Wachowskis comments send a distorted message

The Wachowskis, Lana and Andy

Filmmakers Lana and Andy Wachowski have been on a media blitz lately, popping up in national magazines, local newspapers and radio.  What makes this is a huge story in itself is that the Beverly natives are notoriously secretive and rarely if ever give interviews.  Even the CIA is envious of the tight security at their CGI Kinowerks studios in Ravenswood.

So it was surprising to see them in print locally, when their provocative comments that had been made earlier to the Tribune’s arts columnist Chris Borrelli and on a WBEZ show were repeated in Nina Metz’ Tribune story last Friday, Nov. 2 in the A&E section, asking whether Chicago did lack the stage space as alleged by the filmmakers.

Metz quoted from the siblings’ previous interviews in which Lana and younger brother Andy disparaged the local film industry, about which they know next to nothing.  In those interviews they claimed Chicago was not “film friendly” and it “lacked sufficient soundstages” for their kind of epic filmmaking.”

That was a puzzling pronouncement coming from the famous recluses who have never shot a live action frame for any of their 22 films in Chicago.  (Kinowerks is their effects department).  One Wachowski lives in L.A. and neither has ever been seen or heard in the community. Even Oprah, in her early days attended film functions and later was a frequent lunch guest at RL. 

In that earlier interview Lana had asserted, “There are no soundstages, not big enough anyway,” and added that when they initially desired to shoot the “Matrix” trilogy in Chicago in 1999, the city “was not really a very film-friendly city. And it still isn’t.

“We’ve been battling to try to get Chicago to build stages” … (metamessage: the city should subsidize studios for our use) “in order to build an industry.  We would do all our films there if there were good, proper stages, but hey, you know, politics in Chicago …”

Metz said Wachowskis did not respond to her request for an interview, but it did lead her to “discuss their concerns in furthur detail.” 

Pitch for local film subsidy rebuffed

Yes, Lana, we know all about politics in Chicago and how they didn’t play your way earlier this year, possibly accounting for all those sour grapes.

In March, as reported in ReelChicago, Warner Bros. announced “Jupiter Ascending” would film at its studio-owned facilities in London that had been built for the “Harry Potter” franchise, because the project needed massive stages and the UK’s incentives trumped those of Illinois.

Nonetheless, the Wachowskis reportedly said they’d like to shoot in Chicago.  Warner’s computed the costs of Chicago vs. London and came up with a claimed $21 million shortfall.  The studio disinclined to cover it. 

A Warner’s representative, however, was dispatched to Chicago to ask City Hall fill the gap so the movie could shoot here and the request was justifiably refused.  Cinespace offered to give the production free space but that also fell apart for logistic reasons.

Maybe Andy remembered the city’s rebuff when he followed his sister’s off-the-wall remarks in the WBEZ interview, repeated in the Trib, saying:  “And Americans don’t pay enough taxes, that’s the problem.  We need to subsidize our film industry, citizens.”

No lack of Cinespace stages: seven by year’s end

About two years ago, when development started on “Jupiter Ascending,” so did conversion of the 1.5-million sq. ft. of Ryerson Steel plant space into Cinespace studios.

Since then, Cinespace has become a bustling slice of Hollywood. Five stages, totaling 150,000-sq. ft., have been constructed and two more are due for late December completion, bringing the total square footage up to 200,000.  Eventually, Cinespace will have the nine stages it had planned from the get-go.

Cinespace’s Alex Pissios If the Wachowskis want to shoot a film here, Cinespace is ready, says Cinespace general manager Alex Pissios.  “This is a different place now since they’ve been here. I told them I’ve got the space for them now.”

Or as one film professional who read the interview commented, if the Wachowskis deem the city isn’t moving fast enough to make up for that “lack of soundstages,” they might consider using some of their millions to bankroll a facility that meets their needs.

Exteriors for “Jupiter Ascending” are definitely scheduled to film here next summer for four to six weeks.  In fact, pictures of some of the location choices have been posted on the web.

An invitation to join the community

Now that they’ve moved out of the shadows and into the spotlight and announced their desire to shoot in their home town, uber successful Lana and Andy Wachowski are the perfect filmmakers to help elevate awareness of Chicago as a film production center.

If they made their films here, as they say they really want to, they would create a wealth of jobs and widen the tax base, deliver monstrous economic benefits to the community and boost the city into the top tier of film markets. Think of the media attention they’d receive!

And if Lana decides she wants to move back to Chicago and be part of the community, Vince Vaughn’s fabulous penthouse apartment is up for sale.