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Growth In Television Boosts Behind-The-Camera Jobs In Illinois

The Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Batman: The Dark Knight, are known for including scenes from some of Chicago's most iconic landmarks, but it's the small screen where the state may reap the largest benefits in the future.

The Illinois Film Office coordinates films, commercials, and television productions in the state.

Illinois Film Office Director Christine Dudley expects the rise of streaming services to increase overall productions in the state.

This fall, Comedy Central announced it will produce a scripted workplace comedy called South Side in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. The pilot was filmed in Illinois and written by south side natives Bashir and Sultan Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle.

Credit: Done in collaboration with Fall 2017 Data Visualization Course, School of Art and Design, Northern Illinois University (Shreyas Belur Nataraj, Lukus Hendrix, Jonathan Schemmel, Jinhong Yao)

The film office estimates $599 million was spent in 2016 -- a 51-percent increase over the year before. That included 345 television, commercial, and film projects for the year.

The state offers a Production Tax Incentive program, offering a 30-percent tax credit for productions on qualified expenses on Illinois goods, services, and wages. It went into effect in 2008. There is not a cap on the amount of credit an applicant can earn.

The minimum cost to qualify for the tax credit is $50,000 for productions less than 30 minutes and $100,000 for productions of 30 minutes or longer.

Dudley says filming for current television shows has been bringing in a steady flow of talent.

“Chicago PD, or [Chicago] Fire, or [Chicago] Med -- or Empire, you’re looking at ten months of consistent employment, particularly behind the camera," Dudley said. "For every television program, you are looking at 300 people behind the camera building the sets, running the cameras, dressing the sets, finding the costumes, doing the hair and make-up, and special effects, on and on and on.”

The Illinois Tax Credit Act also includes a diversity reporting requirement.

Credit: Done in collaboration with Fall 2017 Data Visualization Course, School of Art and Design, Northern Illinois University (Nithin Devang, Rachel Martinez, Christopher Trinh)

“Since the explosion of television in particular, the opportunities and the necessity for training women and minorities has really become integral and part of the film community,” Dudley said.

Productions must show proof of a best-faith effort to hire women and minorities as part of the crew and office staff in order to receive the tax credit.

“We really see 2011 being when the footprint of television really became rooted" Dudley noted. "What we saw was an overall increase from 14 percent of the projects that we accept their credit claims to 29 percent last year. That really is unique to Illinois, but it also allows greater depth in the pipeline.”

Dudley says that requirement has caught the attention of other states too.

“I honestly never get calls from California or New York because they are California and New York," Dudley said, "but, most recently, we have been approached by both of the film offices to look at best practices on our diversity."

Some watchdog groups have questioned the state's process for tracking those hires.

"Is it perfect? No. Can things be done better? Of course,” Dudley said. "What we have is a commitment from not only the studios who work here, but also the community itself for training, opportunities, and best efforts."

With the boom in filming, some Chicago residents are no longer star-struck when it comes to seeing cameras in their neighborhoods, which can lead to road closures, fewer parking spots, and other disruptions. Dudley says she is sympathetic but says there are big picture considerations. She compares it to the many festivals held in the city.

“It’s part of the culture, it’s part of the vibrancy," Dudley said. "That causes the same thing -- you can’t park at a certain place, and there’s disruption. Overall, I think, while we are constantly revisiting those situations, the data is very clear. Growth is really in a community and in a state that is shifting its focus from agrarian and commodity to service, technology, and entrepreneurial-ship.”

The Illinois Film Tax Credit is scheduled for legislative review in 2021.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.