6. Chicago, Illinois
“I found Chicago to be invigorating,” says writer-director Travis Stevens, who after building a rep as an indie producer with titles such as Buster’s Mal Heart and Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed his debut horror feature, The Girl on the Third Floor, in 2018. Trendy Chicago suburb Frankfort was chosen as a prominent location due to its “haunted” Victorian-style mansions, one of which the crew made their own. “Having made films in Los Angeles, New York, Louisiana, Montana, Canada, the U.K., and Mexico, I grew accustomed to struggling to find the balance between budget, resource availability, and experience,” Stevens recalls. “Often that balance can handicap the creative vision and become taxing on the crew. The further you travel from cities with a healthy film infrastructure, the cheaper many of your day-to-day costs are, but your access to equipment and experienced crews becomes limited.”
Stevens adds that Chicago and its surrounding environs have struck a balance, nurturing both a robust slate of TV production and a thriving indie film scene, which support each other. “The high-volume needs of a TV production gives a crew and actors experience on high quality sets,” he notes. “They then bring that experience to projects like ours. Many of our crew on The Girl had only been in the business a short time, but they were some of the most competent professionals I’ve had the pleasure to work with.” Stevens also praised Illinois’ film office, firefighters and police, caterers, and merchants who opened their doors to The Girl, calling it a “solid foundation” for the production. “They all made one hell of a case for why the Windy City is such an exciting place to shoot now,” he adds.
The word may be getting out: In early 2018, Film Illinois Director Christine Dudley announced that Chicago’s growth as a film production destination had placed Illinois in the top five states for film and TV production, and acknowledged a chorus of voices calling for Illinois to adopt a tax incentive of Georgia-level generosity, as opposed to the current credits, which are aimed at Illinois residents and geared toward employing locals.
Angie Gaffney, co-founder of film industry incubator Stage 18 Chicago, professes optimism at Chicago’s future: “It’s the right time to be in Chi-town. The city’s film industry has expanded greatly in the past five to ten years,” she says. “It’s incredible to see what a healthy film economy has done to increase quality of life for moviemakers here: Everyone from independents to union workers have seen benefits, and students can transition out of school to the working industry. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring.”