The future of the Illinois film industry looks brighter

JB Pritzker, Rahm Emanuel, and Alex Pissios at Cinespace Studios

JB Pritzker, Rahm Emanuel, and Alex Pissios at Cinespace Studios

How Cinespace
President Alex Pissios,
Mayor Rahm Emanuel,
Governor J.B. Pritzker, and
State Senator Elgie Sims
plan to keep
a good thing growing


Industry leaders and film professionals gathered to hear Governor Pritzker, Mayor Emanuel, and Senator Elgie Sims Jr. shine some reassurance on the future of Chicago’s film industry during a press conference at Cinespace Studios yesterday afternoon.

It was the climax of a media event promoted by Cinespace President Alex Pissios and the Chicago Film Office (CFO) that was dedicated to the city’s “groundbreaking film, television, and media production since 2011.”

According to a February 28 report from the CFO, the amount spent on production in the city has grown from $150 million to $474 million over the past seven years. The total for 2018 was $44 million higher than 2017. The activity reflects a healthy mix of genres, including studio features, indie features, television, commercials, stills, and “other production.”

Although last year’s overall total was the highest yet, the only category to record an increase from 2017 to 2018 was indie production, which reported 80 projects.

Yesterday’s event focused on making sure the growth continues.

Keeping up the momentum
Cinespace President Alex Pissios hosted the conference on a raised platform in the DePaul Soundstage. Flanked by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, State Senator Elgie Sims Jr., and former Chicago Film Office Director Rich Moskal, he initiated a round of recollections, praise, and support for the regional and statewide film industry.

“In 2001, we opened our first stage in this exact building, on the 5th floor, for the television show Boss, ” he said. “In the same year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was just entering the fifth floor in City Hall to start his job as the Mayor of Chicago. Since that year — because of the mayor’s vision, support, and determination to build a film industry in Chicago — we currently have 31 sound stages and are the largest film studio outside of L.A.”

Attendees await the start of the press conference
Attendees await the start of the press conference

The standing-room-only crowd of indie film leaders, union officials, studio employees, and network interns burst into a round of applause. It was the first of many spontaneous cheers that erupted during the event. They gave it up again after hearing the next sentence.

“We also just purchased a closed-down steel mill in South Lawndale to develop six more stages,” Pissios continued. “Once that is completed, we will become the largest film studio in the country.”

After describing Cinespace’s partnership with the DePaul University Film School and the film incubator Stage 18, Pissios praised the benefit that the CineCares Foundation internship continues to bring to the community. He credited Mayor Emanuel’s commitment to the industry for helping to make it all happen.

“With that, I would like to introduce my friend and someone our industry will surely miss,” he concluded. “Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

Sizing up the competition
In his remarks, Mayor Emanuel reminded the crowd that the 80’s television series E.R. was based on a Chicago hospital, but filmed in L.A.

“That would not be the case today, when you look at all the things that are now being filmed here in the City of Chicago,” he said. “The problem we have now is what I call an ‘Uptown’ problem: Alex just bought another steel mill because he’s turning away business. We don’t turn away business in the City of Chicago. We make business.”

Alex Pissios, Rahm Emanuel
Alex Pissios, Rahm Emanuel

The Mayor thanked Rich Moskal for creating a film permit process that takes “less than a day” to complete during his years as Director of the Chicago Film Office. Then he described the importance of the Illinois Film Tax Credit, which is scheduled for legislative renewal in 2021.

While admitting that the tax credit has helped create “a thriving, growing, dynamic film and television industry here in the City of Chicago,” Mayor Emanuel also explained that it is not the only game in town.

“Look, everybody’s discovered what is happening,” he said. “North Carolina’s trying to compete. Toronto’s trying to compete. Michigan’s trying to compete. Georgia’s trying to compete. They’re trying to do it now in Texas.”

Then he introduced the Governor J.B. Pritzker as, “a partner in this effort.”

“J.B. is committed,” said the Mayor. “He’s going to ensure that this goes to the next stage. Please give a warm reception to J.B. Pritzker.”

Planning for the future
Governor Pritzker showed intimately familiarity with the challenges and risks that Alex Pissios and his family overcame to build Cinespace Studios, and he expressed massive gratitude while describing how they helped the industry achieve record-levels of business.

JB Pritzker
JB Pritzker

Then he described how he plans to keep the momentum going.

“The Illinois film industry is on the rise, and it’s not slowing down,” he said. “I intend to make sure that our city and our state really come together with private industry and workers to forge a path forward so that we can reach even greater heights.”

Among his strategies are “public / private efforts” and “city / state partnerships.”

“We have to do everything that we can to create jobs in the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois,” he continued, “and I am focused on that, laser-like, every single day.”

His speech set the stage for the biggest news of the day, which came from Illinois State Senator Elgie Sims Jr., who the Governor described as, “one of the great advocates in the State of Illinois for this industry.”

Senator Elgie Sims
Senator Elgie Sims

Senator Sims got right to the point.

“I’ve been involved with this tax credit since its very inception,” he said. “We have the most competitive credit in the entire country — when you talk about diversity spending — and that is a testament to you.”

While admitting that the results of the tax credit have been “great,” the Senator informed the crowd that, “we are not done.”

“That’s why I have legislation in Springfield right now that will … make this tax credit permanent,” he concluded.

The crowd was jubilant.

According to his office, Senator Sims sponsors Senate Bill 1595, a piece of legislation that “allow(s) the first $200,000 of out-of-state wages paid or acquired by production companies to qualify for the film production services tax credit.”

Senator Sims and Sheila Brown (center) onstage with the cohort from the Mirkopoulos Internship Program
Senator Sims and Sheila Brown (center) onstage with the cohort from the Mirkopoulos Internship Program

The language in the bill further specifies that, “the credit applies on a permanent basis.”

When the press conference was over, the current cohort of the Mirkopoulis Internship Program gathered onstage with CineCares’ Executive Director Sheila Brown to take photos with Senator Sims. They looked confident, professional, and happy.

It appears that the future is in good hands.

Send your industry updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton,