Big Cities: 5. Chicago, Illinois
Making a comedy? The streets of Chicago are crawling with improv and sketch comedy performers, many of whom are trained actors, writers and directors specializing in more than just make-’em-ups. The Second City Harold Ramis Film School launched in 2016 purported to be the first comedy moviemaking school in the world (and boasting a starry roster on its board, with names like Apatow, Carell and Odenkirk).
Anna Zorn is a Chicago-based improviser and videographer who likes her city because it “has the best of both worlds”—an intimate film community and big-name projects. In 2016 Chicago saw major players like the 20th Century Fox production The Empty Man and Eli Roth’s Death Wish remake, alongside series like NBC’s Chicago line of titles (Fire, Justice, Med and P.D.) and Sense8 from the Chicago-born Wachowskis. On the indie front, there was Seth Savoy’s The Echo Boomers, Jennifer Reeder’s Signature Move and the A24 film Slice, starring hometown pride Chance the Rapper. (Yet another hometown talent, Joe Swanberg, set his Netflix show, Easy, around the city.)
The movie houses here have their own distinct character. You’ll find “quirk” at The Music Box Theatre and academic discourse at The Gene Siskel Film Center. Order a pizza to your table at the Vic Theatre’s Brew & View series, which shows cult classics and crowdpleasing second runs in a historic setting. Chicago is a great place to call home—even just for the time it takes to earn a degree at Northwestern University, DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Chicago.
Illinois’ 30 percent tax credit has no cap and low minimum spends ($50,000 for shorts under 30 minutes, $100,000 for longer work). We particularly like Illinois’ requirement that production companies submit a plan to proactively hire diverse crew.
There’s room for improvement, of course, in “a state that flirts with bankruptcy at every turn,” notes Ray Pride, film critic for Chicago weekly Newcity. Pride compiles an annual list called “The Film 50,” spotlighting 50 individuals making waves in Chicago’s film and media community. “We could always use more canny, flush producers to make a larger footprint for venturesome work that reflects this great city.”
Nicole Bernardi-Reis, executive director of IFP Chicago, agrees: “access to capital, decision makers—distributors, production companies, programmers, commissioning editors, etc.—and talent” can be a challenge. Yet “it has become a lot easier in the last few years,” she says, with “a number of incubator programs, angel investment groups and programs that give filmmakers the opportunity to pitch. IFP Chicago launched one last year that we’ll be expanding in 2017.”
And Pride points to Chicago’s wealth of film events: “the world’s longest-running underground event, the Chicago Underground Film Festival; the Chicago International Film Festival, catching a second wind at the age of 53; and Reeling, at 35 the second oldest gay film festival in the world.” The conclusion? “Conversation. Community. Collaboration. It’s all over Chicago.”