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Top 10 Cities to Make Movies 2007

Top 10 Cities to Make Movies 2007

Articles - Features

In a 1982 interview with American Heritage magazine, “legendary moviemaker”John Huston was asked to explain what he meant when he referred to “the basic grammar of filmmaking.” His reply: “Once you’ve found the right shot to introduce the scene—written your first declarative sentence—then the rest flows.”

What Huston didn’t say explicitly, maybe because he thought it went without saying, is that a moviemaker needs to find the right place for that shot to happen, and he was one Academy Award-winning director who understood the art of choosing a location. From Mexico to Morocco and most places in between, Huston insisted on going wherever he needed to go in order to be sure he had the right shot in the right place. His greatness as a moviemaker came in part from never underestimating the importance of setting in a scene—of building a distinct mood in a time and place captivating enough to win over an audience.

So much of a film’s success lies in whether or not we as viewers believe what unfolds before us, and the wrong location can destroy any credibility within a film’s first frames. Would Woody Allen’s Annie Hall be as iconic without New York City as its backdrop? Would Cameron Crowe’s Singles have been as compelling had it been set, say, in Orlando instead of Seattle?

A lot of factors go into choosing where you will ultimately shoot your film, including such intangibles as a sense of loyalty to your hometown, the locations dictated by a script or simply a desire to spend weeks or months of your life in a particular area. Then there are the much more tangible reasons, such as incentives to shoot in a certain city, a desire to be in said city and the cold, hard cash that it will cost to film there.

The latter will often be the most important aspect of an independent moviemaker’s decision, as many of the cities included on this year’s list, such as Albuquerque, NM, with its one-of-a-kind film investment loan program, and Las Vegas, NV, where free is a state of mind, undoubtedly prove. The term “moviemaker-friendly” has taken on a whole new level of meaning with this year’s new inductees of Shreveport-Bossier City, LA and Salt Lake City, UT, and Memphis, TN is climbing up the list, thanks to its tireless film office and commissioner.

Some of the cities recognized this year will come as no surprise, as New York, Austin, Philadelphia, Portland, OR and Miami all make triumphant returns; some exclusions will, however, be conspicuous in their absence. (Nope, you didn’t blink and miss it—Los Angeles is not on the list this year). After months of late-night research, countless interviews and more than our fair share of film office harassment, this year’s list reassures us once again that the best locations in the U.S. aren’t exclusively red or blue, but red, white and blue, because moviemaking is thriving in cities all across the country.

1. New York, NY
Last year: #1
“The Film Community That Never Sleeps”
Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd. Dito Montiel’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Richard LaGravenese’s P.S., I Love You. Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s The Nanny Diaries. These are just a small sampling of the most recent films to bear the “Made In NY” stamp of approval, helping to make “the city that never sleeps” the top moviemaking location in the United States for the third year in a row. In fact, the city seems to be firing on all cylinders and at this writing it’s difficult to see which city will eventually step up to knock it off its perch.

“I grew up in Queens and in a strange way Astoria, the part I’m from, is like a bit of Mayberry,” explains Dito Montiel, writer-director of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. “I know the councilman and my friends are cops and firemen, so I did have an advantage. But Alberteen Anderson, [deputy director of community relations and special events for the MTA New York City Transit] couldn’t have been more helpful.”

From Washington Square Park, featured prominently in Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend, to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where many scenes of the Boston-set The Departed were filmed, shooting in any of New York’s five boroughs has never been easier, thanks to the city’s “Made In NY” incentive program. The program consists of a combination of tax and marketing credits: For films and TV shows filming at least 75 percent of a project in New York City, a 10 percent refundable state tax credit and a five percent city tax are offered. In addition, the city does not charge any fees for the use of public property.

“One of the great secrets of New York is that it is a relatively inexpensive place to shoot, because you’re shooting exteriors on the street—all of the stuff that is just a part of the natural environment here,” says producer Andrew Fierberg (Secretary, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus).

It seems that the secret is out, however, as the numerous movie billboards, posters and advertisements in subway and bus stations across the city clearly demonstrate. “In New York City, we support film productions from script to screen, and we are the only municipality in the world to support the releases of films which shoot here with free advertising,” says film commissioner Katherine Oliver. “Productions which do at least 75 percent of their work in the city receive media exposure at the value of one percent of their production costs, with a special bonus for projects with budgets under $1 million. The advertisements run on city-owned bus shelters and phone kiosks, as well as on NYC TV, providing valuable exposure throughout the country’s largest market.” Free press, advertising and instant street cred? It would seem to remain true that there’s never been a better time to film in New York.

Recent Films: American Gangster, The Departed, The Good Shepherd, I Am Legend, The Namesake, The Nanny Diaries
NY On Film: Annie Hall, Taxi Driver, Rosemary’s Baby, When Harry Met Sally, Kramer vs. Kramer, Ghostbusters
Film Festivals: Tribeca Film Festival, New York Film Festival, New York Underground Film Festival, CMJ Film Festival, IFP Market, GenArt Film Festival, Big Apple Film Festival Film Education: DGA Training Program, Columbia University, New York University, New York Film Academy, The School of Visual Arts, The Edit Center, Manhattan Edit Workshop
Film Organizations: The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Tribeca Film Institute, BAM Cinema Club, IFP, New York Film/Video Council

Contact: New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting
1697 Broadway, Suite 602
New York, NY 10019

2. Philadelphia, PA
Last year: #5
“City Behind the Scenes”
Philadelphia has come a long way since Sylvester Stallone first made his way up the steps of the Philadephia Museum of Art in 1975’s Rocky. Since then, the city has famously unfolded before audience’s eyes in films such as Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia and the entire filmography of local writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (Lady in the Water, Signs, The Sixth Sense). But it is often what audiences don’t see on the screen that makes Philly so notable.

Last year held 216 known feature production days for Philadelphia—a number that is offset by the city’s “no permit required” policy, which allows filming on public streets, causing many indie productions to go untracked. But more importantly, it also marked the introduction of the new “Creativity in Focus: Pennsylvania Film Production Grant Program.” At the end 2006’s legislative session, the Pennsylvania legislature converted the state’s former tax incentive program into a rebate program, allowing moviemakers to get cash up-front on production expenses such as construction, wages and salaries under $1 million, editing, wardrobe and accessories and other items. (In order to qualify for the grant, 60 percent of these expenses must be incurred in Pennsylvania.) In conjunction with its new grant program, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office has also joined efforts with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to offer low-interest loans to any moviemaker wishing to supplement his or her budget.

Shooting in Philadelphia is more than just economically sound, however. The city has long fostered the creativity of its independent film community through both print and online production guides, a professional listings database and the Greater Philadelphia Filmmakers organization, which spotlights local moviemakers and their work in addition to running regular seminars such as the Summer Networking Series and the Set in Philadelphia screenwriting competition.

“The film office does everything from recommending places to get temporary furniture to locating schools for cast and crew members who travel with their families,” says Nicole Ross, marketing manager for the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. “Philadelphia boasts a broad diversity of cultures, neighborhoods and environments, from affluent areas such as Chestnut Hill to the urban landscape of North Philadelphia. In addition, Philadelphia is also famed as home of the largest municipal public park in the world, Fairmount Park, which is ideal for shooting films in rural settings.”

“Philadelphia is such an amazing backdrop for filmmaking; it’s truly unlike any other city with its history, its society, its people, its layout, its beautiful inner city and also its beautiful derelict outer slums,” says Cameron J. Zonfrilli, president of Parlay Film Productions. “Philadelphia is a huge county with a vast assortment of location settings. A filmmaker can take total advantage of shooting in an amazing cornfield-lined countryside one minute and then be shooting the Philadelphia skyline from underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge the next, with less than a one-hour company move on any given shoot.”

Recent Films: Tooth and Nail, The 4th Dimension, Rocky Balboa, Shooter, The Gospel According to Janis
Philadelphia On Film: Rocky, Se7en, Jersey Girl, The Sixth Sense, Philadephia, 12 Monkeys
Film Festivals: Philadelphia Film Festival, Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
Film Education: Temple University, The Art Institute of Philadelphia, University of the Arts
Film Organizations: Philadelphia Film Society, Greater Philadelphia Filmmakers

Contact: Greater Philadelphia Film Office
100 S. Broad Street, Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19110

3. Austin, TX
Last year: #2
“It’s All Relevant”
Walk down nearly any street in Austin, Texas and chances are you’ll find a film shoot already in progress. That’s just the kind of film-centered folk that the city brings out. “Austin is very much a film town with over a dozen film festivals,” says Louis Black, co-founder of The Austin Chronicle and one of the founders of SXSW. “Rick Linklater, cinematographer Lee Daniel, indie legends John and Janet Pierson, editor Sandra Adair, Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan (his wife and producer), Tim McCanlies and Mike Judge are just some of the filmmakers who live here. Harry Knowles’ Ain’t-It-Cool-News Website is also headquartered here and Harry is very involved in the local film community.”

Austin has two film studios, Rodriguez and Avellan’s Troublemaker Studios, where Grindhouse (a co-venture between Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino) is currently being filmed, and Austin Studios, run by the Austin Film Society (which boasts Rodriguez, Linklater, Tarantino and Judge among its biggest supporters). In November’s election, Austin voters approved a development bond package that will include $5 million for much-needed upgrades to the city-owned Austin Studios.
“Austin has also dropped fees for permits to film on city rights-of-way, has made publicly-owned property—parks, buildings and in the case of [NBC’s television series] “Friday Night Lights,” a football field—available for filming at no charge,” says Gary Bond, director of the Austin Film Commission.

“As a result of enhancements to the film commission’s Website, expansion of the Reel Scout location database and photo library as well as the success of the 2005-2006 Austin Film Guide and other marketing efforts, production leads to the office were up a whopping 454 percent in 2006,” notes Bond. “Currently, the film office is implementing a searchable, Web-based version of the Austin Film Guide, to be regularly updated, which is expected to provide even more information in a handier format, resulting in even more leads from projects considering Austin as a location.”

So much of Austin’s reputation as a world-renowned moviemaking capital has to do with the unique education and support that the community fosters through film festivals, special screenings, retrospectives and even contests, such as the Open Screen Night at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a local downtown hotspot that serves drinks and dinner with its movies. “It’s a filmmaker open mic night of sorts,” explains Tim League, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s founder, “where the audience’s favorite film wins $100. We do it once a month, and filmmaking collectives such as Classico Entertainment, The Late Train and Nothing Liquid have formed to regularly compete. After using Open Screen Night to build his demo reel, Dax Martinez-Vargas went on to get a job doing video work for MTV.”

Burnt Orange Productions, led by CEO Carolyn Pfeiffer, produces independent feature films in partnership with The University of Texas Film Institute. This rare partnership, which “allows students to work on union feature films alongside working professionals, is completely original and the only program of its kind,” says Pfeiffer. The same can be said for Austin, its films and its moviemakers.

Recent Films: Fast Food Nation, The Hitcher, Infamous, The Reaping
Austin On Film: Dazed and Confused, Office Space, Friday Night Lights, The Faculty
Film Festivals: Austin Film Festival, SXSW, Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival
Film Education: University of Texas, Texas Film Institute, Austin Community College
Film Organizations: Austin Film Society, Reel Women, Texas Association of Film and Tape Professionals

Contact: Austin Film Commission
301 Congress Avenue, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78701

4. Albuquerque, NM
Last year: Unranked
“The Little Town That Could”

With a moderate climate, 310 days of sunshine, the Class-A $74 million Albuquerque Studios (which will be completed by April, 2007 and will include eight huge soundstages) and 13 features and TV shows produced in 2006 alone—not counting the numerous low-budget movies filmed within the city’s limits—Albuquerque has become a moviemaking hotspot in recent years; the industry has had an economic impact of more than $85 million in the past year alone.

A large part of that astounding figure is due to the unbeatable incentives that Albuquerque offers its moviemakers. New Mexico provides a 25 percent tax rebate on all production expenditures (including New Mexico labor) and a gross receipts tax deduction, which gives moviemakers up to a six percent deduction on a variety of production items and costs. But what really puts Albuquerque over the top is its Film Investment Loan Program, which promises up to $15 million per project for qualifying feature films or television shows (the film’s budget must be at least $1 million).

“The state film incentives in Albuquerque are the finest in the United States,” offers Nick Smerigan, vice president of Albuquerque Studios. “Not only do they offer tax incentives and rebates, they also offer a $15 million film and television finance program. They are really, really aggressive and put together a plan that I think pretty much designed itself around all of the needs that a production would have in order to go someplace to film. This is not a place where you would normally go, ‘I can’t wait to shoot here in Albuquerque!’ But when we started to check and see what those incentives were and what they meant to the clients—that they would draw productions, not only feature films but television, to the area, that’s when we started to look seriously at building a facility here.”

Based primarily on his great experience working with Ann Lerner, Albuquerque’s film liaison, on previous projects, producer D. Scott Lumpkin brought his most recent film, Fanboys, to Albuquerque. “First and foremost, it is the service—the support system that the film office provides” explains Lumpkin. “But it also helps that Albuquerque doesn’t really look like the rest of the world thinks New Mexico should look.”

“Our motto here in Albuquerque is: On location since 1706,” says Lerner. “We can double for a variety of locations, from Victorian to urban to downtown to modern day and southwestern. In Beerfest we doubled for Munich and Colorado; in Wild Hogs, they shot for two and a half weeks in Albuquerque as Cincinnati; In ‘The Lost Room’ we doubled for Pittsburgh and other locations.”
While the variety of landscapes and locations that Albuquerque has to offer is indeed a major factor in choosing to shoot here, Smerigan believes that it is the city’s dogged determination that has really made moviemakers take notice.

“The people here are really interested in having a film industry, therefore they work on the issues that bring the industry here,” notes Smerigan. “One of the things that we spoke about was the crew situation—training crews and everything else like that. The University of New Mexico, which was going to build a film school, met with a major animation company—the major animation company in the world—and they’re now going to become a part of that film school. UNM is going to go from zero to the finest film school in the world. The kids that are coming out of the film schools everywhere else have to apply for a job somewhere whereas the animation guys who are going to be teaching UNM students are going to say, ‘Okay, you’re in your third year here. We need you to come in and do Spider-Man 58 or Shrek 36.’” With so much experience, technology and expertise at their fingertips, Albuquerque moviemakers are quickly becoming a major force in the film industry.

Recent Films: Save Me, Beerfest, No Country For Old Men, Fanboys, Employee of the Month
Albuquerque On Film: 21 Grams, Every Which Way But Loose, The Muppet Movie
Film Festivals: The Duke City Shootout, Experiments in Cinema, Sin Fronteras Film Festival, Independent Indigenous Film Festival, Local Shorts Film Festival
Film Education: University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Film Technicians’ Training Program

Contact: Albuquerque Film Office
P.O. Box 1293
Albuquerque, NM 87103

5. Las Vegas, NV
Last year: Unranked
“Home of the Free—and the Brave”

Paris may lay claim to the lights and New York is the city that never sleeps, but Las Vegas, with its flickering neon and lucky charms on every corner, is undoubtedly the city of free. Offering free government permits, no extraneous taxes, fees or charges and free scouting and location photography through the city film office, Las Vegas strives to be one of the most cost-effective (and welcoming) places in the country for indie moviemakers.

“Las Vegas—unlike many locales—cannot be faked or duplicated elsewhere,” declares Jeanne D. Corcoran, production manager for the Nevada Film Office’s publicity department. “It is a completely unique brand and its built-in ambiance beats trying to get the feel with a set. To quote [producer] Jerry Weintraub, ‘Where else can you find $100 billion worth of sets for free?’

“Many fees, taxes and other charges that a production incurs in other jurisdictions are not charged in Nevada, in effect saving the production 100 percent of those fees and charges,” continues Corcoran. “We’ve had productions tell us that they consider that a 100 percent rebate incentive when they don’t have to pay certain fees and taxes to begin with, and when they also don’t have to jump through bureaucratic hoops and compile mountains of red tape and paperwork to get just a portion of those monies spent back.”

In 2006, Las Vegas was home to over 61 feature films, among them Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You, Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. But don’t let the big Hollywood names throw you—Las Vegas is extremely indie-friendly. In fact, the majority of the films made in Sin City are independent features, with a community of local moviemakers that prides itself on its rebellious spirit.

Writer-director Mike Conway moved to Las Vegas from Anaheim, California in search of what he calls “a guerilla perspective.” “You would think that California would be the place to go—and it is for a lot of people, especially if they want to work for someone else,” explains Conway. “But for an action filmmaker like myself, I find that the gun laws (stage firing props, like Collector’s Armoury pistols, for example, can’t be sold there), tough street and location restrictions and overall population density make it hard for an indie to shoot certain things.”

In an effort to work together with like-minded moviemakers, Conway organized the Las Vegas IndieMeet, held over Memorial Day weekend in Conway’s own home, which is now in its third year. The Meet attracts a variety of independent moviemakers and guest speakers from all over the country and also receives support from the film office. Conway sees all of this as just another way for Las Vegas to promote independent film production and its unique locations and keep its moviemaking population constantly growing.

“Except for an experience with a city complaint against a 64-foot long spaceship set in my backyard,” says Conway, “I rarely get hassled. I have utilized the surrounding desert, including Red Rock Canyon, as well as the forest on Mount Charleston [in my films]. The lure to me is having the benefits of a large city that is still easy to get out of and into secluded surrounding areas. [In Anaheim], that was next to impossible to do.”

Recent Films: Ocean’s 13, Knocked Up, Lucky You, The Great Buck Howard
Las Vegas On Film: Swingers, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Cooler, Go
Film Festivals: CineVegas Film Festival, CCSN Digital Filmmakers Showcase, Vegas Underground Film Festival
Film Education: University of Nevada, Community College of Southern Nevada, Art Institute of Las Vegas
Film Organizations: Las Vegas Underground Film Group, Underground Vegas Film

Contact: Nevada Film Office
555 E. Washington Ave., Suite 5400
Las Vegas, NV 89101
6. Shreveport-Bossier City, LA
Last year: Unranked
“Red Carpet Treatment—No Red Tape”

The moviemaking boom in Shreveport-Bossier City began when tragedy struck with Hurricane Katrina, after many displaced films set to shoot in southern Louisiana were forced to look for locations up north. From this disastrous event came an unforeseen rainbow: Ten films have wrapped shooting in Shreveport in the past year, most notably Andrew Davis’ The Guardian (Kevin Costner was reportedly so happy with this area after his experience making The Guardian that he moved his upcoming project, Mr. Brooks, to Shreveport as well) and FX’s “Thief,” which prompted its Emmy-award winning star, Andre Braugher, to label Shreveport “the new hub of filmmaking in Louisiana.”

“From scouting locations and logistics through wrap of production, the Shreveport-Bossier Film Office ensures personal service and a successful shoot for the production companies,” says film office executive director Betty Jo LeBrun-Mooring. “We assist and provide preliminary research/development per script requirements. Once location requirements are determined, location photographs are shot specifically for that project. The film office also provides technical assistance and logistical support.”

All city-owned buildings are free for filming in Shreveport, and Louisiana offers a tax credit of 25 percent on any production investment made in the state over $300,000. The city also recently built a brand-new sound stage called Stageworks in downtown Shreveport and is home to the Louisiana Wave Studio, the only computer-controlled wave-making facility designed specifically for moviemaking in the U.S. Built for The Guardian, the tank is 100 feet long, 80 feet wide and eight feet deep and contains approximately 750,000 gallons of water.

The coming year sees a whole new slate of films scheduled to begin shooting in Shreveport: From Scott Marshall’s Working Girl-remake Blonde Ambition, starring Jessica Simpson and Luke Wilson, to George Gallo’s romantic comedy Homeland Security, starring Antonio Banderas, Colin Hanks and Meg Ryan. “We have the most diverse locations—from swamps to Kentucky horse farms to antebellum style homes,” says LeBrun-Mooring, when asked to explain her city’s filmic popularity. “The Shreveport-Bossier City area can duplicate the look from the jungles of Vietnam to New England colleges, to the cowboy look.”

Recent Films: Factory Girl, Mr. Brooks, Homeland Security, Blonde Ambition
Shreveport On Film: Interview with the Vampire, The Guardian
Film Festivals: Louisiana Film Festival, New Orleans Film & Video Festival
Film Education: Centenary College of Louisiana, Tulane University, Louisiana
State University
Film Organizations: Robinson Film Center

Contact: Shreveport-Bossier City Film Office
629 Spring Street
Shreveport, LA 71166

7. Memphis, TN
Last year: #10
“A City of Character—and Characters”

“When my wife and I decided we wanted to do a documentary about people permanently affected by Elvis Presley,” says Altered by Elvis co-director Jayce Bartok, “we knew we would be in Memphis for most of our interviews. We soon discovered that Memphis had more to offer than just Graceland. We filmed in places like Wild Bill’s Juke Joint and the J&J Bar and Grille, where the ‘fee’ for filming an interview was a bar tab, which is by far the most original and character-rich find we’ve seen in all of our filmmaking experience.”
Memphis is well-known for being the home of the blues and rock n’ roll—Johnny Cash, B.B. King and Elvis Presley all launched their careers in the city—but in the past couple of years, Memphis has also defined itself as one of the country’s top independent film locations, luring productions like James Mangold’s Oscar-winning Walk the Line and Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan to the area with its use of what Memphis film commissioner Linn Sitler calls “soft” incentives.

Black Snake Moan was given the Pyramid, an incredible arena, for free as a soundstage to keep the film from going to Georgia, according to Sitler. “Depending on availability and a film’s projected economic impact/number of local hires, government-owned office space is [also] offered rent-free. Walk the Line, Hustle & Flow, Let’s Ride and several smaller projects have recently benefited from this program.

“Over the last few years,” Sitler continues, “a movie theater—Studio on the Square–was built specifically for screenings of local independent films. There, for minimal prices, first-time moviemakers can hold ‘professional’ screenings of digital productions. Often, ads are placed and long runs for some films have even sold out.”

Sitler’s attention to detail and service, which includes sponsoring film premieres, fundraisers and marketing campaigns, has paid off. The city now has a $10 million state incentive fund and a state legislation that offers a 15 percent refund to all film companies that set up offices in Tennessee. Interest in Memphis’ South Main Arts District, where many of this year’s films have been shot, is also at an all-time high. Craig Brewer even opened his own production office, funded by Paramount, in the area. “You will never find a more dedicated film commission in the country,” says Brewer. “I try to find projects that must be shot in Memphis, just so I can work with Linn Sitler.

“I had to shoot a real sexy juke joint scene in Black Snake Moan,” Brewer continues. “We shot it in the back of Earnestine & Hazel’s, a downtown bar that used to be a whorehouse. Sam Jackson was singing this raunchy blues song and Christina Ricci’s character had to be drunk and dancing in the middle of this orgy of people on the dance floor. I told the extras, ‘Now look! I could have filmed this scene in Los Angeles or Canada… But I’m filming at home cause Memphis know how to dance. Young and old, black or white—we know how to grind.’ Take after take, that crowd danced their asses off! For me, when it comes to filming in Memphis: I love the city, but it’s the character of the people that truly inspires me.”

Recent Films: My Blueberry Nights, Altered By Elvis, Black Snake Moan
Memphis On Film: Hustle & Flow, Walk the Line, Mystery Train, Great Balls of Fire
Film Festivals: Memphis International Film Festival, Indie Memphis Film Festival, Reel Memphis, Cinema Memphis, Lil’ Film Festival Film Education: The University of Memphis, Digi-Coop
Film Organizations: Live from Memphis, The Memphis Film Forum

Contact: The Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission
50 Peabody Place, Suite 250
Memphis, TN 38103

8. Miami, FL
Last year: #7
“More Than Just Glitz and Glamour”

Almost constant sunshine, late-night salsa dancing, golden-skinned models parading South Beach, heavy Cuban accents and even heavier Cuban food… These are just a few of the images that come to mind after a brief review of Miami’s filmography. Thanks to recent big-budget Hollywood action films like Michael Mann’s Miami Vice and Louis Leterrier’s The Transporter 2, Miami has had its glamorous image cemented on celluloid. But with over 240 feature films produced in 2006, it is the hard work of the Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office of Film & Entertainment (which is comprised of three local film offices) and a large independent moviemaking community that really make South Florida shine.

Director Dave Rodriguez made his latest film, Push, starring Chazz Palminteri and Michael Rapaport, in and around Miami and cites the city’s beautiful locations and venues, including its downtown skyline, as a “major selling point” for many of his cast and crew members. “When we had days off, we were actually partying at some of the locations that we used, some of the clubs such as Crobar [located in the heart of South Beach],” says Rodriguez. “Unlike a lot of locations, where you don’t know what to do on your days off, in Miami there was so much to do—we had Lincoln Road and we had South Beach.”

The three local film offices in the surrounding area, composed of Miami-Dade, Miami Beach and City of Miami, offer free permitting and assistance, including script breakdowns and location photos for moviemakers, not to mention a sales tax avoidance incentive that gives moviemakers a six percent break on items purchased or leased and a 15 percent rebate on Florida production budgets for films that spend at least $850,000 in the state. There are also several new proposals currently in the works for helping independent moviemakers, including a fund to help Florida indie films achieve distribution and a “film-friendly” Website that will allow local moviemakers access to an online database built specifically for them.

Through regular independent film screenings and seminar programs put on by Cinema Vortex, a local art film collective at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, and the Miami-Dade Library’s Wolfson Archive, which houses the largest film and video moving image archive in the nation, as well as the Miami Children’s Museum’s Film Program, local up-and-coming moviemakers are given a variety of options to constantly educate, promote and expose themselves.

Recent Films: Reno 911!, Jackass Number Two, Push, Rude Buay, Miami Vice
Miami On Film: Any Given Sunday, Wild Things, Striptease, Curdled, Bad Boys
Film Festivals: Miami International Film Festival, Miami Underground Film Festival, Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Miami Latin Film Festival, Miami Children’s Film Festival
Film Education: University of Miami, Miami-Dade Community College, Miami International University of Art & Design, Florida International University
Film Organizations: Miami Beach Film Society

Contact: Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office of Film, Arts & Entertainment
2700 S. Bayshore Drive
Miami, FL 33133
9. Portland, OR
Last year: #3
“A City Built On Scenery”

“Portland is a very filmic city,” says Steven Sawalich, director of Music Within, starring Ron Livingston. “Each block can have a completely different look and feel. Our film spanned 50 years—we went from the early 1940s to the early 1990s. I don’t think we could have done that in any other city. If we needed an old police station exterior, I had three different ones to choose from within four blocks. We had over 50 locations in our film and it was nice because I never had to settle. If anything, it was difficult to turn away locations. There is so much character in the city that it really shows up in the camera.”

With more than 34 film festivals in Oregon alone, and numerous organizations such as Film Action Oregon, which supports local moviemakers and their projects through fundraising, distribution strategies and screening venues, and the Northwest Film Center, which offers equipment grants, Portland is a city that doesn’t just cater to its independent moviemakers, it is a city that is built upon its artistic community.

From indie-friendly screening venues and hangouts such as The Know, the Clinton Street Theater and Edgefield, local moviemakers are given a variety of opportunities to make themselves seen and heard. The two staples of the Oregon Production Incentives program, the Oregon Production Investment Fund (OPIF) and the Greenlight Oregon Labor Rebate, also make it easier for independent moviemakers to shoot in Portland. The former offers a 10 percent rebate on production expenses incurred in-state for feature films and television movies/series; the latter gives moviemakers up to a 6.2 percent rebate on production personnel wages.

Best of all, Oregon has no sales tax, making it one of the least expensive cities to make movies on the west coast, according to moviemaker Nick Lyon. Lyon grew up in Portland and has been making films in the city for years as he finds it to be conducive to his needs and work ethic (the city even served as the inspiration for his 2006 film, Punk Love). “Portland is a very easy city, logistically,” explains Lyon, “and very independent in spirit. To get anywhere in Portland takes about 15 minutes. You don’t have to beg for permits, and even small films are welcomed with open arms. On my film, I was actually able to shut down a bridge for three days, shoot on major streets with artificial rain and drive camera cars wherever I wanted without police harassment. Try that anywhere else!”

Recent Films: Coraline, Whitepaddy, Music Within, The Auteur, Paranoid Park, Punk Love
Portland On Film: Drugstore Cowboy, Elephant, Free Willy, Short Circuit
Film Festivals: Northwest Film and Video Festival, Portland International Film Festival, PISS! Fest, POW! Fest
Film Education: Northwest Film Center, The Art Institute of Portland, University of Portland, University of Oregon, Portland State University
Film Organizations: Portland Community Media, NW Documentary Arts & Media, Portland Area Theater Alliance, Film Action Oregon

Contact: The Oregon Film & Video Office
121 SW Salmon Street, Suite 1205
Portland, OR, 97204

10. Salt Lake City, UT
Last year: Unranked
“See You At The Crossroads”

Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End shot for three days at Utah’s salt flats this year; High School Musical, shot in Salt Lake City, is the fastest-selling television movie of all time on DVD (with 1.2 million DVD copies sold in its first week); and Paul Feig’s Unaccompanied Minors, with a budget of $30 million, is the largest film shot entirely in Utah to date. With 23 feature films shot in Salt Lake City in 2006 alone, this “crossroads of the west” is really living up to its nickname.

“You can’t find the Bonneville Salt Flats, Red Rock or Monument Valley anywhere else,” says producer Adam Abel (Outlaw Trail). “Utah was Hollywood’s back lot for westerns for so many years, so it is nice to be able to access that on an independent level. It always adds to the production value.”

There are over 1,050 registered crewmembers in the Utah Film Commission online resource directory, and Abel, whose upcoming film Forever Strong, starring Gary Cole and Sean Astin, was filmed in Salt Lake City, describes the local crew base as nothing short of “fantastic,” and the film office as “big champions of local filmmakers. The film office sees that as they nurture [the local film community] they are providing in a direct fashion to tourism, and their tax incentives reflect this.”

Currently Utah has a $1 million film incentive fund, offering a 10 percent tax rebate for every dollar spent in the state as well as an additional two percent rebate if the film is shot in rural Utah. Utah also has a transient room tax refund of three percent for productions that stay longer than 30 consecutive days in any public accommodation and a sales tax exemption for point of purchase sales, returning 10 percent for every dollar spent in Utah. Utah’s Governor, Jon Huntsman, Jr., budgeted an additional $5 million for Utah’s Motion Picture Incentive Fund in 2006, but these funds will not be deliberated until the 2007 legislative session begins.

Salt Lake City’s focus on film education at an early age is just as alluring as its incentives. Spy Hop Productions is a nonprofit youth media art studio that offers programs in audio, film and video production, sound engineering and Web and graphic arts. Students, aged seven to 19, attend classes at little or no cost to them (financial aid is available) and are also paid a stipend to work as part of Spy Hop’s media studio. East Hollywood High School, a charter school that functions as a regular public school, also offers classes in film production, acting, directing and editing.

Recent Films: Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End, Dark Matter, The Last Sin Eater, Unaccompanied Minors, The Darwin Awards, Forever Strong
Salt Lake City On Film: SLC Punk!, A Life Less Ordinary, Clay Pigeons, The Way of the Gun, Thelma and Louise
Film Festivals: Sundance Film Festival, Slamdance Film Festival, TromaDance, Park City Film Music Festival
Film Education: Westminster College, University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College, Brigham Young University, Weber State University
Film Organizations: Sundance Institute, Salt Lake
Film Center, Salt Lake Film Society

Contact: Utah Film Commission
300 North State Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84114

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