Fargo’s On-Location Filming Brings Jobs, Tourism to Illinois

Fargo Season 4 FX Production Still

Before a TV show starts filming, a lot of big decisions have to be made. Chief among them, where will production take place? Sometimes, an elaborate set is built (that sometimes can be a holodeck). Other times a location scout works to find an already built environment to use as a backdrop. On-location projects come with perks that are absent with a set: authenticity, scale, and often times support from local government offices. These projects also bring significant economic stimulus to an area by employing local crews and talent.

The effects on the community can often go far beyond those first-rung impacts. To get a better idea of all the ways filming on-location helps communities, NCTA reached out to the Illinois Film Office to talk about the most recent season of the FX anthology show “Fargo” which filmed its fourth season on location in Chicago, Ill. Not only do shows like “Fargo” bring in jobs for actors and crews, but they also can help boost tourism, something the Illinois Film Office is hopeful for as the pandemic starts to fade.

NCTA: What has the economic impact been on Chicago and the greater area due to “Fargo” filming on location?

Illinois Film Office: “Fargo” brought in an estimated $56 million in direct Illinois production spending, including $30 million in estimated wages to Illinois residents. While every production fuels hundreds of jobs, last year alone “Fargo” brought in an estimated 326 Illinois crew and production staff hires, and 1,515 estimated talent and extra hires.

Q: Besides tax incentives, what usually draws crews to film on location in a city like Chicago or any other part of Illinois?

Illinois is a leading choice for filming thanks to our location, deep crew base, and excellent production facilities. Cinespace is the second largest studio complex in the country behind Universal City. 

Additionally, Governor Pritzker recently extended the film tax credit program to 2026–providing our film industry partners assurances on competitive incentives that make Illinois an even more attractive place to locate projects. What’s unique about our tax credit program is that it also incentivizes studios to hire from economically underserved communities – which has in recent years helped Illinois boost inclusion of more women and minorities in this industry. These hiring incentives are in line with the Governor’s equity agenda – and DCEO’s work through our five-year plan to grow key industries while ensuring that growth mirrors the diversity of our communities.  

Q: How does filming on location help the city and state? How much does promotion of the area itself factor into the benefits?

Filming on location promotes film-induced tourism, increasing the overall draw and economic effects of tourism to Illinois. Working in conjunction with our Illinois Office of Tourism, we have sought to leverage the popularity of various film and cultural arts projects and use them to draw in tourists to iconic communities over the years – whether in Chicago, the surrounding suburbs or other recognizable locations downstate such as the Shawnee National Forest, and Rock Island and Moline, along the banks of the Mississippi River. As tourism begins to pick back up we will continue to encouraging Illinoisans and visitors to venture out to those destinations.

Q: What kind of secondary and tertiary impacts do these projects have? Obviously employment for local film crews, but what are some impacts people might not immediately think about?

Production brings a multiplier effect - equipment rentals, building supplies, restaurants, hotels, taxi drivers, ride sharing, etc. Studies have shown there are over $4 dollars of economic activity for each $1 of tax credits issued by the state.

Q: Have you seen more projects filming on location in recent years?

Year over year we have seen growth in production in Illinois. 2019 was a record-breaking year for production – with nearly $560 million in job creation and local expenditures and over 15,000 hires. 2020 was on track to surpass this and to build on ten consecutive years of record-breaking growth, until the pandemic hit. With forward thinking safety protocols and reopening plans offered by the state of Illinois, filming has resumed to pre-pandemic levels, and crews are back on set for new and returning projects.

Q: How has the pandemic impacted on location productions?

After the pandemic halted production for nearly six months, and with the return of “Fargo” in the summer of 2020, Illinois film has bounced back. In the first quarter of 2021, filming in Chicago and Illinois has returned to pre-COVID production levels, with over 1,775 local jobs added in the first quarter of the year.

Want to learn more about how our favorite shows bring jobs and investment to local communities? Be sure to check out other articles about Westworld, Homeland, and The Walking Dead and their particular impact on Utah, Virginia, and Georgia respectively.