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The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2018: Big Cities

The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2018: Big Cities

Annual Lists

11. Portland, Oregon

A casting notice that went up in April, 2017 for the Portland-filmed HBO pilot Here, Now with Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter specifically called for “Portland hipster types,” but hey, there are worse things to be. Portland’s reputation as a progressive bastion goes hand in hand with its ingrained, bustling film community, one that prides itself on low barriers of entry. A handful of first-time feature directors filmed or began screening their work in 2017, including Shut Up Anthony’s Kyle Eaton, She’s in Portland’s Marc Carlini and Clementine’s Lara Jean Gallagher, who saw her film accepted into Venice and Sundance programs.

“Portland has earned its reputation as a welcoming, livable city for people within the film industry,” says Portland Film Office Manager Brian Lord. “The local production culture promotes access to mentoring and idea sharing, and the industry enjoys strong support from elected officials and public-private partnerships.” Lord adds that the Film Office is working together with partners to address challenges of housing costs, innovation and equity, and that the momentum is there to push Portland even further along its path to being one of the industry’s indispensable North American cities. A few things that Bridgetown already boasts: gorgeous locations, friendly locals, incredible food, and a deep art house cinema scene.

Debra Granik and DP Michael McDonough shoot the forest for the trees during the Portland-based production of Leave No Trace.

12. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Anyone who has visited a film set in Oklahoma City in late summer probably has the same handful of takeaways: the real-life cowboys milling around, the picturesque mom and pop diners dotting Route 66, and the city’s breathtaking open skies that even a wide-angle lens can’t truly capture. It’s the kind of natural beauty that makes you hope they know what they’ve got there. To wit: The Oklahoma Film + Music Office is currently offering a cash rebate of 35-37 percent on qualified transactions, with a base increase of two percent for a minimum spend on music recorded in-state. The rebate program, which OF + MO Director Tava Sofsky says is “among the most competitive film incentives in the U.S.,” was recently given a 10-year extension until 2024.

Sofsky also says that Oklahoma City is undergoing a renaissance and notes the city’s inclusion in a 2017 Forbes ranking of top 10 cities for entrepreneurs as well as nods in other rankings for lowest cost of living and lowest cost of doing business. More ear-to-the-ground evidence might be the city’s healthy smattering of noted film festivals, including the deadCENTER Film Festival, founded in 2001 to bring attention to local moviemakers and named for its location in the exact center of the U.S. There’s also the anticipated 2018 opening of Rodeo Cinema, in a 1924 building in the Stockyards neighborhood that was once a live music venue. The theater will be a sister cinema to Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, which shows arthouse fare and specialty programming.

Crewmembers prep Stef Dawson (C) on the Oklahoma City set of Painted Woman. Photo by Priscilla Tran.

13. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia film community’s last couple of years have been rocky, no pun intended. While the city has its perennial film heroes like Philadelphia’s Andrew Beckett and the Italian Stallion, a real-life champion is what’s been needed to help Philly’s commercial film scene dig out of a malaise attributed partially to uncompetitive tax incentives and competitive neighbors. The Greater Philadelphia Film Office’s failure in 2016 to lure David Fincher’s Netflix series Mindhunter to Philly after Fincher had begun scouting locations (the show ultimately went with Pittsburgh) caused enough of a stir to warrant an article in Philadelphia magazine. The Film Office’s chief Sharon Pinkenson told Philadelphia that while Pittsburgh has the same tax credits as Philly, the unspoken difference was Pittsburgh’s more amenable labor union. Around the same time as the Mindhunter loss, a Nicolas Cage thriller with the working title Philly Fury took its production to Mississippi.

Since that period, a handful of marquee projects have turned up on Philly’s doorstep, including the Bryan Cranston-Kevin Hart comedy The Upside and the long-awaited sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, titled Glass. Also, this past June, Pinkenson and her colleagues in the Film Office rebounded in a major way, staging a passionate public rally at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—the “Rocky steps”—in support of better tax credits. Shyamalan spoke to the crowd at the rally, and repeated what friends in L.A. say when they ask for the low-down on shooting in Philly: “Do they have the tax credits? It’s the first question they ask,” he said.

Meanwhile, the indie film scene in Philly is humming along with production company South Fellini as a good example. Co-founded by Philly natives Tony Trov and Johnny Zito in 2010, the company has developed graphic novels and films for Image Comics, Ford Automotive and Red 5 Comics among others, while shooting the 2013 horror comedy Alpha Girls and, more recently, the as-yet unreleased horror film American Exorcist. “Philadelphia is a great city for filmmaking,” Trov says. “We have tons of resources and few restrictions, plus the city is just beautiful. If you’ve ever fantasized about making a gritty, down-in-the-streets, ’70s-style indie film, this is where it can happen, right now.”

M. Night Shamylan on the Philly set of Glass. Photograph by John Baer, courtesy of Universal Studios.

14. Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis will always be the home of the King (Elvis, that is), but it’s so much more. With a population approaching 700,000, the city hosted 119 client projects in 2017, resulting in a reported 983 jobs, and the number of network series ballooned from 24 to 42, including NBC’s hit show This is Us. In addition to the state’s cash back rate of 25 percent offered to productions that qualify, the city government is offering free office space, discounted police rates and free real estate usage. Another thing that’s free is the city’s infectious Southern vibrancy, available to all.

“Memphis can’t be beat in terms of personality, authenticity, novelty and pictorial appeal,” says John Beifuss, longtime reporter and film critic for The Commercial Appeal. “The diversity of its neighborhoods, commercial districts, green spaces—all this has been underutilized. The city and the Film Commission are eager to cooperate with filmmakers. It’s all here, it just needs someone to make use of it. There’s no reason a visionary or internationally embraced film on the scale of Moonlight or A Ghost Story couldn’t emerge from Memphis.”

One émigré from Hollywood working to make that next success happen is Tom Shadyac, former Hollywood director of Ace Ventura and Bruce Almighty, and now South Memphis benefactor and driving force behind what will soon be a mini-movie studio in the heart of the city. Another famous Memphis local, Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer, recently returned to film a digital comedy program called “The You Look Like Show” at local Memphis artist hangout The P & H Café. Something keeps drawing local success stories back to Memphis, and it can’t be just the BBQ tofu nachos.

Memphis moviemaking champion Tom Shadyac sets up a shot of Brian Banks with DP Ricardo Diaz. Photograph by Katherine Bombay.

15. Houston, Texas

Classic films shot in Houston over the years include Urban Cowboy, Reality Bites, Rushmore, and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Keeping that tradition alive will require invested young Houstonites, and local filmmaker Michelle Mower (The Preacher’s Sin) offers praise for organizations such as Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) and Women In Film and Television for nurturing Houston’s young talent and connecting them to the industry. She also calls attention to local venues where indie moviemakers can screen films and see the work of colleagues, such as the MFAH, Aurora Picture Show and 14 Pews. Mower has candid thoughts for the city’s decision-makers, as well:

“For mid-tiered filmmakers like myself, who’ve achieved some level of success, there are very few resources that incentivize us to stay and build careers,” she says. “Lack of a real industry infrastructure, tax incentives and access to local media limit what a filmmaker in Houston can achieve locally. If Houston wants a Linklater or a Rodriguez-level filmmaker to work here, they must invest in local talent and infrastructure and get Houston media to pay closer attention to our stories.”

Cost of living in the country’s aerospace capital remains cheap, with housing costs 37.4 percent below national average and living costs at 20.8 percent below average, and as one would expect from a large city, the cultural menu is limitless—over 100 languages are spoken by Houston’s residents. The city also offers in-kind incentives and program grants, with local incentives offered on a project-by-project basis. Texas offers cash grants for a percentage of a production’s expenditure in state, in Houston’s case between 7.5 and 22.5 percent.

A commercial production for the agency ELL Creative gets rolling in Houston. Photograph by Craig Busch.

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  1. Avatar Tom Luca says:

    Very interesting and a heated topic amongst states fighting for MPIs for their economy. Thank You for sharing, this needs to be seen in New Jersey.

  2. Avatar Kim Kelln says:

    You might want to add Calgary, Alberta to your list. Not as big as Vancouver or TO, but certainly lots of action, especially for TV – Fargo, Tin Star, Wynona Earp, Hearland, Hell on Wheels. Not to mention the Calgary Film Centre ( with 50K square feet (4700 square meters) of sound stages. Plus equipment and crews.

  3. Avatar Charles Edgeworth says:

    I made a movie in Oklahoma. In 2015 we shot “Help! My mother is a chin!” In fifteen days . it received no mention at the Oscars despite it being shot in colour with two different cameras , a professional actress and a heartwarming narrative about the often ignored voices of people who are born as a chin. No arms to hug the needy, no feet scamper like a sprite through an enchanting forest. Nothing. Only chin.

    Am I expected to believe that the films lack of success is no fault of Oklahoma? Ha!

    Also, to the king stranger who pointed me to the medicine isle of walgreens Oklahoma. I owe you a tremendous debt. You’re kind intervention not only saved me from an embarrassing self-shitting scenario but it saved my trousers which are of tremendous sentimental value(due to me winning them at a carnival. I successfully guessed the weight of a large lady with a beard)

  4. Avatar Pablo says:

    You definitely forgot about Mexico City. Over 120 movies produced in 2017 easily beats most of the cities on this list. Plus a lot of Hollywood Blockbusters and Netflix series shoot all around the year in Mexico City.

  5. Avatar William Morris says:

    Philadelphia is a complete mess. There is no communication from the Film Office no one can ever find out anything about any production. The self created money laundering PAFIA boasts their dues money goes to hire a lobbyist for film tax credits. 1 person. They are pulling in almost 50 dollars a head from thousands of actors. The tax credits themselves are sold and pawned like a cheap hooker. Philadelphia gets nothing while Pittsburgh production’s use most of the credits. The casting company here hire non union actors for SAG union spots while SAG actors are not called in for these principle role auditions. We here in Philadelphia demand change and regulation of tax credits and changes in how casting operates. Union work is so sparse everyone has to travel to New York to work. The productions that do film here do not follow union rules and the SAG union spends more time filing claims against these productions to get actors money owed to them, instead of trying to promote more union work like they want to. Our council members in Harrisburg won’t answer calls or even return calls from Philadelphia. This city is in need of repair and change in the entertainment industry. Thank God we have M Night and Sly Stallone who still support Philadelphia.

  6. Avatar Mavis says:

    How far North Carolina has fallen. Before 2010 and the GOP takeover of our government, we were THIRD after CA and NY. Georgia’s Republicans had no problem with incentives and took the long-term approach. Too bad for the vendors, crew and talent that have been lost after a 30+ year legacy.

  7. Avatar Brent Harris says:

    Hi my name is Brent harris , I’ve done construction in Oklahoma since the early 80s, my dad owned a cabinet shop and i’ve worked in several homes all over Oklahoma, I have an idea for an Oklahoma based reality TV show, The whole time I was doing residential construction I left a very extensive trail of hidden objects and messages and hints that lead to other homes we did, I think it would be neat to go to two of the homes and have the homeowners compete to find things in their home that were left behind when the home was under construction, they could compete for money and prizes and what ever damage they do to their home will be fixed ,preferably with Oklahoma contractors, I hid plenty of things in these homes and most homes should lead to another home which start the whole process over again, I think it would make for a fun and entertaining show, if you have ideas on how to make this happen please contact me at 405-613-5426

  8. Avatar Justin Urface says:

    Albuquerque, New Mexico better place to work in the film business than Boston or Toronto? Ugh. It’s an awful place to live.

  9. Avatar Gweilojoe says:

    I don’t quite get the criteria? How could Atlanta possibly be ahead of Vancouver? On every single measure there used Vancouver was ahead. Then throw in the fact that Vancouver is continuously ranked one of the top 3 cities in the world to live and Atlanta doesn’t make the top 50. So i am going to call BS on this list!

    • Avatar CSmith says:

      Gweilojoe, you obviously know nothing about the film industry, cause if you did you would know that many TV shows and movies have been shooting in ATL/Georgia for years now, including the Walking Dead.

    • Avatar Bravewall says:

      I work in the Van industry, and even I’ll concede the top spot to Atlanta… At least for now. Besides TWD, the most popular MCU movies are done there, and the Georgia peach is seen at the end of plenty other films. But another reason, as this list is about living and working, Atlanta is a much more affordable place to live. Vancouver is expensive, as is L.A. yes our business is booming and growing exponentially, but we are being gouged by living expenses. So for that reason more than any other Atlanta is where I would go to work, if I was American. But I’m quite happy here, just surviving.

  10. Avatar Andy Astro says:

    Since the Hunter TV series and the ’60s film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was filmed in San Diego and that Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like It Hot was filmed across the harbor in Coronado, why isn’t San Diego @ the top of this list?? Not to mention Rachel Welch and the Barbie sisters are from San Diego. And whutz not to luv of the La Jolla & Torrey Pines part of San Diego?

  11. Avatar Bradely says:

    Really interesting story. Los Angeles, California is my dream city. I am a blogger and pretty good with reviewing movies. From next year I will pursue my passion for writing and acting. Let’s see which city!

  12. Avatar Rozy says:

    I live in Seattle and the city is mostly supportive to large-scale film projects. The tax incentives are not as good as other cities. WA state almost did away with their tax incentive program until filmmakers fought to keep it. There are many talented filmmakers and crew here but it’s not easy to make a living in film here (unless its corporate commercial work). Vancouver, BC seems like the better place to be.

  13. Does anyone know anything about film making in Buffalo, NY?

  14. Avatar alex says:

    and the title implies that the world has shrinked to the size of North America. Of course! What’s the point in living elsewhere?

    • Avatar Vladislaw says:

      And you know who reads their site? A global audience or a north american?

      • Avatar Heta says:

        Anyone who googles something along the lines of “best cities for movie production” will find this list. Including me, someone who’s never stepped foot on American soil.

  15. Houston is now the 3rd largest city in America, with the lowest cost of living of any major city in the USA. It is also the home of the 52nd Annual WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, the oldest Indie Film Festival in the whole wide world. WorldFest gave 1st honors to Spielberg, George Lucas, Ang Lee, the Coen Brothers, John Lee Hancock, David Lynch, Randal Kleiser, Oliver Stone, John Lee Hancock and literally hundreds more. Every April WorldFest discovers the Spielberg’s and Ang Lee’s of tomorrow. This year the 52nd Worldfest is April 5th through the 14th, with more than 1,000 Intl filmmakers attending and premiering more than 200 films.

  16. Avatar Lizzy says:

    It’s be cool if you can updated this, Since now that a lot has changed this year.. I wonder will GA still remain number one for filmmakers?? Looks like some of the film studios might move out to find another state that is more friendlier to women rights…

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