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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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  1. Bruce says:

    Meh. If you want to work as a filmmaker – meaning getting paid for your work, and working consistently – you’re still better off in Los Angeles or New York. Or Atlanta, which has done great work in positioning itself as a hub where production professionals can work steadily.

    This is not to say that the other cities on the list don’t have thriving film scenes (as an ex Austinite with many friends in the Austin and San Antonio film communities, I am well aware that much talent and passion exists all over the country), but unless you want to make your income primarily from, say, car dealership commercials, you’re better off in ATL, NYC or LA.

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with doing car dealership commercials, btw! The tone of the article suggests that we’re primarily talking about feature film and TV work, though)

    • Jon says:

      .Arrogant ass. Our crews are THE BEST and would kick ass over any orher city’s production team(s). What an idiot.

      • ANTI-SNARK says:

        Jon, you come off just as arrogant! Our crews are very good but many have left NM for NYC. Your war cry makes us look bad. Back off and let our work do the talking!

      • Lamont says:

        Jon, seems like you’re the arrogant ass. Bruce was only being truthful about the best production cities. At the end of the day, there’s plenty of talented crews in the states mentioned. What have you done that’s “so called” better than other crews? Grow up. The TX tax incentives suck and there’s really not any productions going on in the state. Only Robert Rodriguez movies, who is an awesome filmmaker. How about you move to where the action really is and prove yourself??? You’re immature ego is ridiculous.

    • Anne says:

      This is such a snobby ignorant comment. I’ll agree that New York has the best rates, it’s easy to move up, and there’s constant work. Los Angeles rates are lower and not worth the cost of living or traffic. New Orleans, Atlanta, and Albuquerque are great options if you want steady work, a lower cost of living, and a less stressful city overall. I came up through New Orleans and never worked on a car commercial. Baltimore was hot for a bit, but I think died down after House of Cards ended. I think the Atlanta and Albuquerque crews impressed me the most with the friendly personalities and work ethic to match.

  2. Alex C. says:

    Absolutely stunned that this compilation left out Cleveland, Ohio–where many comic book block busters have been made in recent years. Cleveland has a wonderful, hard-working Film Commission, and a significant tax credit. Plus there is a great talent base there, the people are friendly, and cost of living is relatively low. What more can you ask for?

  3. Outside of the top 10 or 11 noted here, the rest are generally considered “locations”, not production centers. A city must have significant production infrastructure to be a production center. Most don’t have that. Moreover, the “deals” will still be made in Los Angeles and New York. Carnahan is just wishin’ and hopin’.

  4. Very interesting. Did you only consider the Americas in this survey?

  5. j says:

    This is for Bruce…

    If you’re new or just entering this industry LA and NY are the last places you want to go… that is unless you want to either a) edit for a porn house or b) work at a red Lobster to survive while to wait your turn to get in behind a million others wanting to do the same thing. As for Altanta- good luck with that. How ya gonna network with people? It’s so sprawled out your chances of running into another industry person at a restaurant, bar or other social atmosphere is right up there with being struck by lightning. As for Texas, it’s not a film hub state. Ontario you say? Well, might as well be in Atlanta. Not only is New Mexico a thriving production hub, it’s a MAJOR incentive state, so much so Netflix outright purchased Albuquerque Studios just a few months ago. Aside from that few major studio executives want to travel to Atlanta. On the other hand Santa Fe is a luxury city, just 1.5 hr flight from LA, and major studio executives make excuses to visit and that leads me to networking. Santa Fe while being posh it really quaint. Literally every time I’ve visited, stayed at a hotel, visited a bar, or just grabbed a coffee I’ve met someone in the industry. Next, less competition… in New Mexico there is high demand for crew and not always enough crew available, making it easier for someone to break in. For those of us that have a strong personal network it doesn’t matter where you live because your network keeps you gainfully employed. So starve in LA and NY with a high cost of living, or start working, networking and learning in a place like New Mexico?

    • Gabrielle says:

      Hey J, I really appreciate this because I never would have thought to look in New Mexico. I will definitely start my search. I do love California, but maybe once I actually have connections I’ll then consider moving.

      Thanks again!

  6. Mike Thomas Leghorn says:

    LOL Cinestate in Dallas – “Dallas has the most bang for the buck”
    However they only shoot their micro budget films in Dallas. Anything with a decent budget goes out of state to an incentive based area.

  7. BeepBop says:

    So are we talking mostly production crew jobs for these cities? What about post-production? Seems like a lot of productions are still farming out the post work to post houses back in LA, including overnighting dailies back and forth via FedEx.

  8. I have been acting for 10 years in independent movies. I would love to go to Albuquerque. Currently live in Tucson.

    • Joeseph, then do it! This industry does not favor the meek, you need to get on it! There will never be a “good time” to move, you have to decide what your priorities are, pack your stuff and get in the car. A super easy (and beautiful) drive from Tucson.

  9. CorVatta says:

    Twelve years ago I wanted to break into film, originally from New Mexico, at the time I was living in Las Vegas. (Side note – Not Las Vegas New Mexico where much of Longmire was filmed but Las Vegas Nevada, where the hookers have teeth and wear heels.)

    At the time I moved from Vegas LA to pursue film only to find out filming was becoming popular in my home state, thanks to Governor Richardson and other advocates. So I moved back where I was a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Networking was easier and immediately started working and haven’t stopped since. Recently a group of producers and I purchased a studio building and will shoot our first collective feature this fall.

    The New Mexico film community is also the most inclusive I have ever experienced. As a gay/trans Actor/Comedian, Producer my film family has helped foster my authentic self. I am thankful to have moved back and get in on the ground floor.

    With very little natural disasters, no gridlock traffic, beautiful locations, amazing food and film friendly people, New Mexico is the place to be and you’ll love free time in Santa Fe.

  10. Melani says:

    I can personally say there is no work in Philadelphia. The very few films that film here use outside hires. Unless you want a job at a news station, I’d look elsewhere.

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