Daily Herald opinion: Illinois’ sights and tax incentives bring Hollywood to the suburbs

A swing through Long Grove last week no doubt had drivers doing a double take: Instead of sporting spring pastels and Easter decorations, the town’s fixtures were all decked out for Christmas.

Nope, it was not the result of village crews too busy to take down holiday decorations. Instead, the festive scene was created to accommodate “My Grown Up Christmas Wish,” a Christmas movie starring Mario Lopez that was making use of Long Grove’s quaint downtown and iconic covered bridge.

Lopez sightings had local fans buzzing. And while the “Saved by the Bell” star was working here, Gov. J.B. Pritzker was in California touting the state’s attributes and its film production tax credit in a bid to lure more productions to Illinois.

The state, and the suburbs, have starred in any number of movies and TV shows over the years, including the much-beloved “The Blues Brothers” and “Home Alone.” More recently, the suburbs have provided the backdrops for HBO’s “Somebody Somewhere” and David Fincher’s “The Killer.”

There are good reasons why filmmakers head our way, Jake Griffin explained in a recent column. And it starts with Illinois’ varied landscapes.

“Illinois can be everything except a desert,” Christine Dudley, executive director for the Illinois Production Alliance, told Griffin. “There’s the architecture, the lake, the suburbs, the forest preserves and even farmland. And it’s all within a few minutes of each other.”

But filmmakers aren’t just stumbling upon Illinois. They are being actively courted by state officials and a strong financial incentive.

Illinois’ film production tax credit allows qualified productions to receive a 30% transferable tax break on most production costs and some salaries. In return, these productions bring jobs and draw business from outside the region.

A report commissioned by the Illinois Production Alliance shows the push is paying off: For every dollar Illinois credits a production, that production is responsible for $6.81 returned to the state’s economy either “directly, indirectly or induced” by the production.

“Induced” includes tourism. Out-of-state fans of “The Bear” on Hulu, for example, are checking out Chicago and its dining scene after bingeing the Emmy Award-winning series.

The extra effort, and the tax incentive, bring in money. They also showcase what’s best about our state — setting aside, of course, the bloodshed on “Chicago P.D.”

Seeing the lakefront or Long Grove’s covered bridge on TV also builds a sense of pride in a state often overshadowed by its less savory past and Chicago’s crime rate.

And for those of us who live here, there’s the delight of spotting film crews in the neighborhood and Mario Lopez dining out at a local restaurant.

Welcome to the heartland, Hollywood. And keep bringing the big bucks with you.

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