“The film business as we know it is never going back to Los Angeles,” director Joe Carnahan reportedly said during a recent press conference. “It’s a jump ball in terms of what the next big city that could build the industry is going to be.”
That sense, of the entire motion picture business thrown into the air and all of us waiting for it to come back down, is where we are at the close of 2018. The only thing we know for sure is that when the industry lands and is “rebuilt” it won’t look the same as before. Creative destruction will breed new power centers, with new players who’ve been underrepresented in the past, and new ways of imagining, making, and distributing a century-old product.
The sugar rush phase of this new reality is nearly a decade behind us already; in 2009 there were 44 states offering some form of incentive, but retrenchment has pared that down to 31 as of 2018. A new industry titan has emerged—Atlanta, Georgia—and some rival cities are being held in check by the disinterest of their state governments (looking at you, Lone Star State), while others make the right moves to become a regional powerhouse, such as our pick for #1 this year, Albuquerque, New Mexico. And how did we make it this far into the intro without mentioning Netflix? The true impact of this industry-shaking colossus won’t really be felt until rivals such as Disney copy its streaming first, theatrical maybe business model.
So, what does this Game of Movie Thrones episode have to do with you? It makes a personal decision all the more personal. What’s your tolerance for an itinerant lifestyle, perhaps picking up and moving a few times before age 30? How does the state you’re thinking of moving to treat the industry you’ll depend on? Quality of life is a bear to measure, data or no. That said, here’s some of what went into our rankings: a city’s film activity in 2018 (number of productions, economic activity generated, shoot durations), infrastructure (health of film commissions and non-profits, number of film schools and VFX houses), and local luminaries. Then there’s population and geographical size, state and local incentive programs, and ease of movement and traffic. Lastly, we’ve erred on the side of letting quotes from the representatives of our selected cities and towns breathe a bit. These folks have lived and worked in the places you’re considering, so hopefully their stories will impact yours.
(Scroll through part two of our full list for the top 10 small cities and towns in the U.S. Check out part one, for the top 20 big cities in North America, here.)