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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

11. Boston, Massachusetts 

Although the subject of bitter political wrangling over the past three years, Massachusetts’ generous 25 percent tax incentive (with $50,000 minimum spend and no caps) was declared “here to stay” by a Boston news outlet in June 2018. The reasons: Once-fierce opposition to the incentive was seen to be M.I.A., and a consensus had emerged that the credits were having a net positive effect. The tax incentives will expire in 2023, so advocates for the breaks would be well-advised to not get too comfortable. 

A Netflix-produced political thriller, Wonderland, took to Dorchester, Boston for filming in October, with Mark Wahlberg on hand as the crew dusted the streets with a 

patina of fake snow for an upcoming scene. Around the same time, across town, another crew was putting down a layer of dirt to make that section of Boston look like it did in 1868 for the Greta Gerwig-directed adaptation of Little Women, starring Emma Watson. Local photographers captured horse-drawn buggies clomping down blocked-off streets while film cameras rolled. The Jessica Chastain-starring action film Eve also kicked off filming in Beantown during the fall, with cast and crew being spotted in the city’s Wayland suburb.

Below the radar of movie studio bigwigs is Boston’s humming festival scene, with the Boston Underground Film Festival prepping for its 21st annual run in 2019. Over the years the festival has attracted guest directors such as Don Coscarelli and Jason Eisener and in 2018 it was named one of MovieMaker’s 30 Bloody Best Genre Fests in the World. In 2019 the festival is promising a renewed focus on New England-based talent as well as more sci-fi and transgressive moviemaking.

Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum was transformed in October 2018 for the filming of writer-director Greta Gerwig’s Little Women in Boston. Courtesy of MA Film Office

12. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“When it came time to direct my first feature, The Honeymoon Phase, there wasn’t anywhere else I could imagine shooting it,” says Philadelphia-based director Phillip G. Carroll Jr. about his indie psychological thriller that wrapped in early 2018. “One reason why I love shooting in and around Philly is local excitement for film—people hear you’re making a movie, they want to get involved,” he said, while offering kind words for the Film Office. “The local office is another asset; they’re excited for every project that comes through the city, no matter the budget. Sharon Pinkenson, Executive Director, worked very closely with us and helped us to attain a Film Tax Credit worth 25 percent of our PA-based expenses. You can push that to 30 percent if you fulfill additional [production facility and stage] requirements.” 

Tax credits in the home of the Liberty Bell are capped at $65 million, seen as insufficient by some who’d prefer it be expanded to $100 million to attract marquee films like 2018’s hit Creed II, which wasn’t considered a lock to shoot in Philly despite the city’s connection to the Rocky brand. The film ultimately received $16.7 million in credits in exchange for incurring a minimum production spend of 60 percent in Pennsylvania. Another recent studio film to shoot in Philly was M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy-capper Glass, which gained approval for just under $7 million in credits.

For The Honeymoon Phase Carroll recalled that the Film Office helped the shoot secure a drone for skyline footage as well as a police escort and permits for a crucial scene inside the One Liberty Place skyscraper. He notes that “as long as you’re not shooting on government property or blocking roads you don’t need a permit, which is huge for low-budget productions” and that indie projects can take advantage of sound stages within city limits, as well as engage with colleges like Temple and Drexel. Also, he adds that Philly is driving distance to picturesque locations: “Within two hours you can be in the Pocono Mountains or on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, and we have all four seasons beautifully represented.” 

R to L: Director Phillip G. Carroll Jr., DP Joe Staehly, co-producer Yanni Rozes, and actors Chloe Carroll, Jim Schubin, and Brenda Crawley shoot a scene from The Honeymoon Phase atop Philly’s One Liberty Place Tower. Photograph by Ben Samuels

13. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“Oklahoma’s the most film-friendly place I’ve ever worked,” says indie moviemaker Lance McDaniel (Light From the Darkroom) who also serves as executive director of Oklahoma City’s deadCenter Film Festival. “Oklahoma offers diverse locations, experienced crews, a 37 percent cash rebate and the most welcoming communities,” he says, noting that while recently shooting a short film trilogy set in small-town Alva, Oklahoma, the chamber of commerce provided meals from local restaurants to thank the production for filming. “I did the films as a community-building art project, partially funded by the NEA,” he says.

The rebate has a $4 million annual cap per fiscal year and has been renewed through 2024; productions must have a minimum budget of $50,000 to qualify. One production to take advantage of the incentive is The Adventures of Jurassic Pet: Chapter 1, a family adventure film from director Ryan Bellgardt about a teen who rescues a dinosaur from a mad scientist. Bellgardt’s preceding film, The Jurassic Games, premiered in Oklahoma at the 2018 deadCenter festival at OKC’s renovated Tower Theatre. 

“There’s lots of things that make this community special for making movies,” Bellgardt says. “You can find great crews here that’ve worked on every size production. There’s also a great pool of local actors and everyone from grocery store owners to local police are excited to help you.” Bellgardt recalled once shooting a scene at a mansion in Oklahoma City in which actors were called upon to fire guns in the mansion’s direction. “This was a prominent neighborhood and we were nervous about getting permission to shoot the scene,” he says. “We called the police to let them know what we were doing and left fliers on everyone’s houses. Halfway through shooting the scene the OKC police showed up, and they just smiled and waved us on. Long as we have permission, that’s the attitude we run into when we shoot in Oklahoma.”

Ryan Bellgardt’s forthcoming The Adventures of Jurassic Pet was shot in Oklahoma City. Courtesy of Ryan Bellgardt

14. Portland, Oregon

“Without the new regional tax incentive, which gives an additional rebate back to productions shooting outside of Portland proper, I don’t think we could’ve made this film,” says moviemaker Lara Jean Gallagher, in post on her directing debut, the psychological drama Clementine. The film was primarily shot in Florence, Oregon, a coastal town three hours south of Portland with picturesque sand dunes, lakes, and forests. “I know a lot of states offer tax incentives to moviemakers, but I doubt any state is as eager to help low-budget independent projects,” she notes. “The Film Office was super hands-on and up front about how much we could expect back and how quickly.” 

The basic state incentive is a 20 percent rebate on qualified spend with $1 million minimum spend in-state for any project or TV series. Some recent series putting down roots in Portland include the spin-off Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists and the Netflix-Awesomeness show Trinkets, a YA series. Also throw in Netflix’s mockumentary series American Vandal, which was canceled after two seasons but is being shopped around. 

Writer-director Sabrina Doyle shot her relationship drama Lorelei (produced by The Florida Project’s Kevin Chinoy) in 21 days in and around Portland through October and November, with an almost exclusively local cast and crew. “I’m a longtime fan of Twin Peaks and its Pacific Northwest setting, and I’ve always wanted to shoot a film in these evocative locations framed by trees and cascading water,” she says. “For us the draw of shooting in Oregon was the proximity of metro Portland to areas of spectacular beauty. You don’t have to drive far from Burnside Bridge and the hustle and bustle of downtown Portland before finding yourself in mist-shrouded forests and sleepy rural towns. Those of us from out of town made lifelong friends in Portland and I know we’ll be back—actually in the next few days, to shoot B-roll!” 

Clementine writer-director Lara Jean Gallagher works with actors Otmara Marrero, Sydney Sweeney, and Will Brittain between takes on location in Florence, OR. Photograph by Allyson Riggs

15. Miami, Florida

Florida State Senator Annette Taddeo kicked off 2018 with a bang by introducing a bill designed to get Florida’s film industry blood pumping after years of state lawmakers voting against incentives (a program launched in 2010 to the tune of $242 million in credits expired in 2016) and the disappointing specter of states such as Georgia standing in for Florida in movies like Live by Night and Hidden Figures. (The latter required five separate GA locations to double Cape Canaveral, and TV series such as Claws and Ballers.) Unlike the scrapped incentive program, Taddeo’s bill would pick projects based on perceived economic impact.

Since 2017, a make-do program initiated by Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally A. Heyman has been utilized as an interim solution, allocating $100,000 grants to productions for $1 million in spend with other caveats like 70 percent of the project being filmed locally. Miami-Dade is one of seven counties in Florida with their own programs, with varying degrees of generosity. Films that have taken advantage of the Miami-Dade program include Critical Thinking, a chess team drama directed by John Leguizamo and the Susan Sarandon-starring Snowbirds, about a widow moving to Miami.

Business continues to find South Florida: Trey Edward Shults directed his musical Waves in the area this past summer, while Harmony Korine directed Matthew McConaughey in The Beach Bum in Miami and has more South Florida projects lined up. The series David Makes Man, about a child prodigy living in the projects, is filming in Orlando and will premiere on the OWN network in 2019. Shortly before the November elections, Democrat candidate for governor Andrew Gillum learned that Georgia-shot Black Panther had resulted in $89.3 million being pumped into the GA economy and tweeted: “This could have been us, Florida.

The cast and crew of Huracán on location in Miami in 2018. Photograph by Galfry Puechavy, courtesy of Filmiami

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