In 2011, TV activity up 30%, spots 60%, features flat

Kelsey Grammer stars in “Boss”

Here for the sixth consecutive year is ReelChicago’s exclusive and roundup of entertainment and commercial production activity for the previous year, based on official Chicago Film Office reports.  

On the heels of 2010’s record $161 million in in-state production spending, 2011 was a mixed bag, with the loss of two TV series, the addition of at least one series, and just one studio production — albeit a big one.

Spot production here, however, was up a whopping 60% over 2010, thanks in large part to Wal-Mart and other major advertisers’ increasing recognition of the Illinois film tax credits. 

But the most significant trend in 2011 production, notes Chicago Film Office director Rich Moskal, was the increase in television activity, due largely to the full-time series “Playboy Club” and “Boss.”

“’Playboy’s’ cancellation was disappointing, as was the cancellation of the earlier ‘Chicago Code.’ But that doesn’t change the industry’s current view of Chicago as a viable attractive destination to headquarter a series,” Moskal says.

A total of 391 projects shot 1,234 permitted days, according to the CFO, which only tracks days filmed with permits within Chicago city limits.

Nothing matched “Chicago Code’s” 115 days of production in 2010, but the volume of series and pilots was enough to push this year’s totals over the top. 

Television shows increased 30% over last year

There were 52 TV productions, including two full-time series and five pilots, shooting 501 days in 2011.  That’s a 30% increase over 2010’s record of 39 projects filming 332 days.

NBC and Fox’s “The Playboy Club” pilot shot 14 days and the series shot 55 days.  Starz’ “Boss” pilot and seven episodes shot 64 days from April through July. 

truTV’s “Bait Car” shot a whopping 93 days spread across the year.  FX’s “Powers” pilot shot 20 days, as did the Showtime/William H. Macy series “Shameless.”  CW’s “Cooper and Stone” pilot shot eight days in March, MTV’s “Underemployed” five days in May.

Tax credit gets props for TV production boost

Illinois Film Office director Betsy Steinberg attributed the increased activity to “TV networks realizing the tax credit is set up very well for series TV, and our infrastructure.  There are credits in places that don’t have the level of skill in local crews and small businesses.”

Illinois’s credit covers 30% of local spending, and “with TV shows it’s easy to spend locally,” Steinberg says.  “The crew is almost all local, the sets are local. Movies are also quite interested in the credit, but they tend to have more out-of-state spending.”

Other significant TV shoots included Kirkstall Road’s Four Weddings, 40 days from April through August; Spike TV’s Bar Rescue, 20 days in April and May; DIY’s Kitchen Crashers, 18 days in September and October, and TruTV’s Weiner Circle, 25 days in September and October.

“Man of Steel,” 2011’s only studio feature “Man of Steel” sole studio shoot in 2011

Warner Bros.’ “Man of Steel” was the only studio feature to shoot in the city, for 10 days in September, with several more weeks shooting in and around downstate Plano. 

While official numbers haven’t been released, Steinberg predicted that Man of Steel’s local spend would be greater than two of last year’s bigger studio shoots, Contagion and The Dilemma, combined, with 550 Illinois residents hired.

Indie feature shoot days plummeted from last year

The 11 independent features that shot 70 days in Chicago were a steep drop from 2010’s seven studio films.  Studio films shot 144 days and 21 indies worked for 104 days.

This year’s biggest indies were the Sienna Miller belly dancing drama “Just Like a Woman,” which shot 15 days in June and July;

“Chicago Riot,” 15 days in November and December, and Boris Wexler’s immigration comedy “Roundabout American,” produced by Julian Grant, 14 days spread over the summer.

Steinberg says Illinois may have benefited from the rollback of Michigan’s aggressive tax credit.  “We probably got a couple indie movies, which is probably [Michigan’s] best niche,” she says.  “Not really TV, because it wasn’t really going to Michigan.  They didn’t have the infrastructure in place.  Indie movies really seem to be the sweet spot for over-the-top tax credits like that.”

Rounding out the list of indie features were Forward Motion Media’s sock-puppet opus “Melody & Old Sock,” six permitted days, Bad Taste’s “Cautionary Tales of Jake & Justin,” Hairless Films’ “Marching Banned,” and Afterlight Pictures and Media Arts International’s “Altered, four days each; Nathan Adloff’s “Nate & Margaret,” three days; Breakwall Productions’ “Rose White” and Fiddler’s Greene Films’ “Directors,” two days; and DASH Entertainment’s “Broken & Beautiful,” one day.

Commercials and other productions

“Commercial production was up more than 60% from 2010,” Moskal noted, “with a total 124 spots pulling permits in the city” for 208 productions days. 

The longest commercial shoot of the year was Jake Mills for BMW at seven days, followed by, at six days each, CFS Productions, also for BMW, and Fiber Films for Chicago Convention & Tourism, all in August; and Midcoast Studios for Harley Davidson in October.

There were 202 other productions, including still shoots, documentaries, corporate and music videos, and shorts, that shot 296 days.