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Tuesday, 26 March 2013 18:24

Illinois Gets Back on Top

Written by  James Thompson
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chicago_skyline_illinois_usa_photo_wikiWhile Illinois has always been a hot spot for commercial production, the state’s feature film and television market has had its ups and downs. Now, thanks to an aggressive production incentive and a new high-end studio facility, Illinois and its most populous city Chicago are enjoying the enormous economic benefits brought by film and television projects.

The Illinois Film Production Tax Credit Act offers producers a credit of 30 percent of all qualified expenditures, including on postproduction. This has helped the state to gain recognition as a place to bring future productions. “[2012] was an excellent year, and now we’re already off to a record-setting pace this year,” says Betsy Steinberg, managing director of the Illinois Film Office. This trend should continue, as the state’s tax credit has been approved until May 2021 and is renewable thereafter in five-year increments.

Producers in search of premium studio space in the Midwest will be pleased to know that Chicago has its very own high-end facility. Cinespace Chicago Film Studios (an offshoot of Toronto’s popular Cinespace Film Studios) boasts ten working stages with another ten on the way, and its largest space is currently 60,000 square feet. Developers took the former Ryerson Steel site’s 48-acre complex and converted it into the studio, which opened in May 2011. “When it’s all said and done, we should have somewhere around 20 [stages],” reports Cinespace Studio Manager Alex Pissios. “Chicago is a great city to work in. It’s got a good labor force so we’re excited about building this industry up over here.”

cinespacestudios_smAccording to Pissios, Keslow Camera, Cinelease, NBC/Universal and Gala Catering have set up support services at the facility. The NBC drama “Chicago Fire” is also headquartered at Cinespace along with the TV pilots “Betrayal” and “Influence,” and Director Neil Burger’s new sci-fi feature Divergent (starring Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet). Filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending (starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis) is a sprawling sci-fi epic that will soon descend on Chicago to use its workforce, and Director Michael Bay’s Transformers 4 (starring Mark Wahlberg) is expected to film in the city later this year.

The Chicago Film Office, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, provides a one-stop liaison for all the city’s production needs, including permits, city services and logistical support. “Our operation is about delivering the goods,” says Rich Moskal, director of the Film Office. “[It’s] about making it as easy as possible for people to shoot here.”  Moskal notes that episodic television production is particularly good for the city, though working with “Chicago Fire” presented a few challenges. “Given the type of show that it is, [with] every episode there is an emergency attached to it, whether it’s a fire or rescue scene or car crash or something like that, I would say things are running quite smoothly.” The local community understands the economic impact that comes from productions filming in the city, and they remain supportive. “I would say that the overall response from the community is pretty positive,” Moskal reports. “They’re seeing the show [and] liking the show, [and] they like seeing it in their neighborhoods.”

For the past 10 years, the Illinois Production Alliance (IPA) has served as an advocate for the state’s production industry, welcoming a wave of film, television and other visual media projects. “We are a nonprofit organization made up of representatives of Illinois’ production industry, including business and labor organizations,” says IPA President Jeff Crabtree. “We serve as a legislative advocate in the state’s capital. We work to educate Illinoisans about our industry, and we sponsor industry events and networking opportunities throughout the year.”

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios:
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