Each of the 31 stages
on the 1.5 million sq.-ft.
original campus are booked,
so the studio had to expand.
“It’s a good
problem to have,”
Chicago Cinespace Film Studios expanded its West Side campus by arranging to purchase a former steel factory at 3355 W. 31st St. last month.
Located roughly two miles south of the studio’s base at 15th and Western, sections of the 230,000 sq.-ft. former Crown Steel are currently being used for storage while the rest of the facility receives upgrades and standard improvements like new concrete floors and electrical and roofing work.
According to Cinespace President Alex Pissios, the structure will make a perfect studio facility.
“It’s got good bones,” he says. “It’s got 32 foot-high ceilings and some nice bays where we can probably build another six, seven stages.”
Pissios is confident that productions will be eager to move into the renovated location because, among other things, Cinespace’s existing 31 stages are at maximum occupancy.
“We have a million-and-a-half square feet of space, and it’s full,” he explains. “It’s a good problem to have.”
Ten television series are scheduled to begin filming at Cinespace’s main campus, centered around the former offices and adjoining factory of Ryerson Steel’s headquarters, over the next few weeks. Together, they represent a significant amount of Chicago’s record-setting activity for 2018.
Among the returning shows are Empire, The Chi, and Dick Wolf’s popular Windy City trifecta — Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and Chicago PD.
New series include 20th Century Fox’s Presumed Innocent starring Kelsey Grammer, Comedy Central’s Englewood-based South Side, and HBO’s Lovecraft Country, which is being produced by JJ Abrams and Jordan Peele.
Pissios is obviously thrilled with all the shows, but Presumed Innocent — featuring Grammer as a State’s Attorney — holds a special place for him and the studio.
“Kelsey Grammer was the first guy to ever film here, for Boss,” he recalls. “We only had one stage, and they converted the fifth floor of the center plant into a Mayor’s office and a newsroom.”
Pissios — who grew to know Grammer as “a great guy” and has always considered him to be “a great actor” — is particularly enthusiastic to witness his reaction upon returning.
“When this guy comes back, he’ll be like, ‘what the hell happened?’”
Besides film production, the campus is home to a number of related businesses including AbelCine, Cinelease, Keslow Camera, and Periscope Post & Audio.
Since opening in 2011, Cinespace has generated more than 16,000 new jobs, including several that started out as internships offered by the Cinecares Foundation, a community-based apprenticeship program launched in partnership with Wolf Films, NBC Universal, and Studio Mechanics Union Local 476 last year.
Under the guidance of Executive Director Sheila Brown, Cinecares has also been growing.
“Fox is going to take on four people for internships and HBO has taken a few people, too,” says Pissios. “It’s really exciting to help these high school graduates get into the union and keep building what we’re doing.”
It also continues the mission set forth by Pissios’ uncle Nick Mirkopoulos, the Cinespace founder who prioritized community outreach as well as business growth when he expanded the original Cinespace Studio from Toronto to Chicago.
The family donated $50,000 to help people with disabilities during the Anixter Center’s annual gala in May. According to Pissios, there’s a lot more to go around.
“Uncle Nick always told me, ‘it’s a billion-dollar industry in Chicago … you gotta get it there,’” he says. “When we started it was $20 million. At the latest, it was half a billion. So, you know, we’re halfway.”