The television and film industry has been very good to Illinois.
Just how good is evidenced by the hundreds of millions of dollars films and TV series like Wolf Entertainment’s long-running Chicago franchise (“Chicago Fire,” “Chicago PD,” “Chicago Med”) pump into the local economy annually, as well as the thousands of jobs those productions generate.
And not just in Chicago. Last year, the Amazon Prime sci-fi series “Papergirls,” about time-traveling 12-year-olds, filmed in Wheeling and Hoffman Estates. The HBO series “Somebody Somewhere,” starring Bridget Everett as a woman coping with the loss of her sister, filmed in the Lockport/Lemont/Naperville areas. And director David Fincher (“Mank,” “The Social Network,” “Fight Club,” “Se7en”) filmed scenes from his upcoming Netflix thriller “The Killer” in St. Charles.
The economic impact likely will increase after the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit expansion goes into effect July 1, according to Peter Hawley, director of the Illinois Film Office.
Established in 2008, the program provides a 30% tax credit for all qualified Illinois expenditures, including resident cast, crew and vendor costs. The program’s expansion will extend to nine the number of qualifying “above-the-line” positions, which include director, screenwriter, cinematographer, production designer composer and others.
Additionally, the expansion covers two nonresident actors for projects costing $25 million or less and for four actors for projects costing $25 million or more, making a maximum of 14 positions available for the tax credit.
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“What that means is we suddenly have become more competitive with other states such as (New) Jersey and New Mexico,” according to Hawley, who says the film industry “has been begging us to expand the tax credit.”
Accompanying the credit expansion is the establishment of a workforce training program for people interested in film. That in turn will “grow Illinois’ indigenous crew base,” Hawley said, adding “a rising tide lifts all boats. More work is more work.”
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, TV shows, films and commercials generated more than $360 million in the state and more than 7,000 jobs in 2020, according to the Illinois Film Office website.
A small film shot outside Rockford for 17 days spent $850,000 locally, Hawley said. The production hired 15 local crew members and actors and 200 extras and “all those dollars stayed in the community,” he said.
Among those benefiting are restaurants and hotels, local merchants, transportation services, municipalities and individual homeowners.
“People have to eat, drive and stay somewhere,” explained Hawley, who is especially optimistic about the training program he said will help people, especially those from underrepresented communities, get good paying jobs in the film industry.
Chicago and its environs have long been a film hub beginning in the early 20th century, with the establishment of the pioneering Essanay Studios, which produced silent pictures and counted Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and Wallace Beery among its stars.
The Chicago film industry waned beginning in the 1920s as Hollywood emerged as the world’s film capital. A rebound began during the 1980s, with “The Blues Brothers,” “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Risky Business” and TV shows including “Crime Story.”
Flash forward to 2011, and the opening of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on the 60 acres that once housed Ryerson Steel. The largest independent studio outside of California, Cinespace has been home to Wolf’s Chicago franchise — which has called the city home for more than a decade, -“The Chi,” “South Side” and “Empire,” among other series.
According to Hawley, developers from around the country have inquired about establishing studios here. One problem is finding the 80 to 100 acres many studio developers seek, Hawley said.
The developers’ biggest competitor is Amazon, which has been snapping up warehouses for conversion to “Last Mile” distribution centers, Hawley said.
Those property owners are “holding out for Jeff Bezos dollars as opposed to Walt Disney dollars,” he said chuckling.