WHERE IS EVERYONE GOING? Not to Chicago! In fact, they’re leaving!

It’s not like this is a new problem for Chicago’s film industry.  It was happening when Chicago was HOT but it didn’t make too much difference then because there was more than enough work for those who stayed.  And, when they made it big in LA or NYC we always said, “They’re from Chicago!” and we were proud that they were doing ‘good’ … from Chicago!

Today, we say, “They left Chicago!” and they do because they’re looking not for the opportunities of LA and NYC.  They’re leaving first and foremost because they’re looking for work hoping that will lead to an opportunity.  But, unlike days gone by, it didn’t make too much difference because there was plenty of work in Chicago so there were always plenty of people around.  People back then could see opportunities in Chicago … not so today.  Where are the opportunities in Chicago?

I was looking through the film schools in Chicago trying to see where the film/video students were going after they graduated; sadly, not too many stayed in Chicago.  In fact, except for a few reporters on the alumni‘s ‘where they are today’ lists, no-one stayed in Chicago.  But, a lot of the students went on to make names for themselves which speaks well for the quality of students the film schools in Chicago turn out.

I had a blog picked up by a Chicago film industry trade publication awhile back about building for the future; my idea for that was to actually build a facility for the film industry which I refer to as the digital/film industry because it has changed so much and so quickly compared to the earlier years of filmmaking.  A lot of the comments were first we have to develop a film community.  Chicago has several film communities but not a gathering point for these different film communities … which was where my idea of actually building something came from … create a film district.  For me, it is the Film Campus.

Chicago’s film industry can’t model itself after LA where the whole city is considered the film capital of the US.  Chicago has to centralize the film community which is where I see Northerly Island as a great place to do that.  I know Chicago loves its parks but those days are gone; Chicago has to be practical. Business comes first.

And, Chicago can’t look to NYC for a model, either.  Although NYC (Manhattan) does have its financial district, its garment district, its entertainment district; NYC, also, has other boroughs that have their own districts, too.

Chicago has to do its own thing … and for me, Chicago has to build new and build for the future … build a facility, mark a territory, so people have something concrete to rally around.  It doesn’t have to be on Northerly Island although ‘Northerly Island Studios’ has a nice ring to it. But, it has to be built for the digital/film industry—the future which is already here.  When Chicago starts moving in that direction, a positive direction, people will take notice that Chicago wants to get involved in the future of the industry, people will stick around and, heaven forbid!, they might get involved.

There could be a future for Chicago’s film industry but for today, it seems that the future is the next paycheck for the lucky ones.  The so called leaders who ‘worked’ their way to a nice salaried position with perks and a pension are happy with the way things are going … they’re set … why rock the boat!  They’ve lead the film industry into mediocrity.  Nice job, guys!  They don’t need a future; they have today.

Chicago needs a change.  That change should be building new and building for the future of Chicago’s film industry.  Give the industry a definite rallying point … a designated film district (I refer to as a Film Campus … on Northerly Island but that’s my thought … I like it!).  This will keep the film school graduates in Chicago and attract a better market for the film industry.  It would be nice to have major film productions in town instead of the TV pilots and one season TV series that seem to plague Chicago these days and those documentaries.

If you had a film production coming to Chicago and had a choice between a new ‘built for the industry’ facility in a prime Chicago location or a refurbished factory in an enterprise zone competitively priced, where would you, as a production company, go?  Well, you don’t have that choice.  You go to an old worn out factory in an enterprise zone in Chicago or you go to another Midwest city that offers a better film incentive.  The way it is today, the production goes to another city!

This is why Chicago has to give up the mediocrity that it has settled for and shoot for a better market.  Build new and build for the future.  It would be awhile before Chicago could to compete directly with NYC.  But, if that was a goal and Chicago could just inch past Austin, TX, it could be in the billion dollar market, not the lower end of the million dollar market that it has settled into these days.

My pitch to the film industry here in Illinois and in Chicago is to build new and build for the future!  Or, settle for the mediocrity it’s in, today. Chicago was ranking a distant sixth in the film industry, according to a reputable trade publication a couple of years ago.  Today, it’s ranked ninth.  Where will Chicago be ranked next year?

Time for a change!

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