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  • Mindy Raymond

Best Places to Live and Work as a MovieMaker, 2023


If we made a list of the Most Obvious Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker, New York and Los Angeles would lead it every year. They’re the film capitals of the world, unmatched in influence, opportunity and legend. So years ago, we retired them to our Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker Hall of Fame, where they stand alone and unrivaled, except by each other.

They also stand out in expense. The Worldwide Cost of Living Index just released by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that New York tied Singapore for the most expensive city in the world. Tel Aviv was next, and Los Angeles and Hong Kong were tied for fourth.

We don’t believe people should have to be rich or well-connected to make movies. And we know plenty of p

eople who moved to L.A. or New York with filmmaking dreams and ended up working industry-barely-adjacent jobs just to pay the bills. We think the best place to live is one you can afford — a place where you can be happy, inspired, and financially free to pursue your art.

That philosophy factored highly into the creation of this list. We based it on surveys with film officials, discussi

ons with filmmakers, independent research into cost of living and quality of life, and, whenever possible, visits to the cities and towns on this list.

We also took into account that some people want to live in a massive city with the biggest possible overall film-industry spend, while others want to live in a smaller community with high per-capita spend.

That’s why we offer one list of Big Cities, and another list of Smaller Cities and Towns. But we’ve made a change this year, capping the Smaller Cities and Towns list at places with a population of 200,000 or less. That means cities like New Orleans — No. 1 on our Smaller Cities and Towns list last year — have been bumped up to the Big Cities category.

For this and other reasons, we have a new No. 1 this year in both categories. After the astonishing feat of spending four consecutive years at the top of our big cities list, Albuquerque is handing the top position back to the big city that last led our list in 2018. Albuquerque hasn’t so much slipped as spread the wealth across the rest of New Mexico. The state, which we visited for several days in the summer of 2022, has built a thriving, sustainable f

ilm scene that goes well beyond its biggest city. And of course Albuquerque remains one of our favorite cinematic cities.

Finally, as you’ve probably heard, you can do almost anything over Zoom now — so your options have been freed up considerably in recent years. We understand that cold weather will be a non-starter for some people, and hot summers a problem for others. Family and personal connections are incredibly important. So our top choices may not be your top choices, and that’s fine. We hope this list helps your research and fires your imagination.

All that said, let’s travel.


Texas is booming, as you’re about to see from the five Lone Star State cities on this list — all of which would be higher in our rankings if Texas offered more generous tax incentives. Still, the state is working hard to attract film and TV projects, and the signs of growth are obvious all over the state. Fort Worth is the proud home of Taylor Sheridan’s upcoming Paramount+ limited series about Bass Reeves, the once-enslaved man who became a famed federal marshall. Sheridan’s Yellowstone prequel 1883 also shoots in Fort Worth, and is based in nearby Weatherford, where Sheridan owns a ranch. Fort Worth offers clear sk

ies, easy permitting, and a vibrant film culture that includes the Lone Star Film Festival. The 13th-biggest city in the country also has experienced crews and a cost of living almost exactly in line with the U.S. average. While there’s no official local incentive program, the city’s very accommodating film officials work hard to offer soft incentives like deals on hotels.


San Antonio offers turnkey film permitting and free permits for more than 250 city-owned locations, in

cluding parks, libraries and the endlessly photogenic San Antonio River Walk. That very welcoming attitude has drawn a healthy mix of indie films, documentaries, and unscripted shows, and the crew base is known for experience, flexibility and budget consciousness. The cost of living is surprisingly low, and San Antonio offers very competitive tax breaks: In addition to the Texas incentive of up to 22.5%, the San Antonio Film Incentive Program provides qualified productions with up to a 7.5% rebate, for a total incentive of up to 30%. The growing film culture is reflected in the University of Texas at San Antonio now offering a brand-new Bachelor of Arts in Multidisciplinary Studies: Film and Media Studies. And you can choose from a dozen equipment rental

houses, half a dozen post houses, and more than 15 production facilities. All in a region rich in history that exudes friendliness and authenticity.


It’s surprising that the country’s fourth-largest city isn’t a bigger film hub, but it has its hands full being one of America’s most diverse, business-friendly, and culturally blessed cities, all while being home to NASA. Even without big tax incentives, it remains irresistible to many filmmakers, and Richard Linklater’s semi-autobiographical 2022 animated epic Apollo 10 ½ is a great indicator of why — its history is fascinating, and its competitive drive

intoxicating. Recent shoots include VH1’s Hip Hop Family Christmas Part 2 and HBO’s Max’s House of Ho. The cost of living is below the U.S. average, which is a special find in an American metropolis of its vastness and opportunity.


Why choose Dallas? The city offers an online document that addresses just that question, and points to factors including its equal access to both coasts, great weather (except for some cold nights) and striking visuals, including modern and futuristic buildings that form a strikingly camera-worthy nighttime skyline. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the country, with a deep, experienced crew base, easily obtainable permits, and hotel deals to be had — if you’re shooting in Dallas and staying in the city’s hotels for at least 15 nights, you could qualify for up to 10% back on rooms. It’s a great city to work on other people’s projects so you can save enough money to create your own, and is almost exactly in line with the U.S. average cost of living. Just drive or walk its streets and it’s impossible not to notice the new construction and businesses popping up all over town, and it’s full of rising filmmakers who pitch in to do each other favors and bri

ng one another’s projects to life. The Dallas International Film Festival does an admirable job of showcasing must-see films like last year’s documentary Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom.


We attended the Austin Film Festival last year and couldn’t find a single thing wrong with the place, from the outstanding screening venues to the perfect tacos and barbecue to the trail alo

ng Lady Bird Lake. Sure, it’s hot in the summer, and yes, there’s an influx of tech and Hollywood money that keeps driving up prices — but Austin is still doing an admirable job of staying weird. And it’s still a lot cheaper than New York City or Los Angeles, with a film culture that matches theirs in enthusiasm. Perhaps the best of all cities for a festival, it offers not just SXSW, the Austin Film Festival and Fantastic Fest, but more than 30 others. Also welcoming: the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, administered by the Texas Film Commission, a cash grant based on in-state spending by feature film, television and commercial projects that offers up to 22.5% back to qualifying productions. And no city on this list submitted such an impressive list of filmmaker residents, from Richard Linklater to Robert Rodriguez to Terrence Malick. Its film culture also includes the Austin Film Society, founded by Linklater in 1985, and the original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema that started it all.


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