Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Autumn in Hollywood Midwest

In which our Diva ponders leaves falling and cameras rolling

Long time, no blog, once again. Oops.  Part of that I can blame on a one-two punch of a nasty summer cold and a sneaky computer virus that took out both my netbook and my desktop within 24 hours.  I've also been auditioning a lot and doing a little bit of background work on a couple of TV shows.

Being an extra is a funny thing. I joke a lot about people thinking of actors as weird parts of the set that move on their own, but with background, that's almost literally true. This living room would look weird without a couch, so we put one in it.  This party would look weird without people milling around, so we put them there.  It's not really acting, but it can be a good time, and it's a great way to learn about how things work on a big-time set.

So far this year, I've worked on the new series Boss, which premieres on Starz in October, and the second season of Showtime's Shameless.  Like a lot of shows set in Chicago, past and present, the latter mostly shoots in L.A., but they do come here for more than just second-unit establishing shots, bringing the principal cast a couple times a year for a week or so at a time, and that work is definitely appreciated by extras and local crew members alike.

The former, though, is part of what we're starting to see more of: A series filmed entirely in Chicago, studio scenes and all. That increased activity has been rendered feasible by several factors, including the renewal of the 30% tax credit for another ten years by the state legislature, but a definite linchpin has been the opening of Cinespace Chicago in the defunct Ryerson Steel complex. For a while there, it looked like the studio facility -- a new venture of a company that already runs a successful production complex in Toronto -- wasn't going to happen.  There'd been buzz when they first made the deal for the Ryerson property, but then the estimated timetable for opening the first stage came and went, and I didn't hear anything more.

And then I did: In addition to Boss, the studio was home to portions of Transformers 3 and the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Then, a day after Fox's gut-punch cancellation of last season's The Chicago Code -- which made its home at the already-established Chicago Studio City -- local talent and crew got a shot of good news in NBC's pickup of The Playboy Club, which is now occupying pretty much every available inch of Cinespace through December.  This summer has also seen visits from the superhero pilot Powers and (briefly) from the Man of Steel himself.  (But Batman went and abandoned us for Pittsburgh. That's just rude, Mr. Wayne.) 

That's a lot of activity. We've got room for more! And it's especially heartening to see them casting minor speaking roles as well as extras locally, as well as opportunities for area natives like Jennifer Beals to come home to work for a while.  On Boss, I lucked into a featured-extra spot with the campaigning governor, played by Steppenwolf veteran Francis Guinan, who has managed to remain Chicago-based while building a solid character-actor career. I'd love to be able to do that.

Everyone says you have to go where the work is, and there's no denying the truth of that. But here's hoping Chicago continues to be where more and more of the work is.  We've got the people, and increasingly we have the infrastructure. The success of the productions that are already here will help that grow. Here's hoping!