Soundstages, Studio Complexes And More Facility Expansions Aid Illinois Production Growth
Illinois pulled in a record-breaking $1.256 billion in qualified film and television production spending over the past two years. And with 14 existing soundstage facilities within city limits, Chicago is no toddling town.
In fact, with two additional sprawling studio complexes in the works, Chicago is setting its sights even higher, looking to further increase its production footprint.
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The expansion is bolstered by the strength and stability of a 30% state tax credit locked in through 2032. “They made meaningful amendments last year … and are open for business — they are serious about supporting long-term growth, long-term commitment,” says Ashley Rice, co-managing partner and president of Cinespace Studios, whose ample space — more than 1.6 million square-feet — and plum location 15 minutes from downtown Chicago have established it as a market leader.
Rice would be in a position to know. Her previous experience as exec VP of production for Legendary Television put her on the other side of the table, alongside filmmakers, when deciding where to take productions. Now tasked, among other things, with Cinespace’s day-to-day management and client and government relations, Rice oversees the 36 stages where most major series in Chicago have been filmed over the past decade.
Several developments seek to augment the city’s production boom, with services that are complementary and additive, as well as facilities that provide for future demand.
“Films and TV [shows are] bolting us on to their existing projects because they … can come into our space to take care of this shot or that scene,” says Scott Greenberg, co-founder of Smash Virtual Production Studios, a dedicated LED volume soundstage that opened in 2022 with a full-time staff of six. “Some TV projects are now even able to write scenes they can do in our volume that they wouldn’t have been able to before.”
Greenberg is also bullish on the cost-effectiveness of virtual spaces in helping to keep local and regional advertising firms closer to home, fueling a potential return to a commercial production heyday of 15 years ago.
“In a short period of time, we’re now bringing back advertisement production to Chicago that would never have even come here if we’d not opened,” he says.
Additionally, there are plans for two large studio complexes. In the heart of Chicago’s South Side, on a lot that had been vacant for 20 years, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in February for Regal Mile Studios, a 380,000 sq.-ft., 7-acre enclosed media campus that will open in 2024 and include 220,000 square-feet of soundstage space.
“The need for diversity in the provider space is long overdue,” says “The Chi” executive producer Derek Dudley. Teaming on the project with Loop Capital Markets founder and CEO Jim Reynolds he was able to realize a personal vision and — in pairing with a fellow African American and South Side native from a different industry — set an example for future generations.
“We want to help grow Chicago into being an entertainment mecca, and the Hollywood of the Midwest,” Dudley says. “And it’s going to take a village to make that happen.”
Still coming into focus, meanwhile, is a North Side project, being developed on a 22-acre property by Knickpoint Ventures, that would devote some 1.5 million square-feet of warehouse space on the former Marshall Field’s site to a film production campus.
But it’s Chicago’s overall production footprint that’s poised for the biggest breakout. “We want to help create a real pipeline for all Chicago creatives to feel supported and realize their talents can not only be born out of Chicago, but thrive here,” Dudley says.
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