10. PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA
We used to list Pittsburgh as one of our best small towns, but it can hold its own against much bigger cities. Shockingly affordable, especially given its beautiful housing stock, it boasts architecture that begs to be filmed, rolling hills, countless bridges crossing its three rivers, and world-class museums, music and food. People who visit from elsewhere often wonder why no one’s ever told them how cool Pittsburgh is, so folks: We’re telling you now. Plenty of movie people get it, though. Last year Pittsburgh welcomed back Dark Knight Rises star Christian Bale for The Pale Blue Eye, one of many productions wisely seizing on the atmosphere and tax incentives that make the Steel City so inviting. Others include the new Tom Hanks drama The Man Called Otto and Season 2 of Mayor of Kingstown. The tax incentives are great: 25% percent for eligible projects, with an extra 5% if you use Pennsylvania-qualified production studios or post-production facilities. Of the $100 million available through the program, $5 million is carved out specifically for independent films.
9. PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA
Philadelphia and its surrounding communities offer everything from stately manors to metropolitan grandeur to neighborhood grit to rural majesty to woodsy mystery — all within about a half-hour of driving. Like Pittsburgh, it doesn’t need to boast, because its rich cinematic history does the talking. Philadelphia offers world-class art, boundless creativity, and opportunities galore to meet fellow artists without losing a close-knit, neighborly feel. You can soak up life without going broke, and enjoy nearby hiking and camping without abandoning your big-city dreams. In short, it’s a very sensible and inspiring place to eke out an affordable life as a filmmaker. There are many reasons M. Night Shyamalyn, whose new film Knock at the Cabin will almost be in theaters by the time you read this, so often stays close to home. It has the same tax incentives as Pittsburgh, and its easy proximity to New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. expand your work and cultural opportunities.
8. CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA
Ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit last year as the most livable city in North America — and the third most livable city in the world — Calgary is thriving in every sense. It’s safe, culturally rich but not too expensive, and, best of all, is actively courting film and TV industry professionals to make it their new home. You’re going to see a lot of it on TV in 2023, just like you did in 2022. It’s the home of the new HBO big-swing series The Last of Us, as well as the new season of FX’s Fargo. Last year it hosted the Hulu hit Prey, a smart update of the Predator franchise, as well as FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven. It hosted 11 projects running simultaneously with a full crew base. Among the many draws are a 22-30% tax credit and Calgary’s gorgeously diverse locations — it’s a gorgeous modern city close to prairie, badlands, and the Rockies. The CL Western Town and Backlot is just 40 minutes from downtown. The permit process is easy, equipment rental and post houses abound, and it is the home of beloved film festivals including the Calgary International Film Festival and Calgary Underground Film Festival. Once it was known mostly as a cattle town, celebrated for its very fun summer stampede. But today it’s also gaining a reputation as one of the world’s great film hubs — and a place that still knows how to cowboy up.
7. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
The excellent Hulu series The Bear put Chicago on spectacular display this past year, but it’s one of many projects that make the Windy City a sensible yet thrilling place to stake your filmmaking career. With a surprisingly low cost of living given all it has to offer, Chicago is a perfect place for people who are tough, pragmatic, and funny enough to keep up in the city’s thriving artistic scene. With a big 30% tax credit and scores of great actors — including in its world-famous improv scene — Chicago is a major player that remains affordable for normal people. Case in point: All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, one of 2022’s boldest horror breakouts, which was almost entirely the work of young Chicago friends, many of whom met through Northwestern University. The film’s magnificent music was developed in large part by Cue Shop, a music collaborative of people playing instruments together in a room through the Chicago winter, just like your parents’ parents used to do it. More mainstream standout productions include Apple’s Shining Girls and Dick Wolf’s One Chicago franchise.
6. MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA
Go to the Fantasia Film Festival — held at glorious Concordia University in the heart of downtown Montreal — and just try not to fall in love with the festival, the school, and the city itself. Montreal prizes individuality and fun, as you’ll come to understand as your fellow Fantasia-goers start meowing at the screen. (We never figured out why they do this; we were too busy meowing.) The sense of mischief doesn’t detract from the serious business in this French-Canadian metropolis that impeccably melds Old World charm with new-school futurism: Montreal pulled in a staggering $2.5 billion in business last year, luring highly desirable projects like the sixth film in the Scream franchise. The incentives don’t hurt: in addition to a 20% tax credit, other offerings include a very forward-thinking 16% tax rate for VFX/green-screen shots and animation. It’s very difficult to visit Montreal without plotting out how you might someday get to live here.
Here are the top 5 Big Cities on our list of the Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker…