Cinespace a massive revenue booster, job creator

By the time Sun-Times had headlined Gov. Bruce Rauner’s demand that Cinespace return a $10 million state grant, studio president Alex Pissios had already sent the uncashed check, plus interest, to the Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The studio felt that any attempt on its part to refute the slanted negativity generated by the Sun-Times’ recent “Watchdog” stories would not benefit the continued growth and prosperity of the film industry.

In refunding the grant, Pissios said, “It’s clear that we are going to continue to move forward at our pace and keep growing the film industry to even greater heights.”

“The Sun-Times doesn’t seem to care about how Cinespace’s efforts have revitalized film industry jobs here,” chimed in filmmaker Jerry Vasilatos.

Like the thousands of film workers who make their living in visual media, he has watched Chicago transform from a dot on the Flyover Zone to one of the US’ top 10 film production centers.

Since Cinespace’s 2011 opening ceremonies on the set of “Boss” to the present, the 18 network television series, pilots and feature films that have worked there have generated $1.2 billion in in-state expenditures. 

Add the 2.7 multiplier “trickle down” effect and the state has benefited from more than $3.1 billion in direct and indirect economic activity.

Direct revenues from film activity, increased new and local business, new job creation, taxes generated and tourism gains are just some of the economic reasons why 35 states are aggressively competiting for film production. 

The studio reports an estimated 5,000-plus new jobs have been created so far in four years, very close to the original 6,000 new jobs estimated by Cinespace’s late founder, Nick Mirkopoulos.  had set as a goal. 

Union labor has been a notable beneficiary of exploding work opportunities.  Membership in Local 476 Studios Mechanics has jumped 56%, from 767 members in 2009, considered one of the least poorest years for film production, to 1,197 in 2014, reported 476’s business manager Mark Hogan.

“That’s a great number considering these were all high-paying union jobs with benefits,” he says.

Wages also have swelled – by 399% since 2009.

SAG AFTRA members have  gained a significant amount of work and international exposure. An estimated 300 performers, per show, per season, have won roles in network rating winners “Empire,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago PD,” cable’s “Sirens” and the Wachowskis’ new “Sense8” – that shot here last year. 

The 1,500 TV roles do not include a plentitude of work in the many pilots Cinespace also hosted in 2014.

Four of the series will resume production this summer and fall, while two new series are penciled in for later this year.

The ever-expanding film complex

The Mirkopoulos family bought the vacant, century-old 1.5 million sq. ft. Ryerson Steel plant on 50 acres in North Lawndale.  The purchase price was $18 million.  The family  invested many times that amount, with the help of $17.8 in state grants, to convert the raw space into 18 sound stages, each approximately 15,000-sq. ft. 

The expanded and rehabbed complex presently accommodates eight full productions with offices, production company rentals, construction shops, event function space and a cafeteria. Current suppliers are equipment rentals Keslow, Cinelease and upcoming AbelCine, and Mario and Hat Trick caterers. Their staff numbers more than 100.

Their goal is to complete 10 more stages, for a total of 28,  in the next three years, which will certify Cinespace the largest film production complex in the world. 

The $10 million grant in question, approved by DCEO last fall, was earmarked for the purchase of  seven industrial buildings surrounding the Cinespace campus to enlarge the facilities.  One of those properties would have been converted into a Latino film center,  the only such facility outside of Miami.

To utilize the $10 million grant, Cinespace would have had to invest double that amount of their own funds. 

In addition to the property purchase, CIneplace had planned on creating an educational incubator, as an expansion of on-going training of minorities for expanding industry jobs.

Cinespace is the first film studio to rent on-site training space to film schools.  DePaul Cinema Studies and Tribeca Flashpoint students currently have the opportunity to learn from professional filmmakers on real movie sets.

Residential and industrial properties have also benefitted from the emergence of Cinespace and its improvements to their neighborhood.  Property values have increased in the past year.