From Illinois Investment Guide 2023

Chicago Takes Center Stage

Film & Television
The Fields Studios will introduce nine sound stages ranging from 5,000 to 18,000 sq. ft.
Photo courtesy of Knickpoint Ventures.

by Alexis Elmore

right lights are no stranger to the city of Chicago and neither is star power.

When it comes to film and television production, the city holds an impressive roster of industry favorites such as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Home Alone” and “The Dark Knight.” Since 2010, more than 85 films and over 100 television shows have selected Chicago as their home base. 

In March 2023, Governor JB Pritzker and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced that the state had broken its record for film production expenditures in 2022 at a whopping $691 million. The industry has amassed continued success over the past three years, beating out pre-pandemic expenditure in 2019 by $131 million.

However, such an established presence within the industry does not preclude space for firsts.

For New York-based real estate developer Knickpoint Ventures there was an industry need not yet met in Chicago. In turn, the company is introducing the city’s first purpose-built studio at the former Marshall Field’s Wholesale Warehouse.

The site was acquired in 2018, before receiving city council approval in February 2021. Construction began eight months later on the $250 million project, which is set to become operational in spring 2024.

“There were only a few providers of studio space in Chicago and from what we found they were fully occupied in spite of being conversions of warehouse buildings. The new era of film production happens in purpose-built studios that are specifically created to house the technological needs of productions in the future,” says Knickpoint Ventures Founder and Managing Partner Zain Koita. “We thought that we could really grow the production base here in Chicago by adding this kind of product to the market.”

Koita notes the company looked into studio development for the last several years. The sheer size of the more than 100-year-old property, physical location and logistical assets prompted its purchase and led Knickpoint Ventures to cultivate its own film studio plan.

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Illinois Film Production Expenditures

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Illinois film production expenditures in 2022 surpassed pre-pandemic estimates by $130 million.

“We’re kind of continuing down that path with a modern day manufacturing facility that’ll hire people locally,” said Koita. “It’s located in a great neighborhood halfway between the airport and downtown so it works well for transportation logistics, but also for attracting stars and executives that want an urban environment in addition to making high-quality content.”

Appropriately named The Fields Studios, the 23-acre site will be transformed to house 132,000 sq. ft. of sound stages and more than 350,000 sq. ft. of production and office space. A total of nine sound stages will be available on the redeveloped site, featuring one 5,000-sq.-ft. insert stage and eight stages ranging from 12,000 to 18,000 sq. ft., with operational walls connecting four of the stages for larger production capacity. In addition, the mixed-use redevelopment will introduce retail and residential offerings. 

This project represents the first studio investment by Knickpoint Ventures, whose portfolio consists of residential, self-storage, industrial and office real estate. With over 25 years of motion picture and television studio development experience, Knickpoint Ventures Partner Shawn Papazian is spearheading its creation under the newly established Knickpoint Studios.

“I think what’s different now is the evolution of virtual production, so we’ll be accommodating the need for that as technology grows and becomes more commonplace,” says Papazian. “What’s more important, now more than ever, is the idea of tax credits and how one can make content for the same quality but at a lesser price in the United States. Obviously, in states where that tax credit and the type of infrastructure needed is top quality it provides a prime opportunity, and that’s why I’ve chosen Chicago.”

The Fields Studios adds to Chicago’s expanding film industry, which holds over 1.8 million sq. ft. of studio space over the city’s 60 sound stages. Hopes for the purpose-built studio aim to not only grow Chicago’s production base but provide a one stop shop for film production. 

Producing More for Less

While the state could be considered the motherland of several of the nation’s film classics and favorite onscreen talent, it is also making waves in attracting new productions.

Before it was announced that Illinois film production expenditures reached an all-time high in 2022, Governor Pritzker had extended the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit for the next decade.

In comparison to New York and California, the state doesn’t have a cap on film and television tax credits, a notable incentive to both established and independent film makers. The incentive provides a 30% tax credit on qualified expenditures which includes production spending and salaries. Furthermore, productions can receive an additional 15% credit for salaries of talent who live within economically disadvantaged areas.

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“Our success in the film and TV production industry is more than just a set of revenue numbers. It means thousands of good-paying jobs,” said Governor Pritzker. “I was proud to extend the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit through 2033, guaranteeing a prosperous decade ahead for producers, writers, directors, designers, editors, actors, camera operators, and production assistants alike. Our film and TV production industry is a boon for our entire economy, bringing stability to Illinois’ booming film industry and the workforce that fuels it.”

Just as it was for Knickpoint Ventures, the state’s Film Production Tax Credit has proven itself to be the most enticing incentive drawing in companies and productions. Its expansion in 2022 contributed to 1,561 film permits from the Chicago Film Office.

Prepared for Growth

“I’m estimating that we’re going to be a billion dollar a year industry by 2025. The more we grow, the more we need crew,” says Illinois Film Office Director Peter Hawley.

On average and depending on the project’s size, 180 to 250 crew members are required to support a film production. Talent equipped with knowledge of on set operations, various crew positions and overall safety training is a fundamental step growing the industry that the state is set out to address.

In doing so, the Illinois General Assembly created the Film Workforce Development Fund which will support its Film and Television Workforce Training Program. Through the program, Illinois aims to not only grow its entry level crew base but increase access to solidify a diverse talent pipeline.

“The goal here is that if we do this consistently year after year, which the program is set up for over the next decade, we’ll get 2,500 to 3,000 people into the industry,” says Hawley. “The goal is people will start in entry level positions and work their way up the ladder to department heads.”

In the pilot program that took place last year, 175 students received hands-on training working on a small production, shadowing and gaining mentorship from working crew members. In gaining this experience, 80% of the programs grantees moved into paid production roles following graduation.

The biggest piece at play for the state is avoiding a “brain drain” of talent looking to get involved on set. With an ample number of productions eyeing the state, a ready-made talent base is key to getting projects like The Fields Studios in full swing.

“Talent in Illinois can look around and say, ‘Hey, I can have a great union job here in Illinois and I don’t necessarily have a college degree and I certainly don’t have to go to another state to find work,’” explained Hawley. 

Alexis Elmore
Associate Editor of Site Selection magazine

Alexis Elmore

Alexis Elmore joined Conway Data in 2022 as associate editor for Site Selection. A 2021 graduate of the University of Georgia, she studied journalism and communications before moving back to Atlanta to pursue her career. As an editor for Site Selection and contributor to Conway's Custom Content guides, she writes about economic development efforts and corporate growth happening around the globe.


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