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Thursday, June 21, 2012 03:18 pm

Hollywood, Illinois

Group brings major film productions to central Illinois

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A film crew prepares to film a scene for a movie on location in central Illinois.
PHOTO BY DEAN WILLIAMS

Springfield may not be the first place people think about when imagining locations to shoot movies or TV shows. But thanks to the efforts of one local group, this city and the central Illinois region have earned a reputation as a great place to film and find professional talent.

Dean Williams helped start the Central Illinois Film Commission in 2005 with the goal of promoting the region’s potential for filming major motion pictures and shows.

Williams is a still photographer who got his start shooting photos for the 1978 film The Awakening Land while working for the Illinois State Police. The original photographer became sick, so Williams filled in at the request of a friend. Since then, Williams has taken photos for 167 productions, including popular titles like Coal Miner’s Daughter, Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers, Uncle Buck and more.

The Central Illinois Film Commission currently has about 175 members, Williams says, which represents a decrease because several former members have gone on to careers working on high-profile projects like “Lopez Tonight,” “Cupcake Wars,” and the upcoming Lone Ranger film starring Johnny Depp.

The commission was instrumental in bringing film crews to Springfield to shoot such major motion pictures as The Informant! and Legally Blonde 2. Most recently, the ABC TV network filmed a segment of its upcoming true-crime show “Final Witness” in Springfield. The show premieres on June 27, though Williams said he doesn’t know which episode in the series will feature Springfield.

Williams says Springfield has a reputation as a great place to shoot film projects partly because Springfield and other cities in central Illinois don’t have the extensive permitting process that cities like Los Angeles have. He says the City of Springfield has been very welcoming to film crews.  

“The mayor really rolled out the red carpet,” Williams says. “For example, they needed to move a garbage can and take down decorations. The city came and did it almost instantly. The cooperation the city has given for filming is next to none.”

Williams says the people of central Illinois are another asset valuable to film projects. Instead of flying in extra actors to fill background roles and paying those actors an extra per diem, film crews can hire local actors who still make between $100 and $400 per day, but don’t require hotel rooms or other accommodations.

Everyone who works as an extra through the Central Illinois Film Commission receives training to be as professional on-set as possible, Williams says. For example, extras are instructed to avoid making eye contact with actors during scenes to prevent distracting the actors from their lines.

“We try to keep it on a professional basis,” he says. “This is not where you meet the stars, get autographs and go brag to your friends that you worked on a movie with Matt Damon. It doesn’t work that way. This is a business.”

Having projects filmed in Springfield brings immediate economic benefits, Williams says.

“It multiplies about three or four times, because they (film crews) have to stay in a hotel, they have to rent a car, they have to eat,” he says. “Just stop and think of all the economic development that it brings, and there’s zero output; you don’t have to spend a dime. You simply open the doors and help them.”

Dr. Karl Luthin, a veterinarian from Riverton and owner of KEL Equine Productions, is a founding member of the Central Illinois Film Commission. His company, which provides horses, equipment and trained professionals to work on major film productions, has worked on well-known films like Second Hand Lions, The Last Samurai and Last of the Mohicans.

He says the commission puts him in contact with people all over the world who are interested in using his services for film projects.

“You’ve got to approach them and say ‘This is what we have to offer,’ ” he says. “If you don’t ring your own doorbell, nobody else will.”

Robert Bartel, a member of the commission, is hosting a trade show in Petersburg in October as an outreach to local people who may have skills useful in the film industry.

Asked what those skills are, Williams says “everything.”

“We need doctors, plumbers, electricians, cooks, you name it,” he says. “Everybody from every walk of life, every facet of the populace is needed in making a motion picture.”

The Central Illinois Film Commission, will hold its next meeting, open to the public, at 7 p.m. on June 21 at the Hilton Springfield, 700 E Adams St.

For more information, visit www.centralillinoisfilmcommission.com.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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