BIG CITIES (continued)

11. Portland 

The mystery of the Pacific Northwest has long inspired unconventional filmmakers, from Gus Van Sant to David Lynch to Kelly Reichardt. And Portland’s idiosyncrasies fueled eight seasons of wry observations on the unparalleled Portlandia. The city is the perfect spot for moviemakers looking to live and work in a place that’s charmingly off-center. Among the city’s unique attributes are the McMenamins’ “view and brew” movie theaters that pair handcrafted ales and pub grub with well-curated films. Other unexpected highlights are film festivals for two-wheeled fans: Filmed by Bike is a touring film festival that showcases bike movies, and the Portland Motorcycle Film Festival screens feature and short motorcycle films. 

The enigmatic Nicolas Cage, of course, fits in perfectly: He filmed Pig in the city late last year. The film, directed by Michael Sarnoski, is about a truffle hunter whose prize pig is kidnapped. Other movies that recently filmed in Portland include Sorta Like a Rockstar, based on the novel by Matthew Quick.

10. Boston 

“We believe all of our filmmakers are notable,” says Lisa Strout, director of the Massachusetts Film Office. That sense of camaraderie is part of what helped BeanTown crack the top 10 this year. In 2019 alone, that notable group included Kevin Hart, Diane Keaton, Rosamund Pike, Ryan Reynolds and Adam Sandler. Kevin Hart even filmed a scene on the iconic swan boats in Boston’s Public Garden. 

But it isn’t just Hollywood productions that make Boston an attractive city for moviemakers. The city boasts top-tier film programs at Emerson and Boston Universities and a menagerie of charming independent theaters: The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Somerville Theatre and Brattle Theatre are among them. The Art Deco Coolidge was founded in 1933 as the community’s first theater with a mission “to entertain, inform, and engage—building a vital community through film culture,” and its inspired events— like The Rza recently providing a live score for the Shaw Brothers’ The 36th Chamber of Shaolin—are unmissable. 

Boston also has a vibrant documentary community, anchored by WGBH, home of the PBS documentary shows Frontline and American Experience. And the Boston Independent Film Festival screens a slew of documentaries every spring. 

Finally, when you’re stuck on your screenplay, you can always go visit the locales from Good Will Hunting.

9. Philadelphia 

“The biggest influence in my whole life was that city,” David Lynch, who shot his first films in Philadelphia, said in the 2005 book Lynch on Lynch.

The murals on every street will attest: Philadelphia is a wellspring of creativity. There’s a reason M. Night Shyamalan keeps returning to his hometown region, most recently for the Apple TV+ series Servant. Philadelphia also offers four picturesque seasons, very good public transportation, and locations that can convincingly stand in for every era from the Revolutionary War to the revolutionary future. You’ll find everything from cobblestone roads and stately Victorians to blue-collar neighborhoods that haven’t changed much since Rocky. You don’t need to find stand-ins for historic landmarks: You can just go to the actual historic landmarks. Or take a short drive to Amish country to be transported back more than a century, to the gorgeous Atlantic Coast, or to the snow-swept peaks and refreshing waters of the Poconos. 

Philadelphia boasts three dozen production facilities, and more than a dozen festivals, from the Black Star Film Festival to the Philadelphia Youth Film Festival to the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Tax credits range from 25 to 30%.

The upcoming Idris Elba film Concrete Cowboys, about a 15-year-old boy who goes to live with his estranged father in Philadelphia and learn about local urban cowboys, embodies the spirit of Philadelphia: The city is a mix of urban and rural, of challenge and potential, of history and possibility.

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