Film Crews outside the Baton in Uptown as part of the filming of the Showtime series "Work in Progress." Credit: Jonathan Ballew/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — With the city’s film industry booming and cultural programming returning to pre-pandemic levels, alderpeople needs a direct line of communication with the department in charge to avoid headaches for residents, they said Thursday.

Mark Kelly, the outgoing commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said television and film production is one of the “growth industries” of Chicago’s economy during a Budget Committee hearing Thursday to review the departments $71.2 million 2022 budget request.

“Right now we have 15 television productions in the city, which is a record number. We estimate the economic value of that will be about $750 million. There’s now over 20,000 jobs,” he said. “So many of those jobs are union jobs and because Illinois’ tax credit is the only tax credit that has a minority hiring clause … about over 50% of the crews in Chicago are either BIPOC or female.”

Cinespace, the sprawling West Side studio, is now the largest in North America and more studios are in the works throughout the city, Kelly said.

“This emerging film scene is important not just economically but think of it sort of like the Michael Jordan effect. Think of how this one individual sort of remade Chicago’s image in the world. Well, filming does that, too. We see L.A. and New York through the films that come from there, and we in Chicago should emerge as one of the top film producing locations in this country,” he said. 

Kelly also touted the “transformative” investment in the arts proposed through $26 million in new funds to the department, including $10 million from the city’s corporate fund and $16 million from the city’s $1.9 billion share of federal relief dollars. He also was “excited to share” that all 50 wards would receive cultural grants from the department for the first time in 2022.

But, while several alderpeople personally thanked Kelly for his time in city government, the hearing was anything but a festive retirement party.

Production crews should be more mindful of residents when filming and communities should have greater input in what arts programming is planned for their wards, alderpeople from across the city told Kelly.

The city’s production permits require crews to give communities 72 hours notice in wards that touch the downtown area when their block will be closed and 48 hours in wards outside the city.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) said not every production does a “great job” of following the rules. His ward includes Cinespace and productions often film in and around the surrounding neighborhoods.

“If you’re a resident and you’re coming home, you’re not given enough time to know that your block is going to be commandeered, if you will, for that week or for the number of days they’re gonna be out there. You’ve got to park around the corner,” Scott said.

The city maintains a heat map of productions and can halt productions for 60 days in areas that have been overburdened by filming, Kelly said.  

Scott suggested the city incorporate other large events into the heat map so it captures not just if blocks have been closed for filming, but also street festivals or nearby concerts.

A recent country music festival “messed up my whole Sunday,” said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr (27th), who received angry calls from the reverend at a nearby church whose parishioners had nowhere to park and were receiving tickets.

“If you communicate with us, we know where all the bodies are buried, who may have a challenge and what to look for ahead of time,” he said. “At the end of the day, when stuff go wrong, we get it, it don’t go anywhere else but to our office. So you all have to keep us on the team, man.”

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) piled on. 

“We decide whether or not we’re on the team, it’s not the departments its up to City Council. If we don’t like how this relationship works, we can change it” he said. “It’s difficult to field those [angry] phone calls when we’re not brought into the process on the front end.”

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