FILMING IN CHICAGO
With a dazzling skyline and landmark architecture, Chicago is a favorite location for movies and TV shows. There have been countless shows set in Chicago since the beginning of the film industry. In fact, from 1898 to 1918, Chicago studios produced thousands of films and acted as the main center for motion picture production before Hollywood became the world’s film capital. Today, Chicago supplies a scenic backdrop not just for movies but for TV shows. Here’s an overview of the shows currently filming in Chicago.
The Chi (Showtime)
A coming-of-age drama set on Chicago’s South Side, the show follows the stories of an ensemble cast who are linked by coincidence. The characters include adolescents growing up in a community that shepherds them through puberty but also features violence. Storylines include aspects of the responsibilities of being a teenage parent juxtaposed with characters who win track scholarships, and young upwardly mobile characters. The series twists and turns with drama but also supplies doses of creator Lena Waithe’s signature humor.
The Chi premiered in 2018 and is Showtime’s most streamed drama series, with 4.2 million weekly viewers. The city is woven into the stories and can be considered a character by itself. Although the show is set on the South Side, filming takes place all over the city. From rumbling “L” trains to chicken shacks and the glistening lake, viewers will recognize different aspects of Chicago.
The series is produced by Chicago natives Lena Waithe and Common, and the show reveals the diversity of experiences in the city. The Chi has run for five seasons, with the sixth season starting later this year. Waithe has called the upcoming sixth season the “championship” season, after the Chicago Bulls’ legendary six NBA championships. Responding to complaints from some male viewers that the show was becoming too “soft” with last season’s focus on love, Waithe has said that the sixth season will contain more violence and drama.
By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
The Bear (Hulu)
A young fine-dining chef must resign his position at a fancy New York restaurant to return home to save the family sandwich shop after the tragic suicide of his brother. The shop sells iconic Italian beef sandwiches and is modeled after a historic downtown shop, Mr. Beef, 666 N. Orleans St. The chef Carmy, played by Jeremy Allen White of Shameless fame, struggles to whip the shop up to industry standards while managing the untrained staff and reckoning with the emotions of his brother’s untimely death. Carmy’s overbearing Cousin Richie tries to block the changes to the restaurant, accusing him of trying to “push out the working man.”
The Bear premiered in 2022 to critical and audience acclaim. After its debut, it became FX’s most-watched half-hour series. The show won trophies at the Screen Actors, Writers and Producers Guild Awards and White garnered a Golden Globe for best actor in a TV series, musical or comedy.
The characters are expertly drawn but the real star is the kitchen. The turmoil, disorder and pandemonium of the kitchen scenes are so tense and realistic that they have been called triggering by chefs and food staff. Carmy is trying to elevate the sandwich shop with his French training and the staff and Richie are having none of it.
Chicago plays a significant role in the series, from the food to the River North location. River North is the headquarters for downtown touristy restaurants, bars and hotels. This is not a place where customers would not recognize risotto or would protest an upscale menu change, as they do on the show. The show’s soundtrack features local favorites like Wilco, however, there’s an absence of local house music, Chance The Rapper or Earth Wind & Fire in favor of Genesis and Van Morrison. Other details, like local restaurant critic Steve Dolinsky’s photo on the wall, a Blackhawks jersey hanging behind the counter and constant references to the Bears and White Sox are spot on. Season two is scheduled to drop in June.
By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
One Chicago (NBC)
Covering Wolf Entertainment’s three Chicago-focused shows — Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., the franchise features characters and storylines that overlap about aspects of the city’s emergency services. Characters from each show frequently pop up on other series, and crossover events where one big narrative is told across all three shows happen regularly.
Chicago Fire debuted in 2012, following the stories of firefighters and paramedics of the Chicago Fire Department’s Fire House 51. Chicago P.D. came next in 2014, chronicling the experiences of patrol officers and detectives of the Chicago Police Department’s 21st District. Chicago Med premiered in 2015, exploring emergency room cases of the doctors and nurses of Gaffney Chicago Medical Center.
Chicago is front and center on all the shows, with the Chicago P.D. police headquarters filmed at the historic Maxwell Street station that was also the location for the classic TV show Hill Street Blues. Characters from all three shows hang out in the Bucktown bar called Molly’s, but it’s actually Bucktown favorite Lottie’s, 1925 W. Cortland St. Chicago Fire Department’s Engine 18, 1360 S. Blue Island Ave., is the real life firehouse on which Chicago Fire’s fictional “Firehouse 51” is modeled and where the exterior firehouse scenes are filmed. And Chicago Med is filmed at the Near West Side’s Rush University Medical Center.
By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
South Side (HBO)
A side-splitting comedy following two friends who graduated from community college and have dreams of becoming venture capitalists in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. They are forced to work in a rent-to-own store as repo men until they can realize their goals. Written, produced and performed by South Side natives, the show gives a smart, highly specific and hilarious perspective on living in the community.
The series debuted on Comedy Central in 2019 and was picked up for its second season by HBO in 2021. Beloved by fans for its authentic portrayals and razor-sharp comedy, the series follows Simon and Kareme as they try to repossess rent-to-own furniture, officers Goodnight and Turner as they attempt to patrol the neighborhood, and a crooked alderman called Gayle. Filmed all over the South Side, the show is filled with Chicago neighborhood scenes and references to high schools, clubs and fast-food joints. The critically acclaimed series became so popular that local celebrities like Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Jeff Tweedy, Kel Mitchell and Lil Rel Howery requested to appear on it.
Air Chicago spoke with Diallo Riddle who is a co-creator of South Side and plays Alderman Allen Gayle.
“Bashir [co-creator Salahuddin, who plays Officer Goodnight] would go to Chicago and hang out with Sultan [co-creator Salahuddin, who plays Simon]. His brother worked at a Rent-A-Center and would crack us up with stories. That’s where we got the idea for the show. It’s a show about working-class Black characters. There are a lot of funny people in the community. Everybody is not always focused on dodging bullets. There’s no such thing as a singular Black experience, which we try to reflect. People from Canada have commented that it’s a side of Chicago they haven’t seen,” he said.
“We wanted to do a comedy like The Simpsons, but with real people. The stories unfold like a cartoon. The show is very Chicago-specific, but the jokes are universal. The show’s number two market is in Charlotte, North Carolina, which doesn’t surprise me. People in Atlanta, Philly and L.A. all go through similar things.”
By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
Credit: Adrian S Burrows Sr/NBC
Cinespace Studios Chicago
The City of Chicago is red hot as it finds itself positioned firmly in the spotlight of a booming film industry that’s exploding with opportunities and high-profile productions. The city’s rich culture, architecture, and waterfront enhance the opulent center stage.
At the heart of its success is Cinespace Studios Chicago, the Midwest’s premier production studio for film, TV, and commercials. It’s taken the visibility of the city’s storied film heritage, overflowing artistic craft, groundbreaking shows, diverse neighborhoods, and an experienced workforce to the next level.
The massive historic Cinespace Studios sprawl at over 1.6 million square feet featuring 36 active stages and production/office spaces over two Chicago campuses located a few short minutes from the downtown area.
Millions of viewers across the globe enjoy the popular One Chicago show productions of Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, and Chicago P.D. from executive producer Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame. Other productions filmed at Cinespace Studios Chicago, past and present, include The Chi, The Bear, Fargo, Empire, Divergent, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and more.
The legacy of Cinespace Chicago began as a historic family-run studio. Today, a new leadership group of seasoned entertainment executives are taking the studio to the next era of global production and rapid expansion. Former Chicago Alderman Michael Scott Jr. provides strategic management for industry and community relations and develops local philanthropic and early education programs for Chicago. He oversees the job training program in Chicago that has been providing residents from underserved communities on the west and south sides with hands-on experience on productions filming at Cinespace Studios in below-the-line departments including Electric, Prop, Costumes, Locations, and Sound.
Chicago prides itself on its thriving production industry. A trusted and experienced labor force, premium vendors, the State of Illinois’ competitive state incentives, and extended sunset for tax of productions.
Credit: George Burns Jr/NBC
Credit: George Burns Jr/NBC/Universal
Credit: George Burns Jr/NBC
Cinespace Studios Chicago acknowledges its past and celebrates ongoing accomplishments. It goes one step further for its commitment to bring diversity, inclusion and education to the film and television industry. Through CineCares, a division of Cinespace Studios, those core values are placed into action to support, promote, and engage local communities.
Cinespace Studios launched the CineCares Workforce Training Program in Chicago in 2017 with NBCUniversal, Wolf Entertainment and IATSE Local 476 (a union representing technicians, artisans, and allied craftspeople working behind the scenes of the film industry), with trainee placements across the One Chicago franchise. Additional Chicago program partners have also included Lionsgate TV, Disney TV Studios, Sony TV, AMC and HBO. The Chicago program has hosted 86 trainees to date and more than 50% of them trained in union positions have received their union card across IATSE Local 476 Studio Mechanics, IATSE Local 600 International Cinematographers Guild, and IATSE Local 769 Theatrical Wardrobe.
Cinespace Studios work with community partners including Sinai Chicago, 100 Black Men Chicago, and Chicago State University to identify candidates. These valued programs provided by Cinespace Studios have a dramatic effect and have brought about meaningful change. CineCares sparks the development of a strong and creative workforce to build upon Chicago’s vibrant film industry for years to come.
– Pat Szpekowski
On April 14, 2023, a new feature film, Sweetwater, hit theaters. The biopic took 28 years of research by director Martin Guigui to execute, telling the remarkable story of Chicago legend and Hall-of-Famer Nat “Sweetwater’’ Clifton, played by actor Everett Osborne.
Sweetwater, who endured the extremes of the Great Depression as a child and rose to the ranks of sergeant during World War II, is a pioneer of the sport of basketball. He challenged and broke the racial barriers of his time by becoming the first Black man to ever, officially, hold a contract with the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the fall of 1950.
His exceptional story is emblematic of perseverance and determination and remains a true source of inspiration. Commemorated for changing the course of the NBA, and recognized for his alternative, liberating, and unique style on the court, Sweetwater’s basketball career goes way back.
His legacy began during his youth years when he played for a prominent Chicago high school by the name of DuSable. By the time he hit 27 years old, his immense talent and leadership instincts would unfold, catching the attention of the New York Knicks coach, Joe Lapchick.
Groundbreakingly, the Knicks purchased his contract from the Harlem Globetrotters, making Sweetwater the first-ever Black player to be recruited by the NBA. He devoutly played for the team for a grand total of seven years, spending his final season playing for the Detroit Pistons. After his professional basketball career ended, Sweetwater became a taxi driver in the city of Chicago.
Director Martin Guigui’s vision, combined with Everett Osborne’s performance, revitalized the story of Sweetwater, a trailblazing athlete and life never to be forgotten. In the short span of just one month, Osborne, an actor and pro ball player himself, was captured by film in an exceptional performance.
By Serra Kook
Credit: Ian Fisher/Briarcliff Entertainment