Lights, camera, h-town

Houston stars among best U.S. cities for filmmakers, new ranking shows

Houston stars among best U.S. cities for filmmakers, new ranking shows

Boyhood Richard Linklater
Films like Richard Linklater's Boyhood (partially shot here) have raised Houston's profile. Photo by Matt Lankes/IFC Films

Give Houston some (movie) credit: It’s an underrated big city to live and work as a filmmaker, according to a new ranking. In its annual report published January 16, MovieMaker magazine ranks the Bayou City No. 19 among the 20 best big North American cities for filmmakers in 2019.

The publication applauds the strong Houston DIY moviemaking spirit, noting that the Sam Houston Southwest Film Investment Fund pledged last year to build six studio lots and production offices in the Houston area before 2020. 

Also lauded is the leadership of film-industry fan Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Houston has a charm and personality that’s underrated. It’s a huge city with many locations and everyone is welcoming to moviemakers,” says writer-director Scott Brignac, who shot his debut film, Playing God, last summer in Houston.

Elsewhere, Austin ranks an impressive No. 8 among best cities for filmmakers in 2019, making it tops in Texas. Dallas shares the big-city screen at No. 17, with San Antonio at No. 20.

Here are the highlight reels for the other major Texas cities in MovieMaker’s script.

Austin
“In terms of film culture, Austin continues to grow as a city for film lovers and moviemakers; Austin Film Society’s development programs and their world-class AFS Cinema are at the heart of that,” Jason Cortlund, co-director of the Austin-shot indie thriller Barracuda, tells MovieMaker.

Dallas
Dallas supplies an abundance of “friendly and skilled crew members who work regularly and maintain an open mind when it comes to choosing projects even if they are low-budget,” the magazine notes.

Filmmakers also tout access to two mega-cities in North Texas — Dallas and Fort Worth — as well as the region’s variety of one-of-a-kind communities and neighborhoods.

San Antonio
MovieMaker spotlights the San Antonio Film Commission’s reliability in securing permits, access, and resources for moviemakers, in addition to the city’s five-year plan to transform the Alamo City into a “thriving film production hub.”

San Antonio is putting its money where its movies are, offering a 7.5 percent local supplement for qualified productions on top of state tax credits, according to the magazine.

However, the shine on Austin and the rest of Texas might be fading for some filmmakers. Cortlund complains that it’s become more difficult economically to shoot in Texas.

“State of Texas legislators did a political hit job on the incentive rebates a couple of years ago,” Cortlund grouses.

Although state officials do extend incentives to marquee shows like AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, film and TV incentives in Texas are down 75 percent from their peak a few years ago, according to MovieMaker, and some productions are weighing other options.

Cortlund reports that since wrapping two years ago, many of the crew members from Barracuda have been forced to leave the Austin area in search of work.

While Cortlund is developing a TV series that he hopes to shoot in Texas, his next two features will be filmed in New England and France.

Nonetheless, Brian Gannon, director of the Austin Film Commission, says Austin remains a vibrant filmmaking hub.

“Austin’s a great city with strong storytellers living here and crafting independent works that are distinctive and powerful. It’s a welcoming community that’s continuously evolving, with arthouse films being made side by side with Hollywood films, TV series, and commercials,” Gannon tells MovieMaker. “We’ve also worked hard to be sure the state incentives stay competitive so we can keep productions here.”

In case you’re wondering, Albuquerque, New Mexico, tops the MovieMaker list, followed by Atlanta; Vancouver, British Columbia; New York City; and Los Angeles.