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Sunday, 24 June 2012 14:40

The Diverse and Cinematic Midwest Region

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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From its varied locations and talented crews to the irrepressible enthusiasm and hospitality of its local communities, the Midwest Region is a joy for visiting film and television productions. After a year beset with challenges, the states of Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are springing back into action. P3 Update gets the low-down on how this region is currently handling 2012.


Indiana’s incredible accessibility has been the state’s biggest selling point for filmmakers around the world. With a host of game parks, pristine lakes, sand dunes and cornfields, Indiana offers productions a variety of locale options and the ability to shoot in one of its picturesque cities with a farm setting just a half-hour away. Combine that with sincere Hoosier hospitality and the thrill and excitement of the Indy 500’s car-race extravaganza, and you have the makings for an enjoyable filming experience for everyone.


“Filming in Indiana feels like filming in your old neighborhood,” says Paul Symons, director of After Shock. “Everyone is incredibly excited about it, especially the locals. If it wasn’t for the hospitality of the people of Rising Sun, Indiana, my short film After Shock wouldn’t have been possible. After getting in contact with the town’s tourism director, I literally had people who had just met me bringing me to their uncle’s house, who then brought me to a friend’s place, who then brought me to their mother’s place for dinner — and that was just our location scout! It was then that I knew this was where I wanted to shoot.” Producer/Actor Jim Dougerty had a similar experience when filming Leach in Anderson, Ind. “The communities have been very supportive and local authorities have been great to work with,” reports Dougerty. “We had police and fire departments helping us as well as business owners and community leaders.”

Filming permits are easy to come by with the help of Film Indiana, which can get you in touch with private land owners and other permit-providing institutions in a timely manner. Both Symons and Dougerty emphasize the variety of locations that Indiana has to offer. “We were able to replicate eastern Texas, South America and plain lands, among many other settings, and the historical towns and buildings are just gorgeous,” states Symons. “It really brought a lot of production value to the film.” In addition, any Indiana accommodation that is rented for 30 days or more is exempt from both county innkeeper’s tax and sales tax.

Indiana is known for its strong commercial and corporate video industry. In conjunction with a thriving independent filmmaking scene, the state has been in good production-making stead with a crew depth rolling one-to-two deep for big-budget films like Public Enemies, Nightmare on Elm Street and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Indiana’s film-production facilities include the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, a real gem consisting of a 1,000-acre area that makes an excellent backlot for productions looking to shoot a village, prison, hospital, lake, tunnel, courthouse or underground scenes. Syncope Director James Syrek recently utilized the facility and found his experience in Indiana to be a memorable adventure, with many of his production team traveling in from Chicago. “Indiana afforded us a scenic, home-away-from-home playing field for production, and we look forward to returning there again soon to shoot our next project,” says Syrek. For more information about Indiana filming, see the Film Indiana locations database.


Renowned for its big, beautiful skies and spectacular sunsets, Kansas was once the bed of a huge inland sea. Vast deposits of limestone now exist throughout the state along with giant bluffs interspersed amid rolling prairies and hundreds of forest-lined lakes. This varied topography plus Midwestern hospitality and affordable production costs all make Kansas an appealing location for television and film shoots, and the Kansas City Film Office provides full-service location scouting and on-set liaison for productions both large and small.

“Kansas offers the independent filmmaker a unique, productive and rewarding shooting experience,” says Kansas Film Commission Director Peter Jasso. “With a varied topography that allows filmmakers both metropolitan and rural settings in close proximity; a crew base of knowledgeable and experienced professionals; local community support that makes productions of all sizes feel like studio features; and a thriving arts scene that exudes vitality and opportunity; Kansas is a home away from home with filmmakers looking to turn their dreams into reality.” pre_midwest_kansas

This view is strongly supported by The Sublime and Beautiful Director Blake Robbins. “I chose Lawrence, Kansas to shoot my debut film firstly because I wanted to set my film anywhere but the east coast or west coast, which gets an inordinate amount of attention in the world of filmmaking, and I find the rest of the country equally compelling with regard to story,” states Robbins, who also chose Kansas for economic reasons. “In Lawrence, I was able to get a tremendous amount of filmmaking for a reasonably low expense. I paid no money in locations fees. There is a built-in filmmaking community [with much of it connected to the University] so I was able to get skilled crew and equipment at a very reasonable cost. And because the city of Lawrence is so diverse and cinematic, I was able to get amazing locations all very close to each other, allowing me to shoot and move from location to location at incredible speed, thus saving even more money.”

Kansas currently has a 30-percent tax credit for eligible productions. Scheduled to sunset in 2013, the incentive was suspended by legislative action in 2009 and 2010 due to a budget shortfall, but this is no longer an issue so 2012 is an especially good time for filming in the state. The tax credit is currently capped at $2 million and allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. Upcoming film and television projects shooting in Kansas include Nailbiter, Destination: Planet Negro, Kick Me and an episode of “Up to Speed.”


Boasting big studio films like The Dark Knight Rises, Source Code and Public Enemies, it’s no wonder the state of Illinois shines brightly in the moviemaking arena. Ever since the commencement of the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit in 2009, which enhanced the state’s tax credit from 20 to 30 percent on all local spending till 2021, the region has benefited remarkably by having a record amount of production.

The 30-percent credit is available for all qualifying expenditures, including labor, rentals, leases, purchases, services and housing. There’s also a 30-percent credit on Illinois salaries up to $100,000 per worker. For eligibility, a production must spend $50,000 in Illinois for projects of 30 minutes of less, or $100,000 for projects exceeding this time frame. The state is also completely unique in the U.S., given the clauses in its incentive program that require production companies to promote diversity through the hiring of a percentage of local minorities. Determined by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, an additional 15-percent credit of labor expenditures is offered if hired Illinois residents make more than $1,000 and live in geographic areas with high poverty or unemployment.pre_midwest_chicago

When it comes to architecture, Chicago is especially cinematic, particularly its expansive lakefront that mirrors one of the planet’s most majestic skylines. And with the rich vibrant texture of its neighborhoods and seasonal transformations, Illinois is an ideal setting for a variety of productions. The state’s high-profile film and TV shoots include Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (starring Daniel Day-Lewis), The Vow, Bridesmaids, Contagion, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Columbiana, Showtime’s “Shameless” and Starz’s “Boss.”

Deborah Snyder, co-producer of the upcoming Superman film Man of Steel, reports that Illinois offered her the full package when the film was created in Chicago and Plano. “Not only were there experienced local actors, set builders and skillful hands, but when you look at the combination of locations from downtown Chicago to being able to create our own Smallville in Plano, we were covered location-wise,” says Snyder. Illinois’ crew base is deep and experienced enough to handle five productions at any one time, which provides for high-quality production value.

The Illinois Film Office is only too happy to help identify and secure permissions for any film location, and it’s the source of an extensive locations library that’s helpful for producers and scouts. The state is home to the Chicago Production Center (WTTW), a state-of-the-art broadcast facility featuring roomy production-office space, four fully equipped soundstages and three Avid Media Composer Adrenaline suites. There’s also Chicago Studio City, a 100,000-square-foot facility that boasts three soundstages, and Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, which offers several stages based on a former steel-distribution campus.


Hosting Oscar-nominated productions like Up in the Air and Winter’s Bone, Missouri is a state not to be taken lightly. It has crew bases strategically placed all around the state, including in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield/Branson, and filming locations are rarely more than an hour away from all the airports. Missouri’s diverse scenery and locales range from rural, small town and big cities with an abundance of historical establishments. The state also offers cheap fuel, lodging and supplies.

The Missouri Film Office is fully geared up to help with location scouting and preproduction needs, even providing videos and photos. State parks, such as Lake of the Ozarks, Elephant Rocks and Bennett Spring, and most other locations don’t require paid permits. However, there needs to be prior warning and assurance of insurance if the filming is to take place on publicly owned or private properties.

Increasingly recognized as a haven for documentary and independent filmmaking, Missouri requires a minimum in-state spend of $100,000 for films longer than 30 minutes or $50,000 for films shorter than 30 minutes. Furthermore, a qualifying production company can receive up to a 35-percent tax credit on eligible Missouri expenses, and 30 percent for qualifying non-resident cast and crew when Missouri income taxes are withheld. Currently, the tax credit program is capped at $4.5 million.

With its financial perks and a wide range of stunning locations set to lure in productions, the Midwest Region is an ideal place to film your cinematic epic. Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas all have affordable filming options, especially when it comes to top-class crewmembers, healthy incentive packages and easily accessible and varied location options. As a production destination, this region is set to stay high on the list for upcoming independent and studio shoots.

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