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Midwest Production – Chicago Production

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Chicago has always been a favorite location for film productions, but maintaining an edge in today’s competitive world of tax incentives requires more than just scenic views and talented crews.
One key selling point for producers that has kept production flocking to the Windy City is the enhanced Illinois Film Production Tax Credit, passed in May 2006 by the state Legislature to attract additional production.
A 20 percent across-the-board tax credit on all local expenditures now makes the city much more affordable. The credit includes local wages capped at $100,000 per person, equipment rentals, leasing and office space. An additional 15 percent tax credit is also provided for hiring workers from economically depressed areas.
With 26 features and dozens more television shows shooting in Chicago, the city has come a long way from serving as the backdrop for John Hughes’ popular 1980s teen comedies. Since 1980, according to the Chicago Film Office more than 750 feature films and television productions have been made in Chicago, resulting in a $1.3 billion boon to the local economy.
Television commercials contribute an estimated $200 million each year and remain a stable source of work for the production community. Chicago is ranked among the most important and respected production centers in the country.
Chicago Film Office director Richard Moskal says the city offers tremendous value and versatility to productions. “The way the city looks on film is very dramatic,” he says. “It can serve upscale elegance or inner-city grit. There are unique and distinctive locations like the elevated train system, lower Wacker Drive, the lake and the series of parks that run all along the lakefront. Chicago’s architecture has been known throughout the decades for its strong aesthetics. On that level, Chicago sells itself.”
Moskal also cites the city’s flexibility and ability to adapt to crew needs as a key point. “The ability for the city to keep pace with last-minute changes and the demands of film production has given Chicago a great reputation with the studios. Warner Bros. in particular said that were it not for the cooperation that the city gave Batman Begins, that movie could never have been made here.”
For example, permits are not issued for filming, but for use of the public way. They cost $25 per day and most applications have a turnaround of 48 hours or less. Although the park district issues its own permits, there are no fees for city-owned locations such as the airport, City Hall and police stations. There are charges for necessary personnel, but those costs are minimal—the film office says the city’s police rate for filming is among the lowest in the nation.
Besides its physical attributes, Chicago possesses all the necessary elements of a top-notch production center. The Illinois Film Office publishes The Illinois Production Guide—a complete listing of crew, vendors and resources that is available online through the office’s website or at www.illinoisbiz.biz/dceo/Bureaus/Film/ProductionGuide.
A burgeoning independent film scene has further bolstered crew experience. In 2004, there were 13 indie features shot in Chicago, and that number has been steadily increasing. In each of the last couple of years, there have been 20-30 all-Chicago productions, funded locally and helmed by local filmmakers.
The Independent Feature Project and Women in Film both have Chicago chapters. WIF Chicago works with women in the media creation industry, providing networking opportunities with monthly events. WIF member and editor for Moxie Post, Mindy Hilt explains: “There are a lot of commercial-agency companies in town, and less film work than in LA, but we are certainly helping to promote (film productions).” Moxie Post provides creative editorial for commercial, broadcast and corporate work and the occasional independent film.
Infrastructure needs in the form of equipment vendors, production vehicles, lab and stage facilities all exist in the Windy City.
HD Expo Midwest, the only technology and entertainment show in the Midwest, will take place in Chicago on June 6 and 7.
In its third year, the show has expanded to two days and will be held at Navy Pier, one of downtown Chicago’s premier destinations for entertainment, shopping, cruises and special events. Showcasing the latest innovative technologies and techniques from industry leaders such as Avid, Canon, Panasonic, Boris FX, Eastman Kodak, Fujinon and Arri,
HD Expo founder and CEO, Kristin Petrovich says the show “will also be launching conferences for branding, advertising and corporate markets.”
With its rental and sales business in high-end film and video-camera packages and postproduction equipment, Fletcher Chicago has a pulse on what’s happening in local production.
“We are busy in the spring, summer and fall, but the winter business is what you would expect in Chicago,” says VP of marketing Tom Fletcher. “I’m very optimistic about the new tax incentives. Last time, we had them it brought business to Chicago. I’m a big believer in the trickle-down effect. I may not get the direct business from a $100-million film like Batman Begins, but people in the production business are in town and discover opportunities. Whether it is making a short film or independent film, it creates more business.”
Fletcher has noticed growth in two different areas. Not only is HD accessible at all price points, but on the film side, there is a resurgence in 16mm. “The tools for collaboration are getting better,” he says. “The other part of our business is we sell Quantel. Its DI solutions are the standard in Los Angeles. We are trying to teach the Midwest about DI.”
Among other production or postproduction equipment suppliers in Chicago are Calumet Photographic, currently expanding into the video market from still photography with cameras from Canon, Panasonic, JVC and Sony in the under $10,000 range; Meta Media Creative Technologies, an engineering firm that specializes in Apple X-San and provides its pro clients with high-end Apple support; and Safe Harbor Computers, a reseller and custom-built editing workstation manufacturer.
Specializing in HD video editing, Chicago HD offers all industry-standard HD formats. It’s the first branch outside of California for Alpha Dogs’ Digital Service Station, for transferring material from tape to digital media, and back out to tape again. Chicago HD also offers a full range of creative services including editorial and design, conforming and finishing, color grading and correction, mastering, film-out prep, DVD authoring and HD workflow consulting services.
Located in the Riverwest area of Chicago, Space Stage Studios features two sound stages, a conference room, production offices with phone, fax and DSL, a green room, makeup room and working kitchen, backdrops, set pieces, set construction and other amenities.
A further major draw for productions is a respected acting pool that has produced the likes of John Cusack, John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bonnie Hunt, Bill Murray, John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Martha Plimpton, Joe Mantegna, William Petersen and Joan Cusack.

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