcohol consumption is prohibited unless said alcohol is “consumed in a park with a meal.” It’s a relatively affordable place to live compared to most North American cities—and if you’re longing to be stateside, New York is just an hour’s flight.
Montreal’s tax credits for moviemakers can reach up to 38.4 percent: 20 percent cash back on all expenses and 16 percent cash back on labor-based, computer-aided special effects and animation. (Visual effects is an especially booming aspect of the city’s film industry.) With notable film programs at l’Institut national de l’image et du son, Université de Montréal and Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, as well as prominent festivals including longtime genre favorite Fantasia International Film Festival, you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to follow in the footsteps of regional greats Xavier Dolan and Denis Villeneuve. And BTW, learning French is never a bad idea.
Big Cities: 12. Portland, Oregon
Portland: The go-to hub for moviemakers who are strongly pro-environment—and anti-sales tax. Though its cost of living is creeping up (currently 7.2 percent above the national average), it’s the price you pay to play in a local industry that generated $150 million in 2016. (And if you’re still poor in means, at least you’ll be rich in artisanal donuts and feminist bookshops.)
Recent Portland titles that contributed to that kitty include a bunch of high-profile indie features: Andrew Haigh’s Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny-starring Lean on Pete; The Competition, featuring Thora Birch and Chris Klein; David Devlin’s Bad Samaritan and Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, a Sundance 2017 premiere.
Film programs through Northwest Film Center, Portland State University, The Art Institute of Portland, Pacific Northwest College of Art and others are molding new generations into forward-thinking self-starters. Speaking of molding, America’s foremost indie animation studio, Laika, calls the city home, too.
With neighborhood movie theaters still a thing in Portland—where 70mm classics are regularly screened at the Hollywood Theatre, repertory and foreign programming are still popular at Cinema 21, and the Clinton Street Theater’s weekly Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screenings are still going strong—this town is a cineaste’s dream. And with the famed Powell’s Books and a thriving downtown cultural district (not to mention the most brewpubs on Earth, scientifically speaking), Portland truly has something for everybody.
Big Cities: 13. Dallas, Texas
A sprawling metropolitan area with a growing production scene, Dallas is on the cutting edge of animation, virtual reality and beyond. For example, animation studio Reel FX, the company behind Free Birds and The Book of Life, is headquartered in Dallas and is involved in several upcoming virtual reality endeavors, including the Oculus VR for Good project. Notable 2016 Dallas indie features were James Franco’s Kill the Czar and A Ghost Story from David Lowery, whose Sailor Bear production company with James M. Johnston and Toby Halbrooks is a point of local pride.
Though its close proximity to Austin might lead some to overlook it, Dallas’ own festival calendar is nothing to mess with, with annual events like the hip Oak Cliff Film Festival, Dallas International Film Festival and Dallas VideoFest in the mix. Throw in the selection in nearby Denton and Fort Worth, and you’ll be a busy moviegoer.
Dallas-dwellers reap the benefits of having no state or local income tax (really!), a great housing market and an unemployment rate under 4 percent. Whether you’re setting up home base or stopping by for an on-location quickie, your first rodeo in Dallas may not be your last.
Big Cities: 14. Houston, Texas
In true Texas fashion, Houston is living and working big: Currently two million people strong, the city housed 253 different productions in 2016, generating a direct spend of $20 million. And, as one of the nation’s most diverse cities, Houston is leading the charge for representation, with Houston African Film Festival, Houston Latino Film Festival, Queer Hippo International LGBT Film Festival and others.
While Texas tax incentives have dipped of late, initiatives like the city’s biennial $30,000 Houston Filmmaker Grant, matching funds for promising young guns, are giving reason for local independents to stay home, and to shoot, on the range. ProductionHub recently named Houston one of the fastest growing cities for corporate video production, too, which points to a sustainable source of pay-the-bills day jobs (coupled with a cost of living below the national average).
Many shoots within the city don’t require a permit, and the resources of other Texas cities are mere hours away.
Big Cities: 15. San Diego, California
Beach-centric, with the world’s best fish tacos and geeks flocking annually to cosplay at Comic-Con, San Diego is ripe for the taking. A steep price comes in exchange for that enviable quality of life—as 2016 came to a close, residents reportedly paid on average over $1,700 per month for a one-bedroom. But otherwise, the world is your avocado.
Proximity to L.A. means that many travel north to access production services and facilities, but local options are solid, like rental house San Diego Film Equipment and full-service studio KPBS Production Services. Recent production activity has leaned episodic: Netflix’s Ingobernable, Fox’s Pitch and TNT’s Animal Kingdom.
The best thing may be that the City of San Diego is investing in film for the future—a dedicated official film staff was hired in 2015, and upcoming initiatives include a user-friendly online permit application system, regional location gallery and production directory. San Diego will be anything but a fair-weather film friend in the future, so moviemakers warming to the idea of the SoCal lifestyle may want to strongly consider it.