Chicago’s love/hate relationship with major film productions

Chicago’s disenchantment with filmmaking, and how Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, the largest film studio in the U.S. partners with their neighbors.

The film industry has steadily been growing into a booming business for the City of Chicago and while the business has provided a substantial increase in revenue and jobs for Chicagoans, not everyone is happy about the impact filming schedules can have on the neighborhoods in which they film. 

As far back as 2017 The Chicago Tribune reported that many complaints were voiced at The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events budget hearing specifically airing grievances regarding the inconvenience of filming scenes in their neighborhoods.

At the time, residents were rapidly becoming jaded with the process, as the film crews had gone from a novelty to an annoyance. Most complaints were about loss of parking and access to the very streets where they lived.

Now, four years later, with the industry expanding, Aldermen are still reporting their constituents’ disillusionment regarding the ongoing filming in their front yards.

At the September 30th Committee on Budget and Government Operations meeting Alderman Michael Scott (24th), whose West Side ward includes Cinespace Chicago FIlm Studios said, “Sometimes they knock on doors. Sometimes they don’t. … If you’re a resident and you’re coming home, you’re not given enough time to know that your block is going to be commandeered … for that week or for the number of days they’re gonna be out there. You’ve got to park around the corner.”

Retiring Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly strongly disagreed, explaining that the film office requires 48 hours notice to impacted communities and 72 hours notice in neighborhoods “where there’s too much filmmaking.”

“They have to meet that. If they don’t, we hold them accountable,” Kelly said. “And where filming becomes excessive, we will introduce a moratorium for 30 or 60 days because they need to go somewhere else. We did it three times this year.”

Kelly also explained that $60,000 was recently spent to compensate residents and business owners on 61st Street alone.

In April 2021, when Cinespace announced their expansion, Lawndale residents rallied against the studio over street closures, traffic problems and disturbances caused by TV crews filming in the surrounding neighborhood. But others realize that thousands of jobs are going to people in the community of North Lawndale that Cinespace calls home.

Alex Pissios, president of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios has a goal of not only bringing film to Chicago, but also investing in neighbors.

In 2011, Cinespace founder Nick Mirkopoulos and his nephew Alex Pissios transformed what was then a 50-acre industrial lot in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago into what it is today – the largest sound stage for film and television in the U.S.

Nick, who was well loved and larger than life, had a strong desire to make a real difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth and their families, by making industry-focused resources available to them.

When Nick passed away in 2013, his family established the CineCares Foundation in his honor.

In keeping Nick’s legacy alive, CineCares, under the leadership of Executive Director, Sheila R. Brown is devoted to empowering Chicago residents from underserved communities on the west and south sides through education and job training in TV & Film and has one of the most successful job training programs, the Mirkopoulos Internship Program, in the film industry. A program that is so successful it is becoming the model adopted by studios across the country.

“We don’t want these kids looking across a filming barricade at a world they could never experience,” said Brown. “We want them to know if they want it, they can achieve it.”

Of course, many residents and tourists still enjoy the novelty of being able to see their favorite TV stars in the flesh. Within the past 24 hours, the twitter page Filming in Chicago shared a tweet of a fan who happened upon Jason Beghe who stars as Hank Voight on Chicago PD while the show was filming at Navy Pier. He graciously agreed to snap a selfie with her. 

Earlier in the week, the twitter account shared another excited local fan’s tweet about Chicago PD filming, as well as another selfie of a Chicago PD fan and Patrick Flueger who plays Adam Ruzek on the show.

The One Chicago series are only three of the many that are filmed in the area and currently The Time Traveler’s Wife is also responsible for many shared fan tweets on Filming in Chicago

Overall in major film cities like New York, Hollywood, and Chicago, residents learn to accept the negatives with the positives if they want to live in a city so iconic that it has become a major powerhouse in the film industry.

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