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The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2019: Big Cities

The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2019: Big Cities

Best Places to live and work as a moviemaker

Annual Lists

Big Cities

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Big things have been afoot for the home of Los Pollos Hermanos since Gus Fring went to that big chicken restaurant in the sky. Albuquerque has gone from an attractive boutique city on the production map to a marquee player, attracting over 50 major productions in the last three years. It’s also recently played host to the highly-anticipated Nicole Kidman drama The Goldfinch (which was expected to hire 173 New Mexico crewmembers), as well as the next project from Drive auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, the Amazon series Too Old to Die Young, similarly expected to employ 100 local crewmembers.

Nothing, though, could be bigger than the October news that industry-changer Netflix has chosen ABQ as the spot for a production facility (after reportedly being enticed by over $14 million in development funding) that could drop a billion into the local economy over a decade. Netflix original Godless and pick-up Longmire already call New Mexico home, and the Netflix news was big enough to overshadow a mixed bag of data released a month earlier. The numbers showed a modest, cyclical slowdown in spending (a fall from $506 million in fiscal year 2017 to $234 million in 2018’s budget year), which New Mexico film officials attributed to growing pains and claimed was offset by a healthy number of indie productions, including 38 in the million-dollar range.

The Sabrina Carpenter-starring road movie The Short History of the Long Road, began production in April. Director Ani Simon-Kennedy (Days of Gray) offered praise for the state’s unique natural architecture and the work ethic of ABQ crews. “The crew we had was unparalleled,” Simon-Kennedy says. “The level of heart they poured into our low-budget feature went above and beyond. Everyone was resourceful and reliable; New Mexico was the perfect setting for our road trip movie since you can get such varied landscapes. We shot in the spring when the weather was cooperative, but it can get unpredictable—from gorgeous blue skies to crazy thunderstorms and back in an hour.” The Short History’s DP Cailin Yatsko concurs, stating that “as soon as you leave, you find yourself missing that beautiful New Mexico sky.” She also acknowledges the tremendous influx of talent, money, and industry pouring into ABQ: “Our biggest challenge was really the fact that ABQ crews are so busy—we were lucky our schedule worked out so that we got such an incredible team.”

For those who continue to primarily associate ABQ with its breakout Breaking Bad franchise, good news: The Emmy-nominated Better Call Saul, set in the flip-phone era, was renewed over the summer for a fifth season, while ABQ merchants continue to meet demand for all things Walt, Jesse, and Saul. Local fixture Rebel Donut still offers the Blue Sky donut with a (perfectly legal) sprinkling of blue rock candy, while RV tours of prominent locations of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul continue to ferry superfans to over two dozen ABQ locations that are now part of TV history.

The Short History of the Long Road crew sets up a shot in Albuquerque, NM. Photograph by Lauren Segal

2. Atlanta, Georgia

“Georgia gets better for moviemakers every day,” says Ryan Millsap, Chairman & CEO of Blackhall Studios, a $70 million production facility that opened in early 2017 in Atlanta-bordering DeKalb County. It sits on around 100 acres and boasts nine sound stages, including one 40,000-square-foot stage rivaled only by Pinewood Atlanta Studios. “There’s nowhere in the world that has poured in more capital in the last four years to create world-class moviemaking facilities than the Peach State,” Millsap says. “And there’s nowhere with tax credits more solid and easy to access.” Millsap also calls Atlanta a cosmopolitan city that is “becoming more international every day” as it welcomes people from around the world who want to taste “big city life” in the South and sample a fantastic food, art, and symphony scene at a rate of nearly 10,000 a month. “The creative vortex that’s Atlanta, combined with Georgia’s quality of life, is a magical combination rivaled in few places,” he adds. “It’s awesome to be in the middle of that, and it’s fun to see other people feel it when they get here.”

Thirty-five miles southwest of Atlanta is another testament to the city’s expansion: a 234-acre purpose-built town called Pinewood Forest (co-funded by Pinewood Studios and Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy) that sits symbiotically beside the booming, 700-acre Pinewood Atlanta Studios, the blockbuster factory that hosted Spider-Man: Homecoming and has its own Home Depot. Envisioned as a mixed-use project boasting residential communities, hotels, and restaurants, Pinewood Forest began moving in residents in 2017 and has since laid plans for 15 miles of walking trails that will connect the perimeter. Artist renderings of the development’s central square show movie posters looming above the walkways, a reminder of the project’s foundational impetus.

With this much on the line, it’s easy to see why after a hard-fought Georgia gubernatorial campaign, industry watchers will be attentive to how incoming governor Brian Kemp treats an industry that delivered $2.7 billion in direct spending in fiscal 2017 alone. On the campaign trail Kemp promised to “push to preserve the film tax credit” despite pressure from fiscal Republicans for a scale-back (the state offers a no-sunset-date 20 percent base incentive on productions that spend $500,000 or more with another 10 percent padded in), a testament to the industry’s growing gravitas. (Before the 2008 revamp of the state’s tax incentive, Georgia’s entertainment industry brought in $241 million per year; last year, it brought in around $9.5 billion.) Marquee productions recently setting up shop in Atlanta include WB’s sequel to The Shining, the Ewan McGregor-starring Doctor Sleep, the third season of the Netflix horror nostalgia series Stranger Things, and an HBO pilot for a series (subsequently greenlit and Atlanta-bound) based on Alan Moore’s Watchmen. 

Ryan Gosling in a scene from Damien Chazelle’s First Man, which shot in parts of Atlanta. Photograph by Daniel McFadden, courtesy of Universal Pictures

3. Vancouver, British Columbia

As you might expect from the world’s largest VFX cluster, Vancouver’s 2018 dance card has been heavily populated by processor-reliant superhero shows, including Supergirl, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Arrow along with VFX-heavy series like Snowpiercer, starring Jennifer Connelly. On top of that a spate of intriguing studio films have made their way to the soundstages this fall: Projects recently filming include the Guillermo del Toro-produced fantasy horror film Antlers, with Keri Russell, the Aubrey Plaza-starring remake of Child’s Play, and Jordon Peele’s highly-anticipated series reboot of The Twilight Zone. (Secrecy is such a priority for the latter that cellphones are reportedly banned on set).

Figures released in July by provincial agency Creative BC show that for the 2017-2018 fiscal year there were 450 incentive-eligible productions in Vancouver supporting 60,000 workers and the BC area, as well as 250 local businesses catering to the industry, including 30 post companies and 100 animation and VFX companies. There was a 30 percent increase over the previous year in the number of productions qualifying for tax credits, for a total of 110 feature films overall versus 164 television shows. BC Creative figures also showed that 2017 was the first year in which British Columbia topped Ontario as the top Canadian destination for film/TV production, if only by a small margin, and noted that expansion into various corners of BC are proceeding apace, with new sound stages going up in Kelowna and on Vancouver Island.

“For two years running, metro Vancouver has been one of MovieMaker’s top two most welcoming cities in North America for moviemakers, both at the studio and indie level,” says Prem Gill, CEO, Creative BC. “The reasons are many, from a strong motion picture economy, film-friendly communities and a globally-recognized culture of industry collaboration to a rich and growing festival culture that promotes diversity, emerging talent and, importantly, environmental and social sustainability. It’s not just what we do in British Columbia—it’s how we do it that’s important.”

4. New York, New York

“Shooting in New York City is like being in the most exciting relationship of your life,” says Emma Tillinger Koskoff, producer of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film The Irishman. “But it can only be successful with a huge support system. I’ve shot all over the world and I can tell you I always find that system here. New York crews are exemplary—talented, committed, hardworking, loyal, professional, and fun.” Koskoff also praises the Mayor’s Office for their ability to meet “unique challenges” as well as the NYPD’s Movie/TV Unit, which she says tends to go above and beyond to get the job done. She adds: “New York is a great city to shoot in, but it can be arduous and expensive. Then again, what part of moviemaking is easy and inexpensive?” 

Erica Lee, producer of the upcoming trilogy capper John Wick: Chapter 3, struck a similar note, asserting that even if there are cheaper and potentially less-challenging alternatives, the downside is that they aren’t New York. “We love shooting in New York,” she says. “We decided early on when we were prepping Wick 1 to shoot in New York City even though it was cheaper to shoot in many other places. The scope and scale that the city brings to a film is unquantifiable. You also get amazing crews and actors; it can be challenging at times, but the city has become a real character of the film, part of its DNA.”

Four entries into our list, a theme is emerging: expansion. At the Crain’s Entertainment Summit in October, NYC’s film czar Julie Menin said one of the city’s film-related priorities in 2018 has been to spread production more evenly across the boroughs, noting that city stages were already quite full and expected to be more so. (Roughly half of the 12,000 permits submitted to NYC annually are Manhattan location permits.) In August, the Mayor’s Office began accepting proposals from media tenants who want to fill space in a $136 million development project at the Bush Terminal complex in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; there’s expected to be workspace for some 1,500 film and TV professionals (or photographers, sound engineers or emerging media artists, depending on who grabs it). 

“There’s never been a better time to be an aspiring film or TV professional in New York City,” Menin tells MovieMaker. “The industry is booming and opportunities abound. The Mayor’s Office has rolled out workforce programs to help diverse New Yorkers gain the skills they need to work in the industry, from post-training and free Made in NY career panels, to our Writers’ Room program in partnership with the WGA East.” Menin also notes that the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) is working on addressing the gender gap in media with the creation of a $5 million Women’s Film, TV and Theatre Fund. So, what could the city be doing better? There’s still room for more infrastructure, according to The Irishman producer Jane Rosenthal: “We have the best and most diverse talent above and below the line, but the additional state of the art facilities would be a welcome addition to the current landscape,” she says. “Movies and TV is over a $9 billion industry to the city and employs more than 130,000 New Yorkers.” 

Now, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a couple of the unique offerings that put NYC at least in the running for every moviemaker pondering a move. An exhibit celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, featuring original drafts, illustrations, and rare books on loan from Potter publisher Scholastic as well as J.K. Rowling’s personal archives, is open at the New-York Historical Society until January 27, 2019. For those seeking a more visceral experience, this past summer the New York Aquarium, off the Coney Island boardwalk, opened its decade-in-the-making exhibit Ocean Wonders: Sharks! A year-round exhibition featuring 18 kinds of sharks and rays among 115 marine species, the aquatic menagerie is in a 57,000-square-foot pavilion that includes an immersive Canyon’s Edge viewing precipice as well as a coral reef tunnel where visitors are surrounded by sharks. Film industry folk may feel right at home.

Director Chad Stahelski (L) on the set of John Wick: Chapter 3 in New York, a city producer Erica Lee says is part of the film’s DNA. Photograph by Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Lionsgate

5. Los Angeles, California

Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema, the center of life for many cinema-loving Angelenos, was shuttered for renovations for 2018. But never one to disappoint fans, Tarantino let his love for movies escape onto the streets of L.A. throughout summer and fall, dressing block after block of West Hollywood and the area in period storefronts, murals, billboards, theater marquees, and vintage rides for his ode-to-1969 epic, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—even filming inside Hollywood’s iconic Musso & Frank Grill, where movie stars have been sampling martinis and prime rib since 1919. The publicity over filming in the heart of “our beautiful city,” as West Hollywood’s Film Coordinator Eddie Robinson calls it, will hopefully not recede soon.

“West Hollywood is known as Creative City,” Robinson says. “It’s a welcoming home for creative professionals. We have benefits that support local creatives in their development, that address affordable housing and transportation, and for moviemakers that wish to film in the city there are benefits that can accommodate even the most limited production budgets.” He adds that these programs have been ongoing for years, and that the film office is used to lending a hand to productions big and small: “Filming in West Hollywood means working in a dense, urban environment, and we’re always happy to work with any production to help them get the shots they’re looking for.” 

Indie films are addressed in the state budget signed by outgoing Governor Jerry Brown in summer 2018, with non-public production companies receiving an increase in tax credits along with films that hire labor locally while filming outside of L.A.’s 30-mile zone. Brown’s budget extends the state’s tax credits to 2025 and maintains the annual rate of $330 million, while adding in new harassment reporting directives and diversity bonuses. On the latter, it creates a pilot program called the Career Pathways Training Program for preparing Californians from underserved communities for careers in below-the-line craft occupations. Major productions that filmed in L.A. and were incentivized in the third quarter include Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the Kristen Stewart-as-Jean Seberg thriller Against All Enemies, and Netflix’s Sandra Bullock-starring thriller Bird Box. 

Star Sandra Bullock and director Susanne Bier on the set of Bird Box in Los Angeles in 2018. Courtesy of Netflix

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