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

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

Annual Lists

6. Ashland, Oregon

The smallest city on our list, with a population of 21,117, Ashland in Southern Oregon punches far above its weight. It’s both a picturesque filming location with attractions like the 93-acre Lithia Park, which boasts tennis courts, Japanese gardens, and an outdoor music bandshell, and increasingly a home for moviemakers and actors such as Repo Man director Alex Cox and Friday the 13th star Adrienne King. The flourishing community of moviemakers includes Gary Lundgren, who spent two years raising funds to film the sports drama Calvin Marshall in Ashland.

“Ashland has always been welcoming—and it’s perhaps even more so these days,” says Lundgren. “When we made Calvin Marshall in 2007, we employed quite a few first-timers and promoted people within their departments. A lot of those people are still friends of ours and have careers in bigger markets now, like Portland or Atlanta.” He adds that work in Ashland can be sporadic and making a consistent living can be tricky, but “ambitious people interested in moviemaking can make contacts and eventually they’ll get some experience if they are hard-working. On our film Phoenix, Oregon this past summer, we hired our regulars, but again we gave quite a few young people paying jobs and their first on-set experience.”

At a cabin on Hyatt Lake, 12 miles east of Ashland, the crew sets up a scene for the pilot episode of The Stem starring Abby Wathen, Marlyn Mason and Clive Rosengren. Photograph by Ray Nomoto Robison

7. Knoxville, Tennessee

Aside from being known as the city that birthed Quentin Tarantino and lent his L.A. crime sagas a Southern swagger, a handful of memorable films have lensed in Knoxville, including the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring rocketry drama October Sky, 2004’s Asia Argento-directed literary adaptation The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, as well as Burt Reynolds’ semi-autobiographical 2017 swansong The Last Movie Star.

“Knoxville has long drawn in a sizable production community as home to some of the most active reality TV production companies in the business,” says Curt Willis, Director of Visit Knoxville Film Office. “With a competitive state film incentive program and a local incentive program, scripted productions are starting to take notice.” He adds that the year was Knoxville’s busiest yet in feature film production, and the Film Office was working to keep the momentum going. “The Visit Knoxville Film Office works hard to ensure we have elements in place that make Knoxville attractive, and what we’re most proud of are intangible incentives: Every moviemaker we work with is impressed by the quality of the crews and the support they find.”

Amy Hoerler with Burt Reynolds and crew on the set of the Knoxville-shot The Last Movie Star. Image Courtesy of Amy Schulz.

8. Kansas City, Missouri

“Wild kindness” is what Kansas City moviemaker Jill Gevargizian says one can expect when shooting indie film in KC. “It’s become tradition for my crew and me to have meetings and wrap parties at a dive bar that serves the best pizza, and they know us well now and have offered to cater our next shoot for free,” she says. “I’ve directed over a dozen projects and I’ve only had to pay for a couple of locations; most owners are eager to help. I’m also a hairstylist and my clients constantly offer their homes, businesses, everything to be used in my films—KC people think moviemaking is rad and they want to help.” Gevargizian is to direct the feature film Permanent Address, starring Brea Grant, and hopes to shoot in Kansas City in 2019.

David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight, Blade Runner 2049) wrote and plays the lead in All Creatures Here Below and the film was the first to receive a rebate from the Kansas City Film Development Program. Ninety-five percent of All Creatures Here Below was shot in Kansas City so the production received a $60,000 rebate. Kansas City offers a local production incentive despite a lack of one at the state level, offering rebates of up to 10 percent on qualified expenditures, with a minimum spend of $100,000-$300,000 per film. The annual cap for the incentive is $75,000 and selection is not first-come, first-serve.

“Kansas City isn’t just where I’m from, it’s the most vibrant cross-section of the Midwest that I’ve found in 2018, both visually and socially,” Dastmalchian says. “To tell the story at the heart of All Creatures Here Below I needed a location that had specific urban, suburban, and rural landscapes and Kansas City is a fresh collection of locations and landscapes; there is so much space, architecture and pastoral settings which haven’t been lensed by moviemakers, so it feels undiscovered. We used mostly local artists for our team and found an abundance of highly-proficient crew.” He adds that he’s excited about his next KC project, supernatural thriller Hide Your Eyes: “We have a very small, but talented team on board for that one, and they’ve already fallen in love with the city.”

David Dastmalchian and Karen Gillan on the Kansas City set of All Creatures Here Below. Image courtesy of Planeo Films

9. Providence, Rhode Island

Rhode Island, known as The Ocean State for its scenic bays and inlets, as well as attractions such as the Castle Hill Lighthouse and the historic Newport Tower, is dipping its toe into prestige TV, serving as the locale for a 10-episode AMC series based on Joe Hill’s 2013 supernatural horror novel NOS4A2. Starring Zachary Quinto, it began filming in the fall with an eye toward broadcast in 2019. As for cinema, this year saw the Chazz Palminteri-starring heist film Vault take up production in Providence; cast and crew were spotted filming in the downtown area’s Industrial Trust Building in April. The last few years also saw Providence as production base for films such as November Criminals, a crime drama starring Chloë Grace Moretz.

“The State of Rhode Island is the smallest state with the greatest backlot,” says Steven Feinberg, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Film and TV Office. “Our competitive tax incentive is a transferable credit which has increased from 25 to 30 percent on qualified expenditures and that’s wonderful news for moviemakers and our talented local workforce in front of the camera and behind.” There’s a minimum spend of $100,000 and no project caps or restrictions on below-the-line workers.

Don Johnson poses with actress Pamela Jayne Morgan on the set of Vault. Image Courtesy of Dos Dudes Pictures and Verdi Productions.

10.  Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia is older than the country that sprung up around it, with a swirl of architectural styles ranging from Tudor to Colonial to Georgian to Spanish, as well as a living history museum, featuring attractions such as Henricus Historical Park, which offers a daily recreation of 17th century colonial life in Richmond. There are also Civil War battle fields and surviving structures of the era, all of which no doubt contributed to Richmond being chosen as the location for Harriet, moviemaker Kasi Lemmons’ biopic of Harriet Tubman.

Period backlots in Richmond used for John Adams, TURN: Washington’s Spies, and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln may be repurposed for Harriet; scouting for the film was done over the summer in conjunction with the Virginia Film Office. The office has its hands full lately, with Netflix reportedly knocking at Virginia’s door and asking for changes to the state’s incentive program. Qualified productions are currently eligible for 15 percent reimbursement with a minimum budget of $250,000, and if the production is shot in an underdeveloped area there’s a 5 percent increase available; the incentive program is capped at $6.5 million annually.

Having reportedly sent a letter to Virginia’s governor in recent months in which it noted having 700 projects in production in more than 100 countries, Netflix is lobbying Virginia to take on a Georgia-level incentive program that will entice the streaming giant to put down roots in the Commonwealth. Although details about the discussions between Virginia and Netflix
are scarce, Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office, recently visited Netflix headquarters in California, a move reminiscent of a royal emissary being sent to pay respects to a newly powerful king.

A production films at Old City Hall in Richmond, VA. Photograph by Kent Eanes

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A complete version of this two-part article appears in MovieMaker’s Winter 2019 issue, on stands February 6, 2019. Featured image illustration by Laura Breiling.

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