Top 20 Cities in the U.S. to work as a Screenwriter outside of LA & NYC (Part 2).
Updated: Apr 16
Article 2 of our 10-part Screenwriting Staffing Industry Series will focus on finding screenwriting success outside of Hollywood. To stay current, join our mailing list. Get your script into the hands of buyers and pros!
Throughout my career as a screenwriter, I have had the opportunity to live and work all over the country, with roughly half of my professional journey taking place in Los Angeles. The purpose of this article is not to dissuade you from relocating to Los Angeles. Instead, it aims to offer alternative options should your circumstances prevent you from making the move.
First and foremost, Los Angeles County, and specifically Hollywood, undeniably remains the heart of the film and television industry, with its prominence likely to continue for years to come. Over time, Hollywood has proven its resilience, as nearly all significant productions pass through its channels in one way or another. The Big Six studios—Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal, Sony Pictures, and Disney—all maintain their headquarters in LA and show no signs of relocating. Moreover, major streaming platforms such as Netflix also operate significant offices within the city.
Los Angeles is home to prestigious film schools, renowned film festivals, an exceptional talent pool (including both on-screen and behind-the-scenes professionals), highly creative and innovative individuals, as well as leading production and distribution companies from around the globe.
If you want to work in television, this article will not apply to you. You can not be staffed for a major show (minus NYC) without living in Hollywood. In fact, living in Orange County will put you out of the running. That’s not to say that times aren’t changing, and I believe in the next 5-10 years we will see a portion of shows being written outside of “Hollywood” -- but for now, it’s predominantly Hollywood.
But what about movies? Can a screenwriter find success without living in Hollywood? Absolutely.
Consequently, I have put together a list of the best cities for screenwriting outside of California and New York. This compilation is informed by personal screenwriting experiences as a screenwriter while traveling and working, my interactions with countless screenwriters and producers nationwide through Screenwriting Staffing, my participation in film festivals and seminars as an attendee, judge, or speaker in recent years, and extensive online research.
To get straight to my top 20 list, feel free to skip my introduction and opening argument (scroll to bottom).
Let’s first discuss what Hollywood, and by Hollywood, I mean industry executives, aren’t telling you.
According to Los Angeles Daily News, only 10 of the 100 top movies in 2017 were shot in California, and most of those were not even in Los Angeles. (2018 and 2019 were similar). Although the exact figures are not yet available for 2022, it is anticipated that Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico will surpass California in terms of the number of films produced AGAIN, thanks to their film-friendly policies and tax incentives. This trend highlights the growing importance of these states as popular filming locations in the industry.
In 2017, an astonishing 90% of films produced by Hollywood were not filmed in California. Georgia took the top spot with 15 movies shot within the state. As of 2016, Georgia has led the United States in feature film production, based on the number of films made. Even now (2023), Georgia continues to reign supreme in the film industry. According to The Hollywood Reporter, which also ranked Georgia first, the UK and Canada (with the highest count) surpassed California in terms of film production. Although California secured fourth place, it only narrowly edged out New York and Louisiana.
According to Chron.com, Texas and Illinois were listed as some of the top states where films were produced from 2019-2022. In 2023, states such as Massachusetts, Arizona, and Ohio are anticipated to challenge California's film production dominance and may even surpass it!
We aren’t talking about international films here. We are talking about Hollywood-grown projects that were shot elsewhere.
According to Worldatlas, India and Nigeria beat out the United States in films produced. If you haven’t heard of Bollywood or Nollywood, it’s time to start researching them. They are taking the film world by storm, especially Nigeria. Nigeria gets a bad wrap, and rightfully so at times, but when it comes to low-budget filmmaking, they are light years ahead of everyone else. The two nations independently develop and execute projects within their respective territories, as opposed to the United States.
Furthermore, China and Japan only trailed slightly behind the U.S.. China is expected to pass everyone; it’s just a matter of time. Refer to article 1 of our series.
Canada played host to more films than anyone else, which is why they are often called Hollywood North.
So why are productions being shot internationally?
Low costs and tax incentives. Period. Places outside of the UK and Canada that Hollywood tends to flock to include: France, Germany, Mexico, Italy, China, Australia, and Spain. These are just a few of many. It doesn’t take much researching online to see why these countries attract Hollywood productions. The last 2 multi award-winning short films that I produced (Tu Ausencia and From Gringo To Grave) were shot on location in Mexico.
Producers in LA will be the first ones to tell you that they would love to shoot local. But because of all the hoops you have to jump through to shoot in California -- permits, taxes, restrictions -- it makes more sense to move production elsewhere.
With that said, the United States and Canada boast the largest box office profit, with most of it coming from the US. So while other countries may be producing more content, the US still controls the box office -- which is good news for American writers -- for now.
Going back to the United States, I want to quickly discuss why Hollywood looks to other parts of the country to shoot.
The subsequent details are sourced from the state film commissions' webpage. (Please note that some of these figures may have already changed since the time of my research, and they will continue to evolve as political landscapes shift.)
Oklahoma offers a 35% tax incentive.
Georgia, Illinois, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, and Washington offer 30%.
States such as Alabama, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Mississippi (there are more) offer up to 25%.
So why does all of this matter, you’re wondering? Especially for screenwriters?
When Hollywood brings projects to different states, these regions start paying attention. Areas typically recognized for sports, theater, or even medical expertise begin to pivot and explore opportunities to capitalize on Hollywood's lucrative ventures. However, the primary obstacle isn't the demand, but rather the supply. The cities themselves often lack the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the industry's requirements.
So what happens?
-- state film commissions hire more staff.
-- local city film commissions emerge to act as a little brother to the larger commissions. These commissions often hold monthly meetings and workshops.
-- established film festivals in major cities experience a surge in submissions, particularly from international sources. As a result, these events extend from a weekend to a full week, incorporating mixers and VIP parties that attract prominent filmmakers.
-- smaller film festivals are created in smaller cities. Most are locally-produced films screened at local theaters.
-- film and screenwriting gurus who travel and speak on the craft take notice of trending film cities. They schedule seminars locally, educating the masses.
-- large universities (even community colleges) add film and screenwriting courses to their curriculum. In some cases, they create Majors specifically for the film and TV industry.
-- smaller film and art schools buy building space. Some have 1-month programs, 6-month programs, or even just a day.
-- leading independent production companies based in Los Angeles opt to establish new branches in these cities, ensuring they have a presence at the local level.
--Local cast and crew members with limited experience gain hands-on exposure through below-the-line production tasks and minor speaking roles, providing valuable on-set training. Local producers recognize this, and instead of hiring from out-of-state, they prioritize local talent for both casting and crew positions. Businesses specializing in camera, lighting, and sound equipment take note of the growing market and subsequently establish their presence in these cities.
-- As with any instance of a city experiencing an influx of creative activity, coffee shops and bars begin to emerge, new movie theaters are established, the theater and opera community thrives, bookstores prosper, and luxury condominiums are constructed.
So what does this all mean?
It means that Hollywood is no longer the only place where you can find qualified talent, crew, and writers. These cities have equipped its citizens with the tools to flourish in the film industry. Hollywood is no longer the only place where you can study film, write films, make films, and talk professionally on films.
Still don’t believe me?
According to the Film LA report, Pinewood Atlanta Studios, which rests on 700 acres with 18 sound stages, is the number one filming location in the world. Yes, the world. Franchises like JAMES BOND utilized their studio. Atlanta also serves as the hub of Georgia's film industry, housing major studios such as Turner, Tyler Perry, and EUE/Screen Gems.
Netflix recently opened up a new hub in Albuquerque. The lot features 48,000-square-foot shooting space (and growing) and 8-sound stages, not to mention a huge backlot. Albuquerque Studios and Santa Fe Studios have been home to productions like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Facebook, who is getting into the streaming game, bought property there, too!
Magnolia Pictures, known as one of the top award-winning indie and foreign distribution companies in the world, has offices in Austin, Texas. They also have Austin Studios and Troublemaker Studios, founded by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.
Earl Owensby Studio, located in Shelby, North Carolina, has had over 40+ films produced on their lot, including 20 Century Fox’s academy-nominated film, The Abyss.
New York, of course, is home to some of the major studios in the world, including Dimension Films. It is also home to major studios like Silvercup Studios and Steiner Studios, which have hosted productions such as The Sopranos, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Boardwalk Empire.
Affirm Films, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures, maintains offices in Nashville, Tennessee. Additionally, The Daily Write, another Nashville-based company, has been involved in the production of over 2,500 projects (according to IMDb Pro), spanning film, TV, and podcasts.
Second Line Stages and Big Easy Studios, based in or around New Orleans, Louisiana, hosted projects like 12 Years a Slave and American Horror Story.
William Morris Endeavor (WME), arguably the TOP screenwriting literary agency in the world, has offices in Miami, Florida.
Creative Artists Agency, who represent major A-listers such as Tom Hardy, Lady Gaga, and Bradley Cooper, have offices in St. Louis, MO.
International Creative Management Partners (ICM). Another top talent and literary agency, have offices in Washington D.C.
Paradigm Talent Agency, one of the top entertainment agencies in the world, has offices in Chicago, Illinois. Also, Cinespace Chicago Film Studios has become a prominent facility in the city.
IndieFlix, a global distribution company and prominent streaming service, has its headquarters in Seattle, Washington.
PureFlix, arguably the largest Christian distribution company and streaming service in the world, known for God’s Not Dead, is based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Also in Arizona is Old Tucson Company, home of over 400 western films.
The list goes on...
So without further ado, here are my top 20 destinations for screenwriters for those not wanting to live in California or New York.
1) ATLANTA - There’s no question that Atlanta is the “Hollywood of the East and South”. Actors and crew are not the only ones flocking to Atlanta as an alternative to Hollywood. Screenwriters and directors are, too. It not only boasts one of the largest studios in America, but the city (and its suburbs) are riddled with independent and commercial production houses. As Georgia has surpassed California to become the leading filming location for major Hollywood productions, it is anticipated that its prominence will continue to grow, further distancing itself from the California film industry. Atlanta is also home to the Atlanta Film Festival, one of only two dozen Oscar-qualifying festivals. Being in business for over 40 years, it remains one of the oldest film festivals in the country. Other notable festivals that attract Hollywood-types include Out on Film and Atlanta Underground Film Festival. Screencraft hosts one of the most significant screenwriting events each year at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta. The event consists of pitch fests, screenwriting workshops, panels, parties, and mixers, where agents, producers, and writers can network. Atlanta also has some notable film and screenwriting schools. Georgia State University has the largest film and media program in all of Georgia. Other notable film schools include Georgia Film Academy and The Art Institute of Atlanta. There’s also a pool of other screenwriters and entertainment professionals to meet. According to Meetup.com, Atlanta has one of the most prominent meetups in the country, which include (but not limited to), the official Atlanta Screenwriters Group, FILM Atlanta Meetup, and Atlanta Tech and Entertainment Group. Third Thursday with the International Screenwriters Association has a location in Atlanta. ** From 2019-2022, Georgia came in 4th as the state with the most number of producers posting leads at Screenwriting Staffing. The city of Atlanta accounted for 90% of those.
2) AUSTIN -- Austin is a strong number two, and if it weren’t for the amount of films being shot in Atlanta, it could quite possibly be number one. Austin is home to the largest film festival for screenwriters, The Austin Film Festival (previously known as Heart of Film Screenwriters Conference). Their festival has been championing screenwriters for nearly three decades now. The festival itself brings in some major players. Panels and conferences include some of Hollywood’s top agents and screenwriters. Their screenplay contest is hailed as one of the best in the country, if not in the world. I’d be so bold to say it’s number two, right behind Academy Nicholl Fellowships. Even during the festival’s off season, they still provide film and screenwriting camps, classes, and education. Scripts that have emerged as winners have gone on to make major money in the box office. Austin Film Festival is not the only major festival Austin hosts. South by Southwest holds a nine-day film festival each March. The festival encompasses not only film but also music and interactive media, attracting major Hollywood celebrities to the event. In 2015, the festival featured 735 industry experts discussing various aspects of the film world.. The University of Texas has arguably one of the best film programs outside of Los Angeles. Students who have graduated from their Radio-Television-Film program have gone on to make and write some major films. Another popular school is the Austin School of Film. WriterDuet, which I would consider the second-best screenwriting software on the market, is based in Austin. Similar to Atlanta, numerous meetup groups can be found in the area, covering a range of topics such as general writing, screenwriting, and the film industry as a whole. Third Thursday with the International Screenwriters Association has a location in Austin. There’s an endless pool of talent in Texas’ capital. ** From 2019-202, Texas came in 5th as the state with the most number of producers posting leads at Screenwriting Staffing, most of them being based out of Austin, Dallas & Houston.
3) CHICAGO - It’s no surprise that Chicago, the 3rd largest city in the U.S., would make my top three. The Windy City has attracted filmmakers, writers, and artists for over the last century. The reason so many films are shot in Chicago is due to their generous tax incentive. Chicago may very-well have the top film programs outside of Los Angeles. DePaul University and Northwestern University may very well be in the top fifteen schools where you can get an MFA in screenwriting. Both schools have veteran and experienced faculty, including Scott Myers at DePaul (writer of Trojan War, K-9, among others). Right behind DePaul is Columbia College Chicago, specializes in film, media, and arts, and Art Institute of Chicago. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Second City, a school that focuses on comedy for film and television. Many of their students have gone on to be staffed on shows. Chicago is unbeatable when it comes to film festivals. Chicago has 2 major film festivals that are Oscar-qualifying: Chicago International Film Festival and Chicago International Kids Film Festival. Other notable festivals include Chicago South Asian Film Festival and the Chicago Underground Film Festival. The Chicago Screenwriters Network is one of the most (if not number one) active screenwriting organizations in the Midwest. Their organization provides monthly meetings, contests, workshops, and prominent guest speakers. Outside of California and New York, according to Meetup.Com, Chicago has the largest writers meetup group: The Chicago Writers Circle. Third Thursday with the International Screenwriters Association has a location in Chicago. The town also has many other film and screenwriting groups scattered throughout the city. Many high-profile talent agencies and film companies have offices throughout Chicago. ** From 2019-2022, Illinois came in 3rd as the state with the most number of producers posting leads at Screenwriting Staffing, 95% of them being based in Chicago.
ALBUQUERQUE-SANTA FE - Seeing that they are only 60 miles apart, I’m combining the two. With Netflix's decision to put a studio in Albuquerque, this makes this region very lucrative moving forward. Business Insider said that Netflix’s move to New Mexico would bring one billion into production over the next ten years. This will have a tremendous impact on both cites. While on the surface this looks great for just cast and crew, this will also open up opportunities for those who want to work in development, write, and direct after the first couple of years. Why have a major studio shooting on location and no in-house writers? It’s just a matter of time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other streaming services or networks setting up shop in the area, given their 25% tax incentive for film, and 30% for television. When Gene Hackman retired from acting and shifted towards writing, he moved to Santa Fe. So let’s start with Santa Fe first. Santa Fe is home to the New Mexico Film Office, one of the most active film offices in the country. In addition to bringing Hollywood films to the region, they provide a substantial number of classes and workshops. They are more than just a film office. Just a mile down the street you will find the New Mexico Film Foundation, which is dedicated to enhancing screenwriters and filmmakers career. Santa Fe also hosts The Original Santa Fe Film Festival, which has been in operation for two decades. Stephanie Palmer's company, Good In A Room, is headquartered in Santa Fe and instructs screenwriters on the art of promoting both themselves and their scripts. Albuquerque, though, may eventually surpass Santa Fe with Netflix touching down. The University of New Mexico offers a comprehensive program that focuses on all types of cinema, film (from pre to post), animation and screenwriting. If you aren’t looking for a four-year degree, you can hop on over to Central New Mexico Community College to study film. While only in its 7th year, Albuquerque Film & Music Experience is an up-and-coming film festival where you can often spot celebrities. Both cities bode well in terms of active writing/screenwriting meetup groups.
5) BOSTON - Only a four-hour train ride to New York City, Boston is a desirable place for filmmakers and screenwriters. If it weren’t for ALBUQUERQUE-SANTA FE's recent jump to the top 4, Boston would have come in as 4. Easily one of the top ten schools in the country to get an MFA in screenwriting is Boston University. Their courses equip their students with relevant industry training. Right behind Boston University is the eminent Emerson College, which offers film majors. And, of course, just a few miles down the road is the most revered school in the country, Harvard, who also offers film study programs. Boston has always been a hotbed for writing and screenwriting geniuses, such as George Abbott. IFF Boston and Boston Film Festival (over 3 decades old) are considered some of the best festivals for indie and emerging filmmakers. Massachusetts provides great tax credits (up to 25%) to Hollywood films, and with Massachusetts Film Office being based in Boston, Boston reaps most of the benefits. Like the other four above them, Boston has a tremendous amount of writing, screenwriting, and film meetups. Third Thursday with the International Screenwriters Association has a location in Boston. When a city has as many prestigious universities as Boston, it is no surprise to find literary luminaries in and around the area.
6) SALT LAKE CITY - It's impossible to discuss Salt Lake City without mentioning SUNDANCE, the most esteemed film festival in the nation. Held each January in Park City and Salt Lake City, Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States. Sundance brings in the heavy hitters, Hollywood’s elite. There’s no better festival to network at than Sundance. The festival has a plethora of meet and greets, mixers, and red carpet events -- not to mention premieres of some of the top films in the world. Arguably one of the top screenwriting fellowships in the world is the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Lab. The Institute, founded by Robert Redford, provides artists and writers with a creative space to thrive and achieve their goals. Sundance alone is sufficient to establish Salt Lake City as a premier work destination. Only 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, you can find the FilmQuest Festival, which celebrates fantasy, horror, and sci-fi films and scripts. Salt Lake Film Society is a one of a kind film organization. According to their website, they offer over 12,000 film opportunities a year through screenings, presentations, and education. A favorite among writers is the Utah Screenwriters Project, which is a year-long project that nurtures and develops writers. If you are looking for a degree program, the University of Utah offers film majors with a focus in screenwriting. The Greater Salt Lake City area is also home to KeepWriting.com, which is owned and operated by Dave Trottier (also known as Dr. Format), the genius behind The Screenwriter’s Bible. Similar to cities like Boston, Salt Lake City is home to the state’s film commission, which provides a lot of fantastic resources to writers and filmmakers. The city also offers some smaller screenwriting meetup groups, such as Wasatch Writers Fellowship and Salt Lake City Sandy Writer Meetup.
7) DALLAS - Less than a 3-hour drive and one hour flight from Austin (my #2 screenwriting destination), Dallas is starting to get the attention they deserve. Dallas (and the surrounding area) is one of the largest growing communities in the country. USA Film Festival, based in Dallas, was established in 1970, and unlike other festivals, it’s year-round. USA Film Festival is only among the few in the U.S. that are Oscar-qualifying. Another fan favorite is the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, which has existed for over 15 years. Dallas Film Society is arguably one of the best things Dallas has to offer to both filmmakers and screenwriters. They are the creators of the Dallas International Film Festival. Their organization holds film and screenwriting workshops, camps, and classes throughout the year. Dallas VideoFest is another established film festival that offers up a lot to the Dallas film community. Dallas also has the Dallas Screenwriters Association, a community that focuses on the business of screenwriting. They provide numerous networking opportunities and frequently invite distinguished speakers. If you are seeking a film degree that concentrates on screenwriting and directing and can be completed in under 18 months, KD Conservatory College of Film and Dramatic Arts in Dallas is one of the leading film schools in Texas. Other notable schools in the area where you can earn a film degree include Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas, and The Art Institute of Dallas. ** From 2019-2022, Texas came in 5th as the state with the most number of producers posting leads at Screenwriting Staffing.
8) MIAMI - If you are looking for gorgeous year-round weather and beautiful beaches and aren’t wanting to do Los Angeles, Miami can give you just that. Miami has a plethora of schools that specialize in screenwriting and film. Some of these include: Film School Miami by New York Film Academy, University of Miami, Barry University, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College, and Palm Beach Atlantic University, just to name a few. Trust me, there’s more. Filmiami is a partnership between the two Greater Miami Film Offices. Filmiami is a one-stop-shop all thing films: job listings, permits, locations, equipment, meetings, and more. The Miami International Film Festival is a ten-day event, with an average annual attendance of 70,000. The festival is currently in its 36th year. Other notable film festivals in Miami that draw in crowds and publicity include: Miami Jewish Film Festival, OUTshine Film Festival, and Borscht Film Festival. According to Meetup.com, there are ten writing, film, and screenwriting meetups that frequently meet. And let’s not forget, William Morris Endeavor has offices in Miami. Super Bowl LIV, and that will tell you everything you need to know about Miami and entertainment. ** From 2019-202, Florida came in 6th as the state with the most number of producers posting leads at Screenwriting Staffing, most of it coming from Miami and Orlando.
9) CINCINNATI-DAYTON - Since Cincinnati and Dayton are near each other, I will be combining the two of them. Let’s first start with Cincinnati. Ohio’s 30% tax incentive has changed the film landscape in Ohio, specifically in Cincinnati. Film Cincinnati (Cincinnati’s Film Commission) has assisted in bringing in over 200 films into the greater Cincinnati area over the past 30 years. Although they don't provide as many programs and workshops as other film commissions, they have a remarkable record of attracting high-profile Hollywood movies, complete with A-list celebrities, which benefits the entire community. While a few of Cincinnati's major film festivals are presently on hold, the influx of a plethora of new film festivals generates a lot of buzz because of the numerous films being showcased in the area.. Notable festivals include: Over-The-Rhine Film Festival, Cindependent Film Festival, Cincinnati Fringe Festival, HorrorHound Film Festival , and Inside The Loop Film Festival. If you are looking to study film and introductory screenwriting, the University of Cincinnati offers some competitive programs. Like Orlando (my #11), Cincinnati is a central location that makes it easy to work in other major cities, too. Cincinnati borders two states: Indiana and Kentucky. In addition to Script Shop, a fascinating podcast that links screenwriters with producers, Cincinnati is home to the Cincinnati Screenwriters Group, which convenes on a monthly basis. Due to Hollywood's fascination with filming in Cincinnati, you are highly likely to catch a glimpse of a number of A-listers, including Ron Howard, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett, and Zac Efron, among numerous others. 50 miles north is Dayton. Dayton has emerged as one of the top film cities in Ohio, mainly due to FilmDayton (Dayton’s Film Commission) offering monthly workshops and training to local filmmakers and screenwriters, as well as Wright State University’s well-known BFA Motion Picture Degree, which has even been endorsed by Tom Hanks. Dayton also has some notable film festivals: Dayton LGBT Film Festival, Dayton Jewish Film Festival, Dayton Independent Film Festival. Third Thursday with the International Screenwriters Association has a location in Dayton. Dayton, out of all the cities listed, is the most affordable to live.
10) PHILADELPHIA - Only about an hour and a half drive from New York City, one hour subway trip, Philly is in a great location. Philly wouldn't be Philly without the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. GPFO are the minds behind “Set in Philadelphia” Screenwriting Competition, with high profile producers as judges. GPFO also facilitates parties, film events, job hotlines, permits, and more. Philadelphia's Drexel and Temple (2 of the top schools in all of Pennsylvania) both offer competitive programs in screenwriting. Other notable film schools include Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Film School and The Art Institute of Philadelphia. The city of Philly has always been a lover of film, so it’s no surprise they have some amazing film festivals. These include (but not limited to) Philadelphia Film Festival (sponsored by Philadelphia Film Society), Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival (nearly 4 decades old), and FirstGlance Film Festival. According to Meetup.com, Philadelphia Filmmaking and Philly Writers Group combined have over 7,000 members.
11) ORLANDO - Often thought as the number one tourist destination in the world, Orlando is no stranger to film and entertainment. Similar to Miami (#8), there’s no shortage of screenwriting and film degrees in Orlando. Full Sail University, though, is probably the most widely known. Full Sail offers an MFA in Screenwriting/Creative Writing. Other notable schools that have majors in both film and screenwriting include: Central Florida University, Rollins College, and F.I.R.S.T. Institute. Orlando is also the home of the Oscar-qualifying film festival, Florida Film Festival (operation for over 26 years). While not as prestigious, but equally exciting, is the Orlando Film Festival. FilmOrlando, Orlando’s Film Commission, provides opportunities to local filmmakers and writers. Orlando is centered around other film-focused cities, which makes Orlando a desirable place to live and work. A little over an hour from Tampa Bay, just under two hours from Jacksonville, and little over 3 hours from Miami. ** From 2019-202, Florida came in 6th as the state with the most number of producers posting leads at Screenwriting Staffing.
12) PORTLAND - “Keep Portland Weird”, that’s their slogan, and rightfully so. It takes a special kind of weirdness to write films. NW Film Center, based in Portland, is one of the premier and most creative film and screenwriting organizations on the West Coast. NWFC propels writers and filmmakers careers with resources, classes, and outreach. They are responsible for the Northwest Filmmakers' Festival, which is nearly a half-century old. Northwest, though, isn’t the only festival in Portland that’s stood the test of time. Portland Film Festival, in their 42nd year, showcases more than 140 films during their festival. Portland State University parlays film and screenwriting with film theory, making it a top choice for film students in Oregon. Third Thursday with the International Screenwriters Association has a location in Portland. Like Phoenix (#15 on my list), Portland is on Pacific time, which makes it desirable when working with Hollywood producers and agents.
13) LAS VEGAS - Being the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas attracts more than just gamblers; it also attracts major movies, movie stars, and high-profile entertainers each year. So it’s no surprise that Las Vegas has a solid screenwriting and film community. Las Vegas has 2 screenwriting contests; Las Vegas Screenwriting Contest and Las Vegas International Film & Screenwriting Competition. Las Vegas also has the Las Vegas Screenwriters Group, a community that meets a few times a month for cold readings and screenplay critique. Las Vegas has two reputable colleges that offer everything from screenwriting to cinematography classes: University of Northern Las Vegas and The College of Southern Nevada. Like some of the cities I listed above, Las Vegas is blessed with having their state’s film commission, Nevada Film Office, in their town. One of the best festivals out West (outside of California) for screenwriters is the Action On Film International Film Festival. The festival recently left California and moved to the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. This particular festival is geared heavily towards writers, offering year-round support, dinners, gatherings, and round tables. The Las Vegas Film Festival, over 15 years old, is another festival to look forward to.
14) WASHINGTON D.C. If politics isn’t your thing, then Washington D.C. may be a tough place to live. But if you are looking for up-to-date world news, cutting edge stories, and a city that’s rocked by drama, Washington D.C. might be the place to find inspiration. D.C. has two major organizations going for them: DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music & Entertainment, and Washington D.C. Film Society. Both organizations offer unlimited support for local artists -- both in front of and behind the camera. Another favorite in the area is the Washington Film Institute, which offers education for those getting into television and film. DC Shorts Film Festival & Screenplay Competition is one of a kind. It’s one of the largest festivals in the US-centered around short films and scripts. Similar to Boston, there is no shortage of elite schools in the Washington D.C. and surrounding areas. A shortlist of top schools that offer film, media, and screenwriting programs include: American University, George Washington University, Howard University, George Mason University, and Georgetown University. Just doing a quick search on Meetup.com, the Washington D.C. area has over 40 meetup groups for writing, screenwriting, and film. Similar to Cincinnati, Washington D.C. borders other states: Maryland and Virginia. Thus, giving you the option to work in more than one state
15) PHOENIX. - Only a five and half hour drive to downtown Los Angeles, and under an hour and a half flight to LA, Phoenix is not too shabby of a place to live if you don’t want to live in Los Angeles, but open to working in Los Angeles from time to time. Since Los Angeles works on Pacific Time, anytime you live in a city that’s also on Pacific is a plus (although PHX does go to MST for a few months of the year). Phoenix Screenwriters Association, with over 1,000 members, is one of the most active and popular screenwriting organizations outside California. Their organization truly focuses on equipping screenwriters with the tools they need to succeed. While Phoenix doesn’t have what I would consider top film/screenwriting schools, they have a nice variety of film schools that offer wonderful insight and skills. These would include: Scottsdale Community College, The Art Institute of Phoenix, and Arizona State University. Known as one of the liveliest film festivals in the nation, the Phoenix Film Festival showcases more than 250 films. As the oldest film festival in Arizona, it features incredible industry soirées, workshops, and activities. Arizona has long been a city that houses prestigious production companies and distribution companies, namely PureFlix. Stage 32, a behemoth film social network, was established in Scottsdale. According to Meetup.com, the Central Phoenix Writing Group has almost 5,000 members. Phoenix would likely be included in my top ten if they didn't just reinstate their state tax incentive as of 2023. It will take them some time to reap the benefits ** From 2019-2022, Arizona came in 7th as the state with the most number of producers posting leads at Screenwriting Staffing.
16) SEATTLE - From Sleepless in Seattle to Frasier, Seattle has been the backdrop of some major films and tv shows. Seattle has many organizations that work diligently to make Seattle a top destination for not just film, but music and nightlife. Washington Filmworks, the state’s film commission, is based in Seattle. The Office of Film + Music also plays a huge part in the growth of the city. Their organization offers several networking events, mixers, and career days. A favorite among local screenwriters is the Northwest Screenwriters Guild. NSG provides education and training in all things screenwriting -- everything from pitching your script to finding producers. Just 20 miles east you will find Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Seattle has some excellent schools if you wish to study (and major) in film or screenwriting. A few on the list are: The Film School Seattle, Seattle Film Institute, University of Washington, and The Art Institute of Seattle. Seattle International Film Festival (established 1976) is estimated to be the largest film festival in the United States in terms of attendance. According to their website, their festival draws in nearly 140,000 people a year -- everyone from film lovers to screenwriters. National Film Festival for Talented Youth, based in Seattle, is one of the largest youth-oriented festivals in the entire world. About a two and a half-hour drive north (or a one hour flight) is Vancouver. Vancouver, often referred to as Hollywood North, is arguably the largest film city behind Los Angeles in North America. If you ever find a shortage of work in Seattle (which wouldn’t likely happen), there’s an abundance in Vancouver. Seattle is also on Pacific Standard Time, which plays to your advantage when working with Hollywood producers. Scattered throughout Seattle and surrounding areas, you will find a decent size of screenwriting groups/meetups.
17) DENVER- - Denver’s largest film attraction is the Denver Film Festival, produced by the Denver Film Society, which was created in 1978. In its first year, DFF screened films such as Annie Hall and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Other solid film festivals in the Denver region include: 5Point Film Festival, Breckenridge Film Festival, and Denver Jewish Film Festival. Easily one of the top 25 best film schools in the world, if not top 20, is the Colorado Film School, where you can get a degree in screenwriting. Other notable film and screenwriting programs in the Denver region include: University of Colorado, Denver Community College of Aurora, and University of Denver. Denver is home to the Colorado Film Commission, which offers up a 20% cash rebate. In Denver, there is a thriving meetup group solely dedicated to screenwriting, which convenes once a month and comprises approximately 500 members.
18) NASHVILLE Although Nashville is often associated with music, there is more than just music happening in the city; film is also a notable aspect of its cultural scene. Nashville Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the South, and one of the oldest in the United States. Because Nashville is the “music city,” a lot of their films include films about music or performers. Additionally, Nashville has arguably one of the top ten screenplay contests in the country. They average over 1,400 screenplay submissions a year. Winning scripts have gone on to be produced. NFF is not just a film festival; they also offer up summer workshops and movie nights. One of the best screenwriting organizations throughout the South is the Tennessee Screenwriters Association, based in Nashville. Unlike other screenwriting organizations that meet monthly, they meet up once a week, where they discuss the art, craft, and business side of screenwriting. ScreenCraft has also held their national screenwriters conference in Nashville before. Nashville has a variety of film and art schools. Some include: Nashville Film Institute, Vanderbilt University, Watkins College of Art, and The Art Institute of Tennessee. The Tennessee Entertainment Commission, headquartered in Nashville, is dedicated to linking filmmakers, actors, and writers with professionals in the industry.
19) PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh has long been known as a place where filmmakers can find work, but they don't get nearly enough credit for their screenwriting community. Carnegie Screenwriters - Western Pennsylvania's Screenwriting Group, consists of a diverse group of screenwriters and other industry professionals that offer support, collaboration, and encouragement. They are also the minds behind Carnegie Screenwriters Script and Screen Festival. Pittsburgh has some excellent screenwriting and film programs. Some of the major universities that get the most attention are: Point Park University, The University of Pittsburgh, Chatham University, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Center for the Arts, and Carnegie Mellon University. There are plenty more. Pittsburgh relies heavily on the Pittsburgh Film Office to attract major motion pictures to the region, which seems to work with their gracious 25% tax incentive.
20) MINNEAPOLIS - Just making the top 20 is Minneapolis. Minnesota Film & TV Commission is located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Their tagline: land of 10,000 locations & 25% cashback. Unlike some commissions that do everything online, they invite screenwriters and industry pros to come on the first Friday of each month to network and learn about media opportunities in the city. Minneapolis also has the Screenwriters' Workshop, a non-profit screenwriting community since 1987. They hold table and stage reads, writing support groups, contests, and more. There is a fairly decent amount of groups in the Minneapolis, not just for screenwriters, but filmmakers too, with one boasting over 2,500 members. Metropolitan State University, University of Minnesota, and Minneapolis Community and Technical College are the three prominent educational institutions in the Minneapolis area offering courses in screenwriting, playwriting, and film studies. Furthermore, FilmNorth is a popular place to attend writing/film classes and workshops. You can't do Minneapolis without doing MSP Film Society's Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, going on 39 years. They show upwards of 250 indie movies each year, as well as provide year-round support to creatives.
Almost making this list:
21-25) New Orleans, Houston, Columbus (OH), Oklahoma City, Savannah. I’m not going to delve into all 5 of these cities, but each of these 5 are incredibly film-oriented, with amazing tax credits, film schools and film festivals. I’d surmise, in the next 5 years, one or two of these could break into my top 20.
It is worth mentioning that the 25 cities I mentioned earlier are located in a state that offers tax incentives. Some individuals in the film industry believe that tax incentives only benefit below-the-line crew and talent, but this is not accurate. Whenever Hollywood chooses to film in a city, it benefits the entire creative community, offering an opportunity to network with significant industry figures and learn from other film professionals. When a city becomes enthusiastic about a production, it spreads like wildfire, prompting the city to do everything in its power to keep Hollywood there. As a result, below-the-line crew members gain experience and establish local production companies, shooting projects in-house, and hiring local writers for scripts. I have witnessed this cycle numerous times. If you reside in a city without a tax credit, it is advisable to contact your local politicians as soon as possible.
It is worth noting that I have personally lived in several of the cities I mentioned earlier, such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Orlando, Cincinnati, Dayton, and the Tucson/Phoenix area. By "lived," I mean that I have experienced these communities firsthand and have a deep understanding of how they thrive or struggle under a tax commission. Moreover, I have also worked on location in many other cities that I listed for film productions. Therefore, I highly recommend considering or traveling to these cities when making a film.
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This article was written by:
Jacob N. Stuart is the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, an online community that connects screenwriters and screenplays with film and television entertainment professionals. Since 2013, Jacob has helped facilitate over 250 success stories (sales, options, hires, and representation), most notably a Christmas movie produced by Hallmark in 2017. Here is a small list: www.imdb.com/search/title/?companies=co0524287.
Jacob is also an award-winning and produced screenwriter, with over a decade of film experience. His films have been screened at theaters across the globe, as well as distributed traditionally through dvd/blu-ray. He currently has 3 films (2 features, 1 short) on VOD. He holds a Bachelors in both Film and Entertainment Business from The Los Angeles Film School. He has also written for other top industry publications, including Final Draft, Creative Screenwriting Magazine, and MovieMaker Magazine.
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