Hollywood has made some pretty darn good films in its time, and it makes a lot of them. (Movies, that is, not necessarily good ones.) But Chicago has turned out some pretty good films too: Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller, Dark Knight... And considering the proportion of Good films made in Chicago to the total number of films produced in Chicago in the first place I daresay this is a pretty good track record. I don't think this is a coincidence. Here's why:
1. Chicago Is Where The Audience Is At*
Chicago is a great city, but it's not the kind of place where people flock to become someone else. Chicago won't turn you into a movie star or a rock star or a Broadway star; Chicago turns you into a Chicagoan and Chicagoans are by and large normal people and normal people go to the movies. If a film gets made in Chicago we want to go see it because it gets us where we live in more ways than one: we like seeing ourselves in movies- and I'm not just talking about Chicagoans here. Normal people like seeing normal people in movies and no matter how extraordinary the circumstances (a singing and dancing German Parade?) it's easy to imagine this is what it would be like if it happened to ordinary people.
2. Movies Made In Chicago Are A Community Effort
Oh, you're filming a movie? Cool! Can I watch? What's it about? When's it coming out? Hey, did you hear they're filming a movie? That's pretty much a Chicago response to a movie being made here in town. Consider the tourist turnout for the filming of Transformers 3. There wasn't even much to see (since all the transformers are CGI after all) but people flocked downtown to see it anyway. We want to be a part of it. We want to help. We want it to be good and we want it to be a success. Every time a big film comes through town the whole local filmmaking community finds some way into the credits. Chicagoans make movies because they think it's cool, not because they think it is going to be their big break and/or paycheck.
3. We're Not An Industry Town
The film industry, that is. We're not trying to turn out films like individually-wrapped processed slices of cheese. We're more like a craft town making aged cheddar. Films made in Chicago take on local flavor. Sure they sometimes take longer to make and yes they sometimes don't make it to quite as wide of a market, but then again there's nothing wrong with that. It can be fast and cheap or it can be good: it's very rare that it can be both. Because Chicago is too far away from Hollywood the films made here aren't stepping stones for starlets or piggy banks for producers; they are stories for audiences.
So if anyone tries to tell you that Chicago is a second class film town you can tell them why the Second City is second to none.
*Yes, I realize that's not grammatically correct- it's a Chicago thing.