Tom Cruise, collar popped and wearing tube socks and tighty-whities, dances alone to Bob Seger.
A vintage cherry-red Ferrari meets its demise in a ravine after a day of high jinks with Matthew Broderick.
Macaulay Culkin orders himself a big ol’ pizza when his parents ghost him en route to Paris.
“Risky Business,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Home Alone” are the biggies. The blockbusters. The ones we can’t stop quoting. Yet they’re only some in a huge list of productions that have skyrocketed careers with Chicago in the backdrops. And they gave the scene momentum to get us where we are today: the third-largest filming destination in the country, generating nearly a half billion dollars in economic benefit and employing 13,848 in 2018. That number includes the whole gamut: episodic shows, major blockbuster films, and movies seen in 50 film festivals annually.
A good many of those things are now under the eye of the newly appointed director of the Chicago Film Office, Kwame Amoaku. He’s a 25-year veteran who has worked both on and off camera. Ask him if it’s an exciting time for film in Chicago and he won’t hesitate to say “yes.” “We have projects in production year-round.”
One of them is a sequel to the cult classic “Candyman,” and it’s being directed by Jordan Peele. Plot and scene details are closely guarded, but we can dish that the movie — referred to in code as “Say My Name,” as to not conjure the Candyman — is filming in North Park, Kenwood, Marina City, and the Old Cook County Hospital.
While we’ll have to wait to see “Say My Name,” reportedly set for a June 2020 release, there are plenty of ways to watch Chicago play out on screen. Think favorites like “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Shameless,” and “The Chi,” plus newbies like “South Side.”
The fact is Chicago is a film force. It’s home to the second-largest studio in the U.S. — family-owned Cinespace on the West Side — where some new projects recently started filming, including FX’s “Fargo,” featuring Chris Rock. Also, Amazon’s Gillian Flynn-adapted “Utopia” was shot there, as well as in Pilsen and Lisle, this summer with Chicago native John Cusack.
Amoaku believes Chicago’s growing place in the industry is something we can all be proud of. “It brings attention to underserved areas when you have projects like ‘The Chi’ and ‘South Side,’ ” he says. “They provide a different look into these areas. People can get caught up in what they see in the media. [With these shows] you have people telling Chicago stories in very deep and meaningful ways.”
Many more stories will unfold when the longest-running competitive international film festival in North America kicks off this month. The Chicago International Film Festival celebrates its 55th year with its return to AMC River East, October 16-27, with artistic director Mimi Plauche at the helm.
Plauche shares, “We have a strong collection of locally made fiction films, from native Chicago filmmakers like Jennifer Reeder (‘Knives and Skin’), Haroula Rose (‘Once Upon a River’), and Minhal Baig (‘Hala’), and we also have powerful documentaries that couldn’t be more Chicago, from ‘The Torch,’ about blues guitar legend Buddy Guy; to ‘Ringside,’ which is the ‘Hoop Dreams’ of boxing; to ‘The First Rainbow Coalition,’ which is set in the tumultuous late 1960s and early ’70s in the city.”
Besides the focus on Chicago-centric talent, there are world premieres, a full slate of foreign films, and additional screenings at the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as intimate conversations with filmmakers at the Center on Halsted.
As to where Chicago is going with film in the future, Amoaku says, “I’d like to grow the creative base here to where we’re writing, producing, and distributing films out of Chicago. To where we’re establishing our own creative sector and not dependent on the West or the East Coasts.”
Plauche adds, “It’s simply a great place for stories and storytellers. The streaming revolution and the age of peak TV has created opportunities everywhere, but Chicago has been able to harness this energy because of what’s already here: uniquely cinematic locations, amazing talent, experienced crews, and the drama of everyday urban life.”
“The Untouchables” (1987)
The most-quoted scene involves Sean Connery’s sage advice to a young Kevin Costner: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago Way.” It was filmed inside Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica on Jackson Boulevard. This also happens to be one of Amoaku’s favorite cinematic representations of Chicago. He says, “The way they use Chicago as practical locations in a period piece … it was amazing. Some of the most beautiful imagery the city has seen.”
“When Harry Met Sally” (1989)
Harry and Sally began their road trip together on the South Side at the University of Chicago’s Main Quad and set off to New York via Lake Shore Drive, from the north. Not exactly plausible, but if it looks good, film it.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
Cousin Eddie’s black dickie and white V-neck sweater are the most memorable stars of this instant holiday classic that features the high-rise formerly known as the John Hancock, the department store formerly known as Macy’s on State Street, and a festive Mag Mile.
“Ocean’s 11” (2001)
Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney, recruits Matt Damon’s character, Chicago-based grifter Linus Caldwell, to be one of his 11 inside Emmit’s Irish Pub.
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Heath Ledger’s final bow was his masterpiece performance as the Joker, in which he robs Gotham National Bank, a.k.a. the Old Chicago Main Post Office, and the evacuation of Gotham was staged on Navy Pier.