BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
With Amazon, Google, Netflix, Hulu, and networks like NBC and FOX flocking to Illinois, and particularly to Chicago, the electric command “Lights, Camera, Action” has never been heard more frequently across the state.
Now that the summer hiatus has ended, there are currently a whopping 8 television shows in production across Chicago, in addition to the filming of various feature and independent movies.
Christine Dudley, Director of the Illinois Film Office, is celebrating these television and filmmakers who are celebrating our state:
“The golden age of TV is not the 1950s—it’s now. With multiple streaming platforms available and over 400 programs being produced, Illinois and Chicago are reaping the rewards.
“I have on my desk multiple pages of call sheets noting TV and movies being shot right now in our state. And it’s not just Chicago—the beautiful Fox River in St. Charles and the Swedish community of Bishop Hill are two recent locations serving as scenic backdrops outside the city.”
And it’s not just our scenery that does the heavy lifting, so to speak. Dudley notes: “Our acting talent is second to none and we really have amazing crews available from gaffers to grips to best boys—all those names you see in the credits.”
Richard Moskal, Director of the Chicago Film Office, reports that the popular television series Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Chicago Med, and Chicago Justice (NBC); Empire, A.P.B., The Exorcist (Fox); and Patriot (Amazon) are currently shooting in Chicago and that Showtime’s Shameless will be returning next month to join the proverbial party.
A native of the city’s northwest side with a lifelong passion for Alfred Hitchcock movies, Moskal mused on why filmmakers select Chicago:
“They are not unusual destinations for Chicagoans but producers love to use locations that are unique to Chicago: Lower Wacker Drive, the LaSalle Street financial district, the lake and river fronts, and just about any place where you can see the ‘L’ rumble by. Chicago has the look of a big city metropolis and a rich diversity of neighborhoods. It is a very cinematic city.
“Some films capture Chicago’s look and personality better than others. My personal favorites are: The Fugitive, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Dark Night (even though we doubled for Gotham City). Not surprisingly, all were made by Chicagoans, Andy Davis, John Hughes, and Christopher Nolan, respectively.”
And Christine Dudley believes it was not just Chicago’s photogenic qualities that put the city on Hollywood’s radar, but an overall growth in the state of creative arts:
“There are new opportunities at a pivotal point. Young people, after finishing their education, are staying in Illinois now—they no longer have to travel out of state to seek out work in creative industries. There are good paying jobs and new services opening up, including camera vendors with state-of-the-art products available.”
Indicating a Blues Brothers poster on her wall, Dudley added:
“A few movies were filmed here in the past, such as North by Northwest with Cary Grant, but it really gathered steam with that iconic Belushi and Ackroyd movie. And of course the whole genre of North Shore films—John Hughes movies like Ferris Bueller—really put us on the map. Former Mayor Jane Byrne really gets a lot of credit for her determination to make us a major film destination.
“Many films are partially shot here, such as one with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston due out at Christmas. Melissa McCarthy, who is from Plainfield, shot eight days of her film The Boss here, which came out earlier this year, saying she wanted it to be a ‘valentine for Chicago.’
“While Canada and Georgia offer unique tax incentives, we have the reputation for efficiency, quality, expertise, and a real collaborative spirit—not to mention the full post-production capabilities that studios are looking for.”
“There are very fine independent films, such as the recently premiered Southside with You, done by Bob Teitel, a graduate of Columbia College and producer of the Barbershop series.
“The story of Michelle and Barack Obama’s first date, it was completely shot in the Chicago area and shown at several individual film festivals, including Sundance.”
Philip Plowden, cofounder and producer of Fatal Funnel Films with Devon Colwell, exemplifies the terrific talent involved in many aspects of filming in Chicago. He recently shot Cellar Door, a short suspense-filled thriller to accompany “Raven’s Point,” which he will film next summer, south of Chicago. Written by Colwell, Cellar Door stars beloved Chicago stage and film actor, Danny Goldring.
Plowden is the son of the legendary photographer David Plowden, a man whose works stand as tribute to small towns in Illinois and across the country. Historian David McCullough profiled David Plowden and his work in his book Brave Companions. His son has worked on Chicago PD and produced the award-winning feature film Chicago Overcoat, which toured film festivals across the country.
He relished his days of capturing rural Illinois in his film:
“Shooting in Illinois was important to us because we are establishing professional roots here with our production company. We set the story in a fictional town, but shot all over the townships of Joliet, Homer Glen, and New Lenox. The residents willingly opened up their farmhouses and private homes to us, and we had a wonderful experience sharing the filming with them. The Joliet Park District was especially helpful in allowing us to film in the forest preserve for two days.
“Following post production at Periscope, we will be entering several film festivals.”
Mike Nehs and Jonathan Bross head Periscope, a post-production company located in the former Ryerson Steel Mill on the Near West Side. TV shows such as Chicago Fire (and its fire station) are partially shot on the huge stages of what is now the Cinespace campus. A million and a half square feet of shooting space make it possible for 10 to 15 productions to be shot at once.
Periscope was formed to respond to the enormous growth in local production, handling a variety of requirements, such as the music mix for the hugely popular Empire, just going into its third season. Noting that films are rarely shot on film these days, Bross reported:
“As soon as the card comes out of the camera, we handle editorial, audio, color connection, and all visual effects. Having everything right here makes filming so much easier, whether it is re-recording dialogue or processing dailies. It used to be that all of this had to be sent back to the studio’s home base in California.
“Now, we have everything you need in Illinois: great locations, great talent, great crews, great infrastructure, and tax incentives. But for TV, you need a very fast turnaround—a non-moving deadline. What a difference to start the project here, shoot here, finish it here, and distribute it from here.
“It used to be joked that when a student received a diploma in the creative arts from Columbia College; the Art Institute; University of Illinois; Tribeca Flashpoint Academy; DePaul or Northwestern Universities; or SAE Institute, a ticket to California went along with it. With the world-class infrastructure we have established, that is no longer the case.”
Richard Moskal also points out that these schools all have large and successful film programs, graduating a new generation of potential filmmakers whose work is getting attention at film festivals around the world, theatrical distribution, and national broadcasts.
He notes that a growing number of film and television companies are choosing Chicago as their base these days:
“There are a few companies that produce national distributed feature films and/or TV series that headquarter in Chicago: Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Kinowerks, makers of the Matrix films and the Netflix series ‘Sense8’; independent filmmaker Joe Swanberg’s Forager Films; longtime documentary filmmakers Kartemquin Films, and several others.
“Some produces prefer to work and live in Chicago, although Los Angeles and New York are home to a vast majority of entertainment companies that work on a national level. But our combination of affordability (thanks largely to the State of Illinois Tax Credit), great looking locations, a deep pool of acting talent and crew people, and great city support make it easy for film and TV producers to work here.”
And what’s more fun that spotting familiar stomping ground on the big or small screen?