9. Austin, Texas
Once a James Cameron production has filmed in your town, you’re a big-league hitter, if you weren’t already. This year Austin played host to the Cameron-produced, Robert Rodriguez-directed $200 million sci-fi epic Alita: Battle Angel, which wrapped in summer, in addition to the period-Texas oil drama The Iron Orchard and Andrew Bujalski’s indie comedy Support the Girls. AMC’s Pierce Brosnan-starring drama The Son and the Rooster Teeth-produced sci-fi web series Day 5 both planted roots in Austin, while hometown hero Rodriguez, whose famously DIY-capable Troublemaker Studios is based in Austin, also kicked off a reality filmmaking show called Rebel Without a Crew in 2017.
Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn TV series left Austin in its third season for New Mexico back in 2016, with the director blaming a lack of incentives. That storyline continued over summer with the Austin Film Commission going to the State Capitol for a showdown with lawmakers over attempts to slash the tax program. AFC’s Brian Gannon went on record at the time saying it would be “detrimental” if the legislature could not agree on a fix. The rebate was ultimately restored to $22 million (with allowance for discretionary increases), down from a peak of $95 million in 2014-15. The film industry spent $442 million on Texas productions during that peak, and the amount dropped to $300 million in 2016-17. An ideological divide in the legislature means the drama will continue into 2019.
Tax drama won’t slow down Austin’s breakneck growth, though, with community-driven start-ups such as Rooster Teeth employing hundreds. The company that began with live-action shorts, series, animations and podcasts now has two feature films under its belt, with a third announced. Meanwhile, more than two dozen festivals have added to Austin’s reputation as a scene city with its own unique culture.
Heavyweight festivals like the screenwriter’s haven Austin Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, and SXSW, and the city’s flyable three-hour distance from both N.Y. and L.A., all make it a mainstay on any moviemaker’s map. “If you make movies and you participate in the community, you cease to be simply a local creative and you become part of a family,” says Doctor Strange and Sinister co-writer and Austin resident C. Robert Cargill. “We’re family out here—and I live where my family lives.”