Gotham’s loss Is Chi’s Gain

The Windy City is turning out to be a primary beneficiary of the location boycott of New York City by major film studios.

“We’ve never been busier, ever,” says Susan Kellett, director of Illinois Film Office. At least seven productions have been diverted from New York to Chicago, says Kellett, including Touchstone’s “Significant Other” and 20th Century Fox’s “Prelude To A Kiss.”

This windfall for Illinois comes on the heels of 1990’s revenue record – $65 million spent by 25 feature film and tv productions.

Nonetheless, Kellett does not expect to top last year’s spending record, attributable in part to landing Ron Howard’s $20 million “Backdraft” production. Kellett also realizes that some of the projects currently backing up in Chicago could be lost the second an agreement is reached between the studios and IATSE in New York.

The “Backdraft” windfall was a direct result of a trip to Hollywood last year by former Governor James Thompson, who sat down at a breakfast meeting with local union reps and helped pitch Chicago as a location option. One of those present at the meeting was a production manager for Howard’s Imagine Films.

Kellett attributes the bagging of “Backdraft” largely to Thompson, who became an active supporter of the IFO during his last years in office. She said it is unclear whether the new governor, James Edgar, will show the same interest in Hollywood.

In fact there is some concern in the IFO that Edgar may make some sweeping personnel changes, an old Chicago tradition, and break up a winning team after he settles into his new job.

“We wait,” Kellett says. “It’s terrible. I feel very badly for my staff because they’re very uneasy. We’d like to put this behind us and get back to business as usual.”

Business as usual has been very profitable for Illinois. The IFO has become the second largest money-gathering machine in the state (excluding government agencies like the Secretary of State’s office), bested only by the state lottery.

From 1975 to 1990,325 productions were lensed wholly or in part in Illinois, raking in $330 million and generating some 150,000 jobs. Budget for the IFO is $650,000, with $150,000 for marketing and promotion.

Kellett believes the great influx of film projects coming to Chicago because of the New York boycott could have a long-term effect on business because directors like Alan Pakula (helming “Significant Other”) are having a chance to explore Chicago and its potential as a production site.

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