Illinois’ Record Year on Film

The Illinois Film Office racked up its best numbers ever in 1991: a total of 28 feature film and television productions were shot entirely or in part in the state last year. The record film activity generated some $75 million in direct revenue (up from around $65 million in 1990 for 20 productions) and provided at least 28,500 temporary jobs for state residents.

Illinois Film Office director Suzy Kellett has reason to crow about the boost. But she is the first to admit it will be hard to match or beat the figures in 1992, because at least 25 percent of the projects shot in Illinois last year were rerouted here due to a studio production boycott in New York.

Among the rerouted projects was Twentieth Century-Fox’s film adaptation of the play Prelude to a Kiss, which had been written specifically for New York and was hastily revised for Chicago. Universal Pictures’ Mad Dog & Glory, produced by Martin Scorsese, and Columbia Pictures’ Mo’ Money also wound up in Chicago rather than on the east coast. Most of these films are expected to be released in 1992, so filmgoers across the country and around the world will see plenty of Chicago on the silver screen in the months ahead.

The New York boycott brought more actual film activity to the state, but it also drew more film executives scouting locations. Not all those visits translated into projects, but they could pay off down the line. “Many of those who came in to look never had scouted in the state before,” says Kellett, “and they may return to film at a later date.”

Meanwhile, Kellett is up against increasingly tough competition on several fronts. State and city film offices were a rarity 15 years ago, but now more than 250 such organizations in North America are vying to lure filmmakers to their respective areas. And while more cities and states are competing for films, it appears fewer films may be going on location. Bottom lines are being more closely watched than ever, Kellett says, and many producers are opting to keep their projects close to Los Angeles, where they can better control production costs.

An intensified concern about cost control also has put Illinois at a disadvantage in relation to right-to-work states such as Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania, where film companies can shoot with less expensive, nonunion personnel. As Illinois’ film production unions have watched films gravitate toward right-to-work states, they have worked with Kellett to maintain a competitive edge. “Our unions are flexible,” insists Kellett, though that isn’t always enough to bring the business to Illinois.

In years past Kellett had the money to aggressively market Illinois locations. But budget cuts this year have completely eliminated her marketing budget, which last year was around $125,000. That means she won’t be able to advertise in the Hollywood trade papers or erect a billboard in Los Angeles as she has done in years past. Kellett hopes to make up for those losses through one-on-one meetings with key west coast movie executives.

At the moment, the amount of film activity Illinois will get in 1992 is hard to predict. John Hughes’s Home Alone 2 and Columbia’s Groundhog Day (to be directed by Harold Ramis) are firm, and a couple of other feature films also look likely to head for Illinois. A threatened Screen Actors’ Guild strike this summer could push more films into production in the spring everywhere, including Illinois, but it’s too early to say whether that will mean another movie windfall for the state.

Hook Sinks, Prince Wavers

The Christmas holidays, when local movie exhibitors usually count on raking in big profits, started out only so-so this year. Bette Midler’s For the Boys is already one of the year’s costliest bombs, and Steven Spielberg’s highly hyped Hook is looming as another major disappointment. The picture, reputed to have cost around $60 million to make, averaged a mere $4,600-per screen in the Chicago area during the three-day weekend just prior to Christmas. “That was nowhere near the expectations for the film,” said one exhibitor. The profitability of Barbra Streisand’s much anticipated The Prince of Tides is at best uncertain; the movie opened strong at Water Tower Place, taking in $17,500 in its first two days of release, but pulled in only $5,000 at the Biograph and a piddling $3,000 at Chicago Ridge. On the slightly brighter side, Father of the Bride with Steve Martin averaged a decent $8,300 per screen during the pre-Christmas weekend, while Oliver Stone’s JFK averaged $7,000.

The Return of Jane Olivor

When singer Jane Olivor comes to the stage at Park West for two performances February 18 and 19 after a hiatus of almost a decade, it’ll be an emotional moment for fans who closely followed her early career. Before she suddenly dropped out of sight in 1983, Olivor appeared frequently at a number of local venues, including Arnie’s Wicker Room, Park West, the Auditorium Theatre, the former Ivanhoe Theatre (now the Wellington), and the defunct MR Run Theatre. The late Aaron Gold, who wrote a Tribune gossip column, was one of Olivor’s earnest fans, and Olivor seemed to sense a strong support system here. When she dropped out of sight little was said about the reasons for her disappearance. But now Olivor says she was adversely affected by a number of things at the time, including a bad case of stage fright and deep despair over her husband’s death from cancer. An intense performer with a sort of an Edith Piaf singing style, Olivor Claims to have made no money from her four recordings due to a bad deal she cut. The last of her albums was a beautifully produced live recording taped in Boston.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.