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Atlanta Second Best Place to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2019: Big Cities


“The film business as we know it is never going back to Los Angeles,” director Joe Carnahan reportedly said during a recent press conference. “It’s a jump ball in terms of what the next big city that could build the industry is going to be.”

That sense, of the entire motion picture business thrown into the air and all of us waiting for it to come back down, is where we are at the close of 2018. The only thing we know for sure is that when the industry lands and is “rebuilt” it won’t look the same as before. Creative destruction will breed new power centers, with new players who’ve been underrepresented in the past, and new ways of imagining, making, and distributing a century-old product.

The sugar rush phase of this new reality is nearly a decade behind us already; in 2009 there were 44 states offering some form of incentive, but retrenchment has pared that down to 31 as of 2018. A new industry titan has emerged—Atlanta, Georgia—and some rival cities are being held in check by the disinterest of their state governments (looking at you, Lone Star State), while others make the right moves to become a regional powerhouse, such as our pick for #1 this year, Albuquerque, New Mexico. And how did we make it this far into the intro without mentioning Netflix? The true impact of this industry-shaking colossus won’t really be felt until rivals such as Disney copy its streaming first, theatrical maybe business model. 

So, what does this Game of Movie Thrones episode have to do with you? It makes a personal decision all the more personal. What’s your tolerance for an itinerant lifestyle, perhaps picking up and moving a few times before age 30? How does the state you’re thinking of moving to treat the industry you’ll depend on? Quality of life is a bear to measure, data or no. That said, here’s some of what went into our rankings: a city’s film activity in 2018 (number of productions, economic activity generated, shoot durations), infrastructure (health of film commissions and non-profits, number of film schools and VFX houses), and local luminaries. Then there’s population and geographical size, state and local incentive programs, and ease of movement and traffic. Lastly, we’ve erred on the side of letting quotes from the representatives of our selected cities and towns breathe a bit. These folks have lived and worked in the places you’re considering, so hopefully their stories will impact yours.


“Georgia gets better for moviemakers every day,” says Ryan Millsap, Chairman & CEO of Blackhall Studios, a $70 million production facility that opened in early 2017 in Atlanta-bordering DeKalb County. It sits on around 100 acres and boasts nine sound stages, including one 40,000-square-foot stage rivaled only by Pinewood Atlanta Studios. “There’s nowhere in the world that has poured in more capital in the last four years to create world-class moviemaking facilities than the Peach State,” Millsap says. “And there’s nowhere with tax credits more solid and easy to access.” Millsap also calls Atlanta a cosmopolitan city that is “becoming more international every day” as it welcomes people from around the world who want to taste “big city life” in the South and sample a fantastic food, art, and symphony scene at a rate of nearly 10,000 a month. “The creative vortex that’s Atlanta, combined with Georgia’s quality of life, is a magical combination rivaled in few places,” he adds. “It’s awesome to be in the middle of that, and it’s fun to see other people feel it when they get here.”

Thirty-five miles southwest of Atlanta is another testament to the city’s expansion: a 234-acre purpose-built town called Pinewood Forest (co-funded by Pinewood Studios and Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy) that sits symbiotically beside the booming, 700-acre Pinewood Atlanta Studios, the blockbuster factory that hosted Spider-Man: Homecoming and has its own Home Depot. Envisioned as a mixed-use project boasting residential communities, hotels, and restaurants, Pinewood Forest began moving in residents in 2017 and has since laid plans for 15 miles of walking trails that will connect the perimeter. Artist renderings of the development’s central square show movie posters looming above the walkways, a reminder of the project’s foundational impetus.

With this much on the line, it’s easy to see why after a hard-fought Georgia gubernatorial campaign, industry watchers will be attentive to how incoming governor Brian Kemp treats an industry that delivered $2.7 billion in direct spending in fiscal 2017 alone. On the campaign trail Kemp promised to “push to preserve the film tax credit” despite pressure from fiscal Republicans for a scale-back (the state offers a no-sunset-date 20 percent base incentive on productions that spend $500,000 or more with another 10 percent padded in), a testament to the industry’s growing gravitas. (Before the 2008 revamp of the state’s tax incentive, Georgia’s entertainment industry brought in $241 million per year; last year, it brought in around $9.5 billion.) Marquee productions recently setting up shop in Atlanta include WB’s sequel to The Shining, the Ewan McGregor-starring Doctor Sleep, the third season of the Netflix horror nostalgia series Stranger Things, and an HBO pilot for a series (subsequently greenlit and Atlanta-bound) based on Alan Moore’s Watchmen. 

Albuquerque New Mexico was ranked 1st. See more from Moviemaker.

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