4. FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA
Offering experienced crews, easy permitting, miles and miles of beaches and a wide range of stunning no-fee locations, the Fort Lauderdale region does brisk business, pulling in roughly $140 million last year thanks to productions ranging from HBO’s Rap Sh!t to a slew of basic-cable reality shows. While Florida lacks a statewide film tax incentive, Fort Lauderdale wants your business, and is working hard to get it. Its $10 million special projects program targets TV shows or higher-profile films that will bring long-term job creation to the region, and the Broward County film and TV incentive program offers up to a 15% rebate on expenditures up to $175,000, within certain conditions. Among the impressive local businesses are Robot Studios in Hallandale Beach, which boasts a 54,000-square-foot facility including an LED screen with Unreal Engine, a massive green-screen cyclorama, and an array of robot cameras.
3. SAVANNAH, GEORGIA
A town of endless charm, with a surprisingly low cost of living, Savannah is one of the country’s most-loved tourist destinations. But why leave? Its locations — from picturesque marshes and beaches to the pristine historic district, call out to be filmed, and Savannah’s film history goes back more than a century. The city’s diversity, in every sense, allows it to stand in for just about anywhere in America. (Recent films shot here included Halloween Ends.) Atlanta is the biggest economic driver of Georgia’s film economy, but Savannah offers the same tax credit (up to 30%), a more reflective pace, and even more architectural majesty per square foot. A sense of romance hangs in the air like Spanish moss from the trees. The main SCAD campus does a lovely job of showing off the city each year with the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, which draws a steady stream of award-season films and A-list talent who share their experience and wisdom with SCAD students and passionate local film fans. Employment opportunities are plentiful enough that many graduates opt to stay in this city of less than 150,000 people instead of venturing off to Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles.
2. WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA
A quiet powerhouse of film that doesn’t rest on its considerable laurels, Wilmington offers a low cost of living for a high quality of life. Known for charming homes and gorgeous beaches, Wilmington looks so idyllic that filmmakers can’t help but cast it against type in scary stories — it’s the site of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, the fifth Scream, The Black Phone and Halloween Kills. Rather than jump scares, the real Wilmington offers security and dependability: there’s steady work from TV shows that hire mostly local crews, and some crew members have worked here for decades. (Some are even two or three generations deep in the industry.) The city has over 30 Directors Guild of America members. It earned roughly $210 million in film and TV spending last year — highly impressive for a city of about 120,000 people — thanks in part to a 25% North Carolina rebate on qualifying expenses and purchases. The anti-competition Cucalorus Film Festival epitomizes the region’s affable blend of cool confidence and professional expertise.
1. SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
In our travels across the United States, we’ve never found a place with so many film opportunities per capita. Santa Fe boasts a close-knit film community, surrounded by astonishing natural beauty and artistic inspiration everywhere you look. It offers diverse locales, endless views, more than 300 days a year of sunlight, and bountiful sound stages — including the stunning Santa Fe Studios, with two 20,000 square-foot soundstages, and, just outside of town, the Camel Rock Studios, a former casino owned by the Native American Tesuque Pueblo and the home of AMC’s Dark Winds. Tireless film commissioner Jennifer LaBar-Tapia seems to know every industry person in town on a first-name basis — she’s part sheriff, part cheer captain, and all rock star, able to roll with big requests and surprises at a moment’s notice. Yes, Santa Fe is more expensive than most American cities — its elite residents include George R.R. Martin — but it is still significantly more affordable than Los Angeles, which is two hours away by plane or driveable in a day. With a population of about 88,000, it has none of the steel skyscrapers or 24/7 distractions of a big city, but you won’t miss them. It’s a place to move when you’ve made the decision to focus on self-improvement and creativity instead of the rat race. There are far fewer industry people to network with than you’ll find in larger cities, but your chances of meeting and working with them are much higher.
Thank you for reading our 2023 list of the Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker, and congratulations to all the cities and towns!