By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is making a big deal about the state’s film tax credit bringing another Hollywood production to Chicago.
But one movie industry insider says Illinois’ film tax credit actually might prevent more movies and TV shows from being shot on the lakefront.
Jeff Steele is a veteran film financier who moved to Chicago in August. He said Chicago should be on par with Los Angeles and New York when it comes to movie and television production. Instead, Steele said, Chicago is little more than a nice location.
“Chicago has all of the resources,” Steele said Monday. “World-class crews, great supporting actors, it has all the stages and equipment you could need. It’s a one-stop shop.”
But because Illinois’ film tax credit limits spending to Illinois labor, Chicago cannot attract top-notch behind-the-scenes players from Los Angeles or New York City, he said.
“You want the best costume designers, production managers and cinematographers,” Steele added, but the film tax credit does not open the door to them.
So if the film tax credit fails to benefit the film industry, who does it help? Unions, Steele said.
“My take away is that (Illinois tax credit) was blessed by the unions, for the unions,” he said.
The Chicago Federation of Labor, which calls itself an umbrella group for hundreds of unions in Chicago and Cook County, fully backs Illinois’ film tax credit.
Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said in a statement the film tax credit has helped put thousands of union workers on the job.
“From actors to stage hands, scenic artists to electricians, camera operators, musicians, teamsters and others, Chicago’s union workers comprise a highly skilled workforce with a strong interest in a healthy, viable entertainment industry,” Ramirez said.
Betsy Steinberg, director of the Illinois Film Office, said Illinois is not a right-to-work state, so the jobs on many of the TV shows or movies are “under the jurisdiction” of the unions.
Since Illinois’ first film tax credit in 2004, Illinois has seen more than $1 billion in total revenue and 10,000 jobs. Steinberg estimates that since 2005, when the credits were first issued, Illinois has given out $163 million.
Illinois is working under its third film tax credit. The first, which ran between 2004 and 2006, gave a 20 percent credit to Illinois labor only. The second, from 2006 to 2008, gave a 20 percent credit on all spending.
The current tax credit, approved by lawmakers in late 2008, gives productions a 30 percent credit on state spending that includes labor, food, travel in the state, and even the wrap party. (But not the booze.)
Paradoxically, without any type of film tax credit, Steele said, Illinois might be competely ignored by TV and movies.
“A crew could shoot a Chicago show in New Orleans, and send a B-crew to Chicago for some building shots,” Steele added.
However, if lawmakers shifted the focus of Illinois’ film tax credit from union jobs in Chicago to building a full-fledged film industry, he said, the state would attract dozens of new shows or movies and millions of new dollars.
“It’s the union’s job to circle the wagons and protect their own,” Steele said. “But by doing so, they chased away the high-end talent to make Illinois self-sustaining.”
Illinois’ film office announced Monday that “Divergent” a sci-fi film set in a futuristic Chicago, will begin filming in April.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org.