Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What You Know, Who You Know And Who Sent You

Do you like 'Chicago Fire'? Can you spot the mob influence in all those scenes that are filmed entirely in Chicago?


Once upon a time, Oprah had a studio in the city so that she could have a place to put on a (talk) show, and her presence revitalized a neighborhood that was more than rundown until the Big O attracted hordes of ladies who lunch. Local political tops took notice. Urban renewal is always a good thing, especially if it brings in people from out of town who spend money and pay entertainment taxes and parking fees and such.

The State of Illinois, like so many other states, has an office dedicated to enticing Hollywood to come and film in the state, with an emphasis on the city of Chicago. Tax incentives are always popular, and Chicago has been known to provide some funding as further incentive to directors looking for new scenery to serve as backdrops.

What was missing was a big sound stage where sets could be built. It was one thing for big-name stars to be seen dining in Chicago restaurants, but they came and went in a few days. The interiors had to be shot elsewhere. Having to move a lot of equipment around becomes a logistics issue because it costs money to load, unload, set up and take down those semi-loads of stuff. If you could go to Toronto and angle the camera so it sort of looked like Chicago, and you had a place in Toronto to film the rest of the movie, and you were still getting incentives to boost your profit margin, why not just take your movie to Canada and skip Chicago altogether?

Nick Mirkopoulos owned a studio in Toronto, which doesn't look at all like Chicago to Chicagoans. He decided to build a studio in Chicago, sold the idea to local officials, and they kicked in with taxpayer funding to get the project up and running. If you build it, the tourists will come to watch movies being made and they have to eat lunch, right?
Operation Family Secrets: Mob bosses dropping names

He selected a small bank to handle his local financial affairs. The bank's board includes four eminent Chicagoans whose names came up during the trials of five Chicago mob bosses. Not that the four were ever charged with anything. Nobody could prove the allegations that the bank was used as a conduit to channel bribe money to crooked cops, or that one of those four eminent Chicagoans took part in a firebombing meant to intimidate a business owner into cooperating with the Outfit.

Cinespace and its owners have contributed to the campaigns of local elected officials, the same elected officials who voted in the tax breaks and incentives for Cinespace.

Chicago Studio City, in the other hand, has not matched the level of funding.

So it comes as no surprise that they are also not getting the business that flows to Cinespace.

Chicago Studio City has sued the State of Illinois, alleging the sort of shenanigans that is typical of Chicago political greed. The suit claims that their rival Cinespace is getting all kinds of taxpayer funds because the unions are exerting their influence. In Chicago, that means the Outfit is leaning on the pols in their pockets so that the mob bosses can line theirs. In short, Chicago Studio City is getting cut out of the action by a newcomer with power, and they don't like it. They want the playing field leveled so they have a chance to at least bid on projects that are handed to Cinespace with a nod and a wink.

In Chicago, it's all about who you know, and the owners of Cinespace have made sure that they know the most important people to be known. Campaign donations open a lot of doors, and the more you give, the wider the door opening. It's all about who sent you, and if nobody sent you, well, you're standing on the outside looking in, barred from entry.

Chicago Studio City is being run out of business by corruption. It isn't the first victim. It won't be the last. A federal lawsuit won't help their cause, because the federal judge is nobody when it comes to power politics in one of the most corrupt states in the union.

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