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The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

Inside MM - Best Of

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.

Bad Santa 2 was one of many films that shot in Montreal last year. Photograph by Jan Thijs / Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures and Miramax

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.

Track and field: Lean on Pete, Andrew Haigh’s adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s novel, shot in Portland and Eastern Oregon in 2016. Photograph by Scott Green

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.

DP Bongani Mlambo on the Dallas set of Johnathan Brownlee’s feature Three Days in August. Photograph by Jeff Berlin

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.

Plains, cranes and automobiles: A crew sets up in Houston. Photograph by Bo Svensson

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.

For the moviemakers behind Japanese feature Dance, San Diego is beachy keen. Photograph by Victor Soriano

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.

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  1. K Matsuoka says:

    A robust incentive providing solid work opportunites, a strong commitment by the local community in developing the next generation, a state funded creative development program pairing young filmmakers with Hollywood professionals, and an internationally recognized film festival alone should qualify Honolulu for the list, add the beaches, year round tropical climate, and the availability of diverse locations and population (see ‘Lost’ and ‘Hawaii Five-0’) and the Aloha State should easily be a contender for the top 10.

    • Marty Lindsey says:

      Agreed! I’d love to shoot a film in Hawaii. Denver didn’t make the list because our incentive package is shite. However, there were 3 films from Colorado at Sundance this year.

      • Adam Stanton says:

        Silly question, how bad is the Tax incentive in Colorado ? I looked at the Colorado Film Office and their incentives are at 20%. My guess is that it’s not great compared to 40% in Atlanta ?

  2. Dan Stoddart says:

    Also, as the feature “The Mountain Between Us” discovered, the east Kootenay’s area is also a great spot with an international airport (Cranbrook) and endless camera friendly locations. Not to mention a few knowledgeable locals who can create great scenery!

  3. Casey Moore says:

    New Orleans has some great vendors who will work with indie filmmakers. We also have a lot of crew who have worked both the studio films and the low budget indie films (I am one of the people).

    Also, the credits didn’t take a blow. We simply have a cap now. The credits are still there, and smaller films can get their credits as well.

    We are also getting better with places to see movies.

  4. I am so happy to see my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio here. When I started my company Prelude2Cinema, people always told me I couldn’t be a real filmmaker unless I moved to Hollywood. I am so glad that ideal is finally changing and you can make movies anywhere even in Cleveland.
    Alex Michaels

  5. Liam Wilmoth says:

    As always, a great compilation of places to be as a moviemaker. Nice to see some international coverage as well, like Toronto. As a former resident, I’ve known a handful of people who have had great experiences directing and on the set of films in the area. And all the best people come out of Canada, ey?

    Cheers from Ontario,

  6. Don O'Keefe says:

    So, Pittsburgh is in the small cities and towns category and Albuquerque is in Big cities? Using the city proper population is a strange choice indeed… Don’t you realize that the political structures of city limits bias lists like this to west coast or sunbelt (newer) cities? Don’t you also realize that the same political structures have no effect on economic opportunities for filmmakers? Or do filmmakers usually just refuse to shoot anything if they have to cross a county line? Get real.

  7. AustinCleveland says:

    Cleveland/Pittsburgh are both bigger than Austin… Hmm…

  8. Kese says:

    When clicking on the Albuquerque link it takes me to Memphis, TN instead…

  9. Ron Merk says:

    I live and work in San Francisco as a filmmaker, film distributor and film preservationist. I was very surprised not to see San Francisco on the list of best places to live and work as a filmmaker in your 2017 survey. There are many filmmakers working here, thousands of them, and some of the best support from organizations, film festivals, and the City of SF. Add to that San Francisco, itself, is one of the most beautiful natural “backlots” in which to film, with great dining and entertainment, and it just doesn’t make sense that San Francisco did not make the list. We are a gigantic tech capital, too. Dolby’s new building is just one block from where I live, and I can literally see into the offices of Twitter from my apartment. It was very disappointing not to see our city on your list.

  10. angelo misterioso says:

    Yes, Santa Fe IS wonderful.
    But saguaros? They don’t exist here.
    Otherwise, nice artwork.

  11. w picket says:

    Savannah is great, until you get a gun put to your head walking down the street by someone who wants the $20 you might have in your wallet. If you’re lucky enough to avoid that, you still have to deal with the drugged up homeless population that harass tourists on every block. I don’t see the movie industry staying long once another area promises the same tax incentives.

  12. Larry Anderson says:

    Excuse me but Cleveland Ohio is no where near a small City where do you guys get this misinformation from Greater Cleveland covers 5 counties while the heart of Greater Cleveland which is Cuyahoga County in which Cleveland city proper is the county seat covers roughly 457 SQ Miles and thats not even including the Lake Erie Shoreline

  13. RT says:

    LOS ANGELES: You can make movies anywhere now. Unless you’ve just been offered a studio/TV directing gig, don’t fall into the LA trap. LA is like a casino. They tell you that if you just spend that extra money on a class, or on coverage, or on a pitch, or whatever, you’ll be close. The best advice I got while here in LA is to go and make films anywhere but here. It’s about the films you make, not where you live. Save your money and put it into your work. The cavalry in LA is NOT coming to help you. Everyone in LA has their own project and everyone wants something from someone else. You’re best to do your thing from wherever. Again, it’s about your film(s) not the parties and networking events you go to. The best place to network is at film festivals with your film. Unless you’re an actor and then yeah, you should be here in LA.

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