By Daniel Patton Sep 13, 2019
Peter Hawley and Kwame Amoaku
Newly installed office-holders explain their plans for keeping Chicago and Illinois on the path of success
The thriving regional film industry is only going to get better, according to two of its recently appointed top leaders.
Illinois Film Office Executive Director Peter Hawley and Director of the Chicago Film Office Kwame Amoaku described their visions to an enthusiastic crowd of industry guests during a Gathering of Industrial & Cultural Film Community event on September 11 at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on Wednesday night.
Following gracious introductions from Mark Kelly, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), Hawley and Amoaku both praised the growth of the city’s film production, which recorded nearly $500 million in spending last year. Then, after proceeding to express support for common themes like education and jobs, they each offered distinct but complementary plans for continuing success.
Hawley, who remembers when Cinespace began transforming the vacant Ryerson Steel Plant into a major film campus, emphasized the importance of the Illinois Film Tax Credit, which was renewed by Governor JB Pritzker on August first.
“That is what gets the shows here,” he said. “At the bill signing … a bunch of workforce people were there, and the stars of the Dick Wolf shows, and Dick made it very, very clear that they would not be here if it was not for the tax credit, and he wants to be here another decade, and we’ve got an extension until 2027 right now. And that is really really, important.”
Amoaku, who considers the Chicago film community to be “more of a family to me than anything,” said that strengthening the Windy City’s unique cinematic voice is among his top priorities.
“We want Chicago to create its own content,” he declared. “We have the means for a powerful production hub to exist here. We have writers. We have production people. Post production. We have everything we need here to create our own intellectual property. And I think that’s something that’s very important that we need to do.”
Besides wielding extensive film credibility, both guests of honor can back up their words with significant past achievements.
Before accepting his appointment with the state’s Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, Hawley spent more than a dozen years at Tribeca Flashpoint College, ultimately ascending to the position of Academic Dean.
Amoaku, who worked as Location Manager for Dick Wolf’s Chicago Fire from 2014 to 2018 — has also earned dozens of acting, directing, and producing credits throughout his career.
Stage 18, Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, September 11, 2019
Hawley and Amoaku addressed the audience in the production facilities of Stage 18, a Chicago film incubator located on the campus of Chicago Cinespace Film Studios.
Hosted by DCEO and DCASE, the event drew a number of industry notables including CineCares Executive Director Sheila Brown, Chicago Fire star Eamonn Walker, former Chicago Film Office Director Rich Moskal, STORY Executive Producer Mark Androw, Free Spirit Media Executive Director Jeff McCartner, Chicago Underground Film Festival Artistic Director Bryan Wendorf, award-winning filmmaker Curtis Matzke, and Local 476 President Bradley Matthys and Business Director Mark Hogan.
Stage 18 co-founders — Cinespace President Alex Pissios and Executive Producer Angie Gaffney — were also in attendance.
Eamonnn Walker and Sheila Brown
After the presentation, Brown expressed confidence that both Hawley and Amoaku “will make wonderful additions to their departments.” As the woman in charge of a foundation that provides youth from underserved communities with access to the film industry, she knows how to spot talent.
“I worked with Kwame here at Cinespace,” she recalls. “He took some of my interns into the locations department on Chicago Fire and so forth. He’s done it all, and so has Peter.”
Brown also praised the authenticity of Dick Wolf’s Windy City trifecta of shows — Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and Chicago P.D. — which are filmed at Cinespace.
“What are they mostly doing? Shooting in communities where people look like me,” she explained. “There’s a different perspective when you have someone who authentically lives in that space, as opposed to someone who says, ‘I know what gang members talk like.’ It’s just different. It’s not saying one is better than the other. It’s simply saying it helps to have different perspectives on things to make it more rich.”
Jesse Ruiz and Samir Mayekar
Illinois Deputy Governor Jesse Ruiz and Chicago Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar also addressed the crowd. While increasing the event’s enthusiasm, they also described the exponential benefits that production brings to communities all over the state.
“Expanding the film industry in Illinois will give our students a wider range of career and educational opportunities,” said Ruiz.
“At five in the morning, when you’re getting ready to film, you need to get some food from somewhere,” said Mayekar. “Right?”
Never a dull moment
Speaking with Reel Chicago, Hawley and Amoaku seemed excited to admit that their new jobs probably won’t ever follow any sort of routine.
Hawley, who visits Cinespace at least once a week, recalled the “good surprise” that greeted him when he began making the rounds of his new job. “I was shocked by the number of women in high level positions,” he said “UPMs, producers, location managers — it was great.”
Amoaku, who deals with a myriad of departments to coordinate the city’s on-location shoots, looks forward to building bridges with residents who are affected by the process. “It’s not Hollywood coming to take over their blocks,” he explained. “These are blue-collar workers coming to make a living, and we need to make sure they understand that.”
Send your film updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, firstname.lastname@example.org.