Chicago Filmmakers Shooting for Reel Money

Chicago tops list for making independent films, but local film workers still struggle

Chicago's status as a Mecca of indie film production was solidified earlier this year when MovieMaker Magazine named the Windy City as the top spot in the country for independent filmmaking. But what is it like to actually be a filmmaker here?

The state's 30 percent tax credit is attracting films big and small, from the unforgettable Dark Knight to festival fare like The Poker House and Were the World Mine.  Bigger productions can spawn jobs for local talent -- but films can also bring their crews with them from L.A., so there's no guarantee of work.

The Red Eye took a look at independent filmmakers who are the backbone of that success -- working long and hard on their dreams to make movies in the Midwest.

Jerry Vasilatos is a Ravenswood filmmaker whose latest short, "The Dark Knight Project," bills itself as a fanfilm sequel that bridges the gap between the two latest Batman films. He said that making films locally is definitely possible, but it ain't easy.

"It is very difficult for independents to raise money for films in Chicago," he told the Red Eye. "You have to do a lot of schmoozing, a lot of networking."

While some filmmakers find success marketing short versions of their films online, others turn to more grassroots networking, often including friends and family. That can make finishing a project tough, but for those who get it done, the possibility of launching a professional career is real.

Joe Swanberg got his film, "Kissing on the Mouth", into the South by Southwest Film Festival after marketing it online, and has since been able to secure funding for his often sexually graphic movies.

Film actors also can make a career in Chicago, but most do struggle. The Red Eye spoke with Maritza Cabrera, who said she's gotten $65 to $85 a day for acting in smaller films or being a stand-in for Angelina Jolie in "Wanted."

Casting companies that find gigs as extras help finance an acting career, but for many Chicago working actors like Cabrera, giving up that day job just isn't quite possible.

Contact Us