What are we to do about the failing film industry?  No matter what anyone says about banner years, the film industry here is in trouble … big trouble.  For some reason, the state and the city are pouring millions into an old steel plant.  This is supposed to save the film industry.  Maybe, if this was during World War I, and the government needed to crank out propaganda films, it would be a good idea.

But, the film industry isn’t film, anymore; it’s digital ... it’s moved on.  Chicago’s ‘film’ industry didn’t.  It’s still thinking the old Essanay Studios on Argyle is a good idea.  It was, in 1910, when it was built but those days are gone!

I went to see Hope Springs (I know it dates me) at a theater! A matinee … it’s cheaper!  The behind the scenes clips showed what is really happening in the ’film’ industry.  Although there are still stages and sets, there was an awful lot of green screen going on, people with green dots (reference points) on their faces, mock ups, lots of new technology!, animation consoles and sound booths for character voice overs, lots of special effects rigging, wardrobing was more robotics.  The point is things are changing.  Illinois and Chicago, as a production center, it once was, has to change with the times.

New York and New York City realized this years ago (1983) and helped Silvercup Studios, a thirteen stage facility that lifted NYC to a top film production center. (Since has added Silvercup East Lot, another six stages.)  Today, it’s a distant second with $7.1 BILLION generated monies from film production to LA which is the hand down leader in the industry with $18.6 BILLION.  Then, there’s Chicago with its banner year in 2010 of $161 million. (A perspective – one million seconds in time is 12 days, a billion seconds in time is 31 years.)

Illinois and Chicago have to realize that the film industry they are funding today is the film industry of yesterday. The state and city should, instead, be helping the digital film industry by building for the future.

My Film Campus is a model of what I think could happen but the idea behind the Film Campus is still to build for the future and to build the best.  Shoot for the BILLIONS; don’t settle for the ‘banner years’ ($161 million) the film offices talk about. Compete with the big guys.  Don’t be content with the ’banner years’ and ranked in the middle of the pack, fading fast.  Chicago isn’t going to attract the ‘big ones' that LA and NYC do with old factory re-makes.  It’s like buying a suit at a thrift store for the big dance.

Chicago has a very highly ranked film school in Columbia College Chicago which is the largest and most diverse private, nonprofit arts and media college in the nation.  Education, to me, has always been a great foundation for future successes.  That combined with hands on experience in one’s area of expertise can’t be beat.  New blood in Chicago’s digital film industry is essential for its future.  These graduates and the future leaders of the industry are looking for their opportunity.  Unfortunately, Chicago doesn’t offer nearly enough of these opportunities to keep these people here but LA and NYC does offer them their  “dream”Chicago mostly offers a job as a low paid PA on a movie or TV series asking people to ‘Please, wait one minute. We’re rolling.’  On a TV spot, a PA might get to drive around and pick up ‘stuff’.

Illinois and Chicago have to build for the next Spielberg and his dreams, to build for the future.

Take NYC’s lead, help out the film industry and, maybe, one day a Chicago mayor will be saying this about Chicago--
“A little over a decade ago, New York City struggled to attract the lucrative production industry to film here,” said NYC Mayor Bloomberg. “Now the City is such a popular and prosperous home to hundreds of films and television shows, we have to work hard to keep up with the demand for stages and production facilities.”

Filed under: Uncategorized


Leave a comment
  • Thank you for your observation. Having just returned to Chicago after spending the last 5 in Utah watching their film "scene" go from active to dead in that short span, it is quite frankly pathetic that Chicago's scene is barely better than the one I just left -- if Chicago wasn't the metropolis it is the scene WOULD probably be theirs!

    What you say is spot on! If one reads the Repoter or Variety and look at where productions are "in production" they are literally all over the map due largely to the digital efficencies in which you speak.

    I think sound stages, like the massive one that brought work to Albuquerque, should be a priority and THAT is where some of the funding should go. Tax breaks are great for bringing in jobs but stages (and the building of community as you state) will usher in an industry!

  • In reply to Ameriviking:

    I'm getting a lot of feed back from the blog and the re-printed blog on one of the trade newsletters. Most agree that something has to be done. Some are saying that Cinespace is the solution. It is-- but only to compete for the crumbs. Chicago has so much to offer; whereas, what does Detroit, MI, Cleveland, OH Harrisburg, PA have? Not much. But, these are cities and states Chicago, IL is competing with. This is why Illinois can only land a few weeks of Superman or Transformers, instead of the whole package ... and the lower end TV series pilots and, maybe, a season or two and feature productions the film incentive stole from Michiga, Ohio .... .

    My thought is that Chicago should build for the future, build to compete with the big guys, LA and NYC. It'll take time but Chicago has to start sometime. What about now? ... when the industry is transitioning from film production to digital film production. Chicago was a leader in the industry until the late '80 then things slipped and slid until it is where it is today ... a $161 million dollar year! for the film industry ...a banner year! NYC did $7.1 BILLION that year.

    The city and the state have to realize that to compete like NYC today, they both have to help out like NYC did for their film industry. Today, NYC realizes the benefits of their help to the tune of a multi-billion dollar a year return on their investment. NOT BAD! Is anyone listening?

Leave a comment