Christine Dudley rarely goes to the movies.
That may seem odd for the Director of the Illinois Film Office, but she’s dedicated to a job that begins before most of the scenes are even shot and ends, like, never.
So what does she do?
When Dudley’s not pitching Hollywood studios, she’s reading the trades, studying potential mega-mergers, making speeches, and running an office in Chicago where her duties occasionally include answering the phone (seriously, call the IFO and you might reach her directly).
“That’s the great irony of this position,” she explains. “I never get to see any feature films until (October’s) Chicago International Film Festival.”
She does get to spend a lot of time watching TV, but that’s part of the job as well.
“I’ll be interested to see what Apple is going to do,” she says. “They’ve hired two executives from Sony, which could be a game changer.”
There’s also AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, a complicated big business deal that, she says, “is going to change the stakeholders potentially, or potentially not.”
Dudley’s efforts have paid off. Shows like Netflix’ Easy and Showtime’s The Chi have recently increased a thriving state TV production industry that includes Fox’ Empire and NBC’s Chicago Fire/Med/PD trifecta.
The indie film scene has picked up as well, and Dudley lists the The Pages — a political thriller currently in post that was shot in Rogers Park and Evanston — among last year’s production highlights.
“Joe Chappelle wrote it and Colleen Griffen produced it,” she explains. “That shows that, from beginning to end, you can make a good film in Illinois.”
Touting the state’s production benefits is something she does often and enthusiastically. Up to four times a year, Dudley travels out west to remind decision-makers from studios like Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Netflix just how great it is.
“We pound the pavement from dawn to dusk to meet with current stakeholders,” she says. “From physical production to finance and incentive, plus labor and whoever they deem appropriate.”
Occasionally, she is tasked with a diplomatic challenge that would test the patience of anyone who loves the Windy City.
“Some people, honestly — and I’m a little taken aback by this, but that’s okay — they’ve never been to Chicago,” she explains. “We have to visit with them, do a chamber of commerce thing.”
Besides focusing on the city’s work ethic, cultural resources, and vendors, she describes its expansive theater scene, “which always perks up the ears.”
“It’s not just the Improv,” she says. “But also the Steppenwolf and the Shattered Globe.”
When her pitch goes beyond Chicago, she makes Illinois production sound like a no-brainer.
“The state can offer anything, the whole palette, absent a dessert,” she says. “The rivers, the waters, the industrial side. Plop a couple of palm trees on North Avenue Beach and you got yourself an ocean.”
She is also quick to list the films that have found success by taking advantage of Illinois’ natural beauty. 2014’s Gone Girl, was filmed near the Shawnee National Forest outside of Carbondale, and 1967’s In the Heat of the Night was shot in Sparta, near the St. Louis stretch of the Mississippi River.
Dudley is equipped with applicable entertainment experience including voiceover work and stints on the boards of the Shattered Globe Theater and the Illinois Arts Council. But it is her government work — she spent more than a decade in state and national politics — that gives her perhaps the greatest edge.
“The leading question is the (tax) incentive and what does it offer above and beyond the toplines,” she says. “Understanding how government and the process works is integral knowledge for a commissioner to have, and if I don’t have the answer, I’ll find somebody who does.”
The form itself, coupled with her presentation, does a great job of avoiding that scenario.
“It’s a very user-friendly application, seven pages long,” she explains. “We have a deck, we have it electronically, and we walk them through everything.”
Although there are incentives greater than the 30% offered by Illinois, the Land of Lincoln offers two unique benefits that Dudley is quick to point out.
The first is longevity.
“We have a ten-year program that does not sunset until 2021,” she says. “We don’t have to go to the legislature every year and re-present our plan.”
In other words, a production won’t have to rearrange its finances in the middle of filming, which happened in Michigan a few years ago.
“As a result,” Dudley continues, “we have more vendors and more people who are trained.
The second is opportunity.
“We’re the only state in the country that requires a diversity plan to be submitted with the application for the incentive,” she says. The stipulation helped Illinois set a new record for women and minority crew hires reported last year — 53%.
Although Dudley is obviously proud of these figures, she refreshingly acknowledges that there’s more to come.
“Can we do better?” she asks. “Of course we can.”
So there’s another hurdle standing between her and the movies, but she gets a fix from a few inspirational reminders. Besides attending the Midwest Independent Film Festival as often as possible, Dudley hangs posters of The Blues Brothers and Boss in her office.
“Blues Brothers represents the renaissance in (Illinois) film production,” she says. “Boss was the beginning of episodic television in Chicago. We’ve been doing nothing but growing ever since.”