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.
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.”
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?
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.”
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.