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The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2018: Big Cities

The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2018: Big Cities

Annual Lists

6. Albuquerque, New Mexico

ABQ Trolley Co., which offers open-air trolley tours of famous Breaking Bad locations at $65 a pop, is just one local business still benefiting from a smash TV hit that chose Albuquerque over L.A. due to ABQ’s 25-30 percent refundable tax credit, with no minimum spend. The next big deal production could be the Margot Robbie-starring 1930s gangster saga Dreamland, which filmed in ABQ in fall and was expected to employ approximately 100 New Mexico crew members, 18 New Mexicans in principal roles, and 225 New Mexico extras, according to the Film Office. Ann Lerner, Director of ABQ’s Film Office, attributes the inflow of production to a concerted effort at cutting red tape and one-stop film permitting. “The state also offers a unique Film Crew Advancement Program (FCAP), which gives productions a 50 percent reimbursement of a crew member’s wages when this on-the-job training advances their skill set,” she said.

Like so much of the Southwest, ABQ is particularly proud of its long, storied history: Lerner points out that Thomas Edison’s company came to Isleta Pueblo, a tribal community 13 miles south of ABQ, in 1897 to shoot 50 seconds of footage of Native American children filing out of a one-room schoolhouse. The city’s 40-year-old mayor, Tim Keller, whom Lerner describes as “extremely film friendly” talks up not only the city’s crew base and good-paying jobs on offer, but also the community’s diversity, exquisite scenery and 310 days of sunshine, painting a picture of work-life balance that prospective newcomers should appreciate.

Albuquerque doubles for Afghanistan in NBC/Universal’s production of The Brave in 2017. Photograph by Lewis Jacobs.

7. Boston, Massachusetts

Massachusetts’s film tax credit, equal to 25 percent of a feature’s local production and payroll (and no annual or project caps), has so successfully incentivized in-state moviemaking that it’s even caused some political controversy, with detractors asking for a salary cap to offset what they view as the state subsidizing movie star paydays. (Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Mexico already have such caps, it was argued.) The salary cap-introducing measure was dropped in July, though, and political squabbles didn’t dissuade looky-loos from catching a glimpse of Denzel Washington this past fall, in town to film Equalizer 2, or cast a pall on the filming of the latest X-Men saga, the horror-tinted New Mutants, which wrapped its Boston shoot in September. Speaking of horror, the Stephen King and J.J. Abrams series Castle Rock began filming in Lancaster, Massachusetts around the same time, part of a drive to “push-out” of Boston into surrounding rural areas, where there are lower costs. State figures indicate 23 film and TV productions came to Massachusetts in 2016, mostly to Boston and surrounding enclaves, while as of September of 2017 there were already 21, some filming in far-flung locales such as Orange, Clinton, and Ayer, as well as Lawrence, which hosted Ben Affleck’s Live by Night in 2015.

Screen Gems’ 2018 crime saga Proud Mary, starring Taraji P. Henson, also took to Lawrence earlier this year for part of its schedule. Proud Mary producer Paul Schiff offered praise for the commissioners who assisted the crew. “I’ve worked with lots of film commissions; some show up on your first day and take a picture and you never hear from them again, but in Boston, Lowell, and Lawrence, the film commission was pro-active. They helped solve problems with us which made for smooth pre-pro and production,” he says. Schiff also compared his experience of Boston in 2017 positively to his last work visit, filming Mona Lisa Smile in 2003. “This time around I found the crew pool deeper, competitive with New York or Hollywood, easily. I was impressed and pleased with the crew and the support, particularly compared to when I was there last. There was a sense of support for our picture, and a willingness to go the extra mile.”

Boston’s iconic State House is a prime New England locale for moviemakers making in-state productions. Photograph by Tim Grafft.

8. Toronto, Ontario

“Hollywood North” is a nickname applied to both Vancouver and Toronto, but in the latter’s case, maybe “TV Land” would be more apt: Toronto is riding a wave of peak TV, having pulled in $950 million in 2016 for TV production, and only $274 million for film in the same year. Close to another billion in 2016 was attributed to animation, commercials and VFX. Estimates compiled over summer predicted 500 English-language scripted shows to be produced in North America in 2017, up from 455 in 2016, with Toronto snagging much of that business due to refundable federal tax credits and world-beating infrastructure. A detail that tells the story in another way: CBS’s Star Trek: Discovery is being shot on Pinewood Toronto Studios’ largest sound stage, formerly utilized by blockbusters such as Suicide Squad, Total Recall (2012), and Pacific Rim. Get the picture?

Don’t count movies out yet, though. Toronto mayor John Tory made visits to Los Angeles and India in 2017, partly to sell moviemakers in those movie capitals on the benefits of moving to Toronto. Notable films shooting in Toronto in 2017 included Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, the Christoph Waltz/Annette Bening crime drama Georgetown (doubling for Washington, DC), and The Widow (doubling for Manhattan), with Chloë Grace Moretz. One complaint that’s bubbled up among film partisans of late is that Toronto’s glut of TV shows is crowding out feature production simply because some shows remain on their stages for years; demands to build more stages and spaces are growing.

With a cost of living more or less in line with the best “movie cities” in the U.S., Toronto is a perennial draw. On the livability front, it boasts numerous contemporary art centers and galleries, large downtown parks, public gardens, and a performing arts scene that counts more than fifty ballet companies alone—the kind of place any film professional can find an culture-rich life. Toronto is the sort of world-class city that has dinosaurs: You can hop on one of the city’s clean, well-maintained subway cars and head to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the bones of a T-Rex any time. Not bad, eh?

Aaron Sorkin setting the table for a scene from the Toronto-shot Molly’s Game, starring Jessica Chastain. Photograph courtesy of STXfilms.

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.”

Ty Roberts’ The Iron Orchard, about a 1930s West Texas oil worker, went before cameras in Austin. Photograph by Van Folger.

10. Montreal, Québec

“I grew up watching Batman and Star Trek dubbed in French,” says Montreal-born director and editor Saul Pincus (Nocturne). “French pop culture meets English pop culture—that can’t help but affect the craftspeople who make movies in Montreal. It’s a great place to shoot because it has a large, experienced talent pool that understands levels of productions, from the largest to the smallest. It can also pass for itself, or North America, or Europe.”

Pincus’s endorsement is borne out by the sheer variety of productions that’ve recently planted a flag in Montréal, from the gargantuan (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) to intimate fare such as Kim Nguyen’s stock trading drama The Hummingbird Project, to Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking, which is set in the future and will presumably avail itself of Montreal’s world-class VFX infrastructure—“more of a reason tax incentive-wise to stick around after you’ve shot,” adds Pincus—to create an imagined world.

As a world-class VFX hub, the city recently hosted the workload of films such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Blade Runner 2049, and Quebec’s National Film & TV Commissioner Chanelle Routhier cited “the rise of VFX in the film and TV industry” as one of the central draws Montreal boasts more of than other cities competing for productions. Other factors include the construction of a second major studio, stable tax incentives ($250,000 threshold to access), specific VFX tax incentives, and the competitive Canadian dollar. Add in that Montreal is five hours from New York, with 350-plus hotels and 6,000 restaurants, is gorgeous, and has a remarkably inexpensive cost of living, and it’s not surprising that it’s so far been able to retain its storied hipness.

On the Basis of Sex shoots in Montreal. Photograph courtesy of Quebec Film and Television Council.

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  1. Tom Luca says:

    Very interesting and a heated topic amongst states fighting for MPIs for their economy. Thank You for sharing, this needs to be seen in New Jersey.

  2. Kim Kelln says:

    You might want to add Calgary, Alberta to your list. Not as big as Vancouver or TO, but certainly lots of action, especially for TV – Fargo, Tin Star, Wynona Earp, Hearland, Hell on Wheels. Not to mention the Calgary Film Centre ( with 50K square feet (4700 square meters) of sound stages. Plus equipment and crews.

  3. Charles Edgeworth says:

    I made a movie in Oklahoma. In 2015 we shot “Help! My mother is a chin!” In fifteen days . it received no mention at the Oscars despite it being shot in colour with two different cameras , a professional actress and a heartwarming narrative about the often ignored voices of people who are born as a chin. No arms to hug the needy, no feet scamper like a sprite through an enchanting forest. Nothing. Only chin.

    Am I expected to believe that the films lack of success is no fault of Oklahoma? Ha!

    Also, to the king stranger who pointed me to the medicine isle of walgreens Oklahoma. I owe you a tremendous debt. You’re kind intervention not only saved me from an embarrassing self-shitting scenario but it saved my trousers which are of tremendous sentimental value(due to me winning them at a carnival. I successfully guessed the weight of a large lady with a beard)

  4. Pablo says:

    You definitely forgot about Mexico City. Over 120 movies produced in 2017 easily beats most of the cities on this list. Plus a lot of Hollywood Blockbusters and Netflix series shoot all around the year in Mexico City.

  5. William Morris says:

    Philadelphia is a complete mess. There is no communication from the Film Office no one can ever find out anything about any production. The self created money laundering PAFIA boasts their dues money goes to hire a lobbyist for film tax credits. 1 person. They are pulling in almost 50 dollars a head from thousands of actors. The tax credits themselves are sold and pawned like a cheap hooker. Philadelphia gets nothing while Pittsburgh production’s use most of the credits. The casting company here hire non union actors for SAG union spots while SAG actors are not called in for these principle role auditions. We here in Philadelphia demand change and regulation of tax credits and changes in how casting operates. Union work is so sparse everyone has to travel to New York to work. The productions that do film here do not follow union rules and the SAG union spends more time filing claims against these productions to get actors money owed to them, instead of trying to promote more union work like they want to. Our council members in Harrisburg won’t answer calls or even return calls from Philadelphia. This city is in need of repair and change in the entertainment industry. Thank God we have M Night and Sly Stallone who still support Philadelphia.

  6. Mavis says:

    How far North Carolina has fallen. Before 2010 and the GOP takeover of our government, we were THIRD after CA and NY. Georgia’s Republicans had no problem with incentives and took the long-term approach. Too bad for the vendors, crew and talent that have been lost after a 30+ year legacy.

  7. Brent Harris says:

    Hi my name is Brent harris , I’ve done construction in Oklahoma since the early 80s, my dad owned a cabinet shop and i’ve worked in several homes all over Oklahoma, I have an idea for an Oklahoma based reality TV show, The whole time I was doing residential construction I left a very extensive trail of hidden objects and messages and hints that lead to other homes we did, I think it would be neat to go to two of the homes and have the homeowners compete to find things in their home that were left behind when the home was under construction, they could compete for money and prizes and what ever damage they do to their home will be fixed ,preferably with Oklahoma contractors, I hid plenty of things in these homes and most homes should lead to another home which start the whole process over again, I think it would make for a fun and entertaining show, if you have ideas on how to make this happen please contact me at 405-613-5426

  8. Justin Urface says:

    Albuquerque, New Mexico better place to work in the film business than Boston or Toronto? Ugh. It’s an awful place to live.

  9. Gweilojoe says:

    I don’t quite get the criteria? How could Atlanta possibly be ahead of Vancouver? On every single measure there used Vancouver was ahead. Then throw in the fact that Vancouver is continuously ranked one of the top 3 cities in the world to live and Atlanta doesn’t make the top 50. So i am going to call BS on this list!

    • CSmith says:

      Gweilojoe, you obviously know nothing about the film industry, cause if you did you would know that many TV shows and movies have been shooting in ATL/Georgia for years now, including the Walking Dead.

    • Bravewall says:

      I work in the Van industry, and even I’ll concede the top spot to Atlanta… At least for now. Besides TWD, the most popular MCU movies are done there, and the Georgia peach is seen at the end of plenty other films. But another reason, as this list is about living and working, Atlanta is a much more affordable place to live. Vancouver is expensive, as is L.A. yes our business is booming and growing exponentially, but we are being gouged by living expenses. So for that reason more than any other Atlanta is where I would go to work, if I was American. But I’m quite happy here, just surviving.

  10. Andy Astro says:

    Since the Hunter TV series and the ’60s film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was filmed in San Diego and that Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like It Hot was filmed across the harbor in Coronado, why isn’t San Diego @ the top of this list?? Not to mention Rachel Welch and the Barbie sisters are from San Diego. And whutz not to luv of the La Jolla & Torrey Pines part of San Diego?

  11. Bradely says:

    Really interesting story. Los Angeles, California is my dream city. I am a blogger and pretty good with reviewing movies. From next year I will pursue my passion for writing and acting. Let’s see which city!

  12. Rozy says:

    I live in Seattle and the city is mostly supportive to large-scale film projects. The tax incentives are not as good as other cities. WA state almost did away with their tax incentive program until filmmakers fought to keep it. There are many talented filmmakers and crew here but it’s not easy to make a living in film here (unless its corporate commercial work). Vancouver, BC seems like the better place to be.

  13. Does anyone know anything about film making in Buffalo, NY?

  14. alex says:

    and the title implies that the world has shrinked to the size of North America. Of course! What’s the point in living elsewhere?

    • Vladislaw says:

      And you know who reads their site? A global audience or a north american?

      • Heta says:

        Anyone who googles something along the lines of “best cities for movie production” will find this list. Including me, someone who’s never stepped foot on American soil.

  15. Houston is now the 3rd largest city in America, with the lowest cost of living of any major city in the USA. It is also the home of the 52nd Annual WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, the oldest Indie Film Festival in the whole wide world. WorldFest gave 1st honors to Spielberg, George Lucas, Ang Lee, the Coen Brothers, John Lee Hancock, David Lynch, Randal Kleiser, Oliver Stone, John Lee Hancock and literally hundreds more. Every April WorldFest discovers the Spielberg’s and Ang Lee’s of tomorrow. This year the 52nd Worldfest is April 5th through the 14th, with more than 1,000 Intl filmmakers attending and premiering more than 200 films.

  16. Lizzy says:

    It’s be cool if you can updated this, Since now that a lot has changed this year.. I wonder will GA still remain number one for filmmakers?? Looks like some of the film studios might move out to find another state that is more friendlier to women rights…

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