The members of Studio Mechanics Local 476, the Chicago branch of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union, work behind the scenes of every Cinespace production.
Without their contribution, the magic that comes out of Cinespace would be much more difficult to make.
On a typical production, according to Business Manager Mark Hogan, “the sound department has about three guys. Makeup and hair, about two each. Special effects might have up to twelve. Electric and grip always have at least four or five on a crew. There’s also set dressing and construction, and painting.”
Hogan is a third-generation member of the union who earned his chops as an electrician on a long list of shows and films including “Blues Brothers.” When his members were working on “Nightmare on Elm Street” at the former home of Ryerson Steel years ago, he called Alex Pissios and his Uncle Nick Mirkopoulos, who were looking for studio space.
“I told them, ‘come on over here and see this place,’” he recalls. “You won’t believe it.”
Alex and Uncle Nick eventually purchased several buildings in the area and turned them into Cinespace Studios.
The IATSE was born in New York City’s Elks Hall on June 17, 1893. Representing stagehands from eleven cities across the country, it was the end result of an 1886 strike that “succeeded … with the support of the actors,” according to Wikipedia. It also has the coolest logo this side of the Nike Swoosh.
Chicago Local 476 was Chartered in 1931 and originally represented workers in both live theatrical and motion picture productions. Fifteen years later, it split into two separate entities: one representing live stage; the other, recorded film / TV productions.
“Motion Pictures,TV Commercials, TV shows,” says Hogan. “Anything that’s recorded, scripted.”
Early this year, Local 476 opened a satellite office at Cinespace, where the union has a presence near to all of the work at the studios and downtown locations.
“Basically,” he says, “the only things we don’t do are wardrobe, camera, and transportation.”
Most of the people who join Local 476 have completed the training process of an apprenticeship and earned the rank of journeyman by the time they come on board.
“We get a lot of people who come from the construction trades,” explains Hogan. But, he continues, it’s not for everybody. “If they build a building or a new home, they work pretty much eight hours a day. Our crews normally work ten to twelve or more.
Local 476 also has apprentices — “If they have a skill set, they can get hired,” says Hogan.
This season, the Local has begun an internship, partnering with NBC and the Cinecares Charitable Foundation of Cinespace Studios. The program is dedicated to exposing young residents of the Lawndale neighborhood to the skills needed to have a career in Local 476.
“We’re happy that CineCares and the network brought this to us,” he says. “Local 476 has been working hard to achieve greater diversity and along with an aggressive training program and neighborhood outreach we’ve been able to work with these organizations with great success”.
Hogan’s other responsibilities include bringing productions to Chicago by pitching the advantages of 476 and negotiating contracts, two of his favorite things to do.
Nearly five years ago, Hogan was joined by Local 476 President Bradley Matthys to address the incredible growth in the industry. It marked the first time in the Local’s history that two full time officers worked together on behalf of the members and .
“We usually take a yearly sales trip out to LA and do trade shows once in awhile,” he explains. “We’ll visit all the network broadcast companies — NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox.”
When potential clients ask about the availability of stages and crew, the talents of his membership, the growth of the local infrastructure including Cinespace has given him a lot to talk about.
“They want to walk in and turn the key,” he says. “Before you had all of our studios going, a company would have to find an office building and order desks and chairs and run the phone lines and the computer lines. If a place already has that space, it’s a huge incentive.”
The deals he arranges not only provide labor, but also assume a huge load of responsibility associated with production. Covering everything from compensation to meals, travel, holiday pay and more, Local 476 frees up the filmmakers to be filmmakers.
Hogan is also frequently asked about filming in Chicago, a topic that he’s more than happy to discuss.
“Let’s face it, the skyline and the city’s cooperation are second to none,” he says. “They can get anything they want here, within reason. Look at the Transformers. They tied up Wabash and the Michigan Avenue Bridge. And the Empire and the Dick Wolf “Chicago” collection showcases Chicago to the whole world.”
“Cinespace is what we have waited so long for,” he continues. “From the moment they started on that first stage things, began to change. With the help of our membership and the other fine technicians in Chicago, the dream of turning Illinois into a billion-dollar-a-year film industry is close to becoming a reality.”
To read more “Day in the Life of Cinespace,” click here.