Chicago’s film industry brought an estimated $474 million into the city in 2018 thanks to job creation, local spending and the desire to create.
Picture this, you’ve penned the perfect TV pilot, have a commercial idea that truly represents your business, or have written the next Best Picture winning screenplay. Great! Naturally you run 50 one sheets/scripts/pitch bibles off the spotty printer at the coffee shop and buy a ticket to Los Angeles to get it made, right? Well, maybe, but there’s a good chance if you sell your script or recruit a production agency to make your project it is going to come to life in a land far, far away.
But it’s Hollywood, it’s the best place for production! Uh huh, and your hometown is really the strawberry/cattle/baguette capital of the world. Monikers remain, games change, which is the case with the ripe Chicago film industry. It’s long been the Second City, but this town is quickly becoming the first choice of filmmakers around the globe. Why? Chicago production companies have many resources beyond the unlimited sunshine of La La Land. Here’s a few of the primary factors that contributed to the $474 million that came into Chicago from film production last year.
For as much money that is spent on film, there is plenty saved when producing in Chicago thanks to hefty tax credits. A few highlights of the Illinois Film Tax Credit, which is current until 2021 and in the works to be made permanent, include 30 percent of qualified Illinois Production Spending and 30 percent credit on Illinois salaries up to $100,000 per worker. This tax credit is attractive to production companies and individual workers.
“Illinois has always had a strong base of production and on camera talent. Since the inception of the highly competitive Illinois tax credit that base has steadily grown stronger,” says Ted Lega, director of Illinois filmed Garage Squad. “The tax credit has kept many of these professionals from relocating to other states and has also drawn many more professionals to the state to fill highly skilled jobs with the growing number of TV shows, films and commercials shot annually.”
Location, Location, Location
The state of Illinois is home to nearly every type of screenscape you could ever want. From grungy city scenes to sunwashed corn fields, you’ll find it here. Just because it’s filmed in Chicago doesn’t mean your project has to be set in Chicago.
“Other than mountains and an ocean what are we missing?” Lega says, adding, “although we do have our own ocean, Lake Michigan. We have communities of all size, shape and color. From rustic farm communities to sophisticated suburbs to one of the greatest cities on earth. There is virtually nothing we can’t shoot here. OK, palm trees, we don’t have palm trees.”
There may not be palm trees growing from the lush Illinois soil, but there’s plenty of craftspeople who can make them for you if you need them, which brings us to the next point.
Abundance of Crew Talent
With so many projects being filmed in and around Chicago there has been an influx of infrastructure for the production industry here. Chicago is home to everyone necessary for productions big or small, including grip, post, audio, lighting, art department, cinematography, craft services, production assistants, producers, directors, screenwriters, script supervisors and so on.
“For a long time Chicago was an afterthought for studios and individuals seeking production until it became apparent how easy and inexpensive it was to film here thanks to existing crew,” says Bill Connell, co-founder of Chicago production company Super Genius. “Now the city’s talent is competing with the best of Hollywood for jobs of all sizes.”
It isn’t just the crew talent that makes production easy in the Windy City. Chicago’s historic theater scene feeds the well of actors ready for a shot in front of the camera.
It’s Raining Actors
With upwards of 250 theater companies in town Chicago has been named “Theater Capital of the World.” OK, so some monikers do remain. But you know what this means? There’s thousands of great actors and actresses looking to tackle the incredible roles being created for them on a daily basis. For decades this city has been a hub for actors exploring all avenues of talent, from dramatic theater to improv comedy. The range of onscreen talent available in this city is truly incredible.
Largest Production Studio
Chicago will soon be home to the largest film studio in the country thanks to an expansion at Cinespace Studios, which is where all those Chicago shows are filmed at, along with numerous other current productions. You read that right, the largest film studio in the country is coming to Chicago. Currently home to 31 sound stages, Cinespace is in the process of adding six more to break the record.
Inside the studio or out, the Land of Lincoln has the tools to make great TV, movies and commercials. Thanks to a joint effort between filmmakers, local entrepreneurs and state government world-class productions are made daily in Chicago and the surrounding towns and cities, all of which benefit from the industry.
“Chicagoland has hundreds of communities which I consider all to be film friendly,” Lega says. “In most cases they will bend over backwards to help accommodate commercial, television and film production. They love showcasing their communities and realize that large amounts of money are spent at the street level benefiting their local businesses.”
Chicago production company Super Genius develops unscripted and scripted TV (including Garage Squad), feature films, commercials and creates advertising materials and campaigns right here in Illinois for clients around the country while taking full advantage of all the great incentives of being based in Illinois. Of course these are all incentives you can benefit from too no matter your role in the project because as Connell says, “Producing for the screen in Illinois is a win-win for everyone involved.”