Chicago’s ranking as a film city is a sometimes thing. There have been times when Moviemaker Magazine, for example, has put Chicago on top of a list of the 25 best cities to live and work in one year, and then ignores it the next year in a similar compilation.
To compensate for past sins of omission, the current issue of the International Cinematographers Guild ICG Magazine cites Chicago as one of its five “Great [Union] Locations, where film commissions, vendors and residents love union crews.”
Chicago shares that accolade with Boston, Detroit, San Francisco and Wilmington, North Carolina.
“What we found was decidedly encouraging,” ICG states. “Feature films and television shows, for example, aren’t the only projects that choose to shoot in these cities. There’s a lot of independent work, commercials, music videos and even the growing web stories shoot in these cities.”
“We’re the biggest union production film center between Coasts,” says Mark Hogan, business manager of IATSE Local 476, whose membership is close to 900.
Total Illinois union membership is between 4-5,000, he estimates, including Teamsters 727, Cinematographers Local 600, Wardrobe Local 769 and the DGA. AFTRA/SAG alone has 5,000 members.
Local shooters and guild members chimed in about why Chicago ranks so high. Says ASC associate member Tom Fletcher: “I often take cinematographers around to show off the city. There’s a visually stimulating image anywhere a DP points his camera.”
Says ICG member Peter Gilbert (“Hoop Dreams”): It’s easy here to find locations where you can park your truck and have a different style anywhere you look.”
Local 600 member Ted Lichtenheld, who worked on “ER” for more than a decade says, “Chicago was always a character in the show.”
He adds, “When you are shooting a scene on top of a lakefront hotel at night, with the lights of the city all around you and the wind off the lake is swirling snow straight up the side of the building, your audience knows beyond a doubt that they are seeing Chicago on the screen.”
Notes Wayne Kubacki of Essanay grip and lighting rentals: “What’s especially nice about the Chicago is that it’s large enough to be a serious production center but small enough to have a friendly community atmosphere.
“Chicago is a union town and with few exceptions all the crews we deal with are members of the AI, as are both my partners and I’m a DGA member as well,” he says.
Echoes Peter Gilbert: “The unions are great to work with. They understand the limitations we have these days. They are upfront and accommodating. The film industry has stayed strong by offering producers the only reliable source of trained and capable crews.”
The local unions are accommodating, says Hogan, “because we understand the competitive aspects of the business. We are eager to cater to the employer and work things out.”
He also points out the ease in working with Chicago unions, since there are fewer unions to deal with than in L.A. “Our Local 476 covers 13 different positions that would be 14 unions in L.A. Being here, if there’s an issue with grips or props, there’s one person to solve the problem and that’s me.”