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Street Legal

Free Lawyers, Free Resources, and Lots of Networking: How to Make the Most of Chicago’s Independent Film Community

Lawyers are expensive, agents are picky, and a good manager is hard to come by. But film production is a business and a successful business requires a team of advisors. So where can you get a team of advisors in Chicago if you don’t have access to the big 3?

There are a number of organizations in Chicago that provide top-notch resources and networking opportunities to writers, directors, producers, actors, and the like. My top 3 are as follows:

1. GET LEGAL: Lawyers for the Creative Arts

Legal advice is a necessity for all businesses and this organization provides legal services pro bono (for free). Lawyers for the Creative Arts (LCA) assists hundreds of artists and filmmakers every year by connecting them with corporate, intellectual property, and entertainment attorneys at the top firms in Chicago. LCA also conducts workshops and seminars on everything from tax exemptions to copyright to the law of music, publishing, and film.

The LCA application requires a $50 processing fee ($100 for business entities with 2 or more people). Thereafter you will be paired up with an attorney that best meets your needs.

To learn if you qualify, call the LCA office at: (312) 649-4111.

2. GET FACTS: Chicago Film Office

Whose approval do you need to film in Millennium Park? What paperwork is involved to hire a union actor? How does the Illinois tax credit actually work?

You don’t need a manager to answer these questions. You just need a phone.

The Chicago Film Office, as stated on the City of Chicago’s Official Site, is “a one-stop liaison for all City of Chicago production needs including permits, city services, and logistical support.” And it’s true. On the homepage alone you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about: permits, film festivals, casting calls, and tax incentives. Plus, the “City Services/Contact” link re-directs you to a new webpage with the contact information of all the people whose approval you need to film in Chicago. It’s that simple.

To speak to someone at the Chicago Film Office, call: (312) 744-6415.

To ask questions about SAG-AFTRA, call the SAG-AFTRA Chicago Local at: (312) 573-8081.

To learn more about the Illinois Film Tax Credit, call the Illinois Film Office at: (312) 814-3600.

3. GET ACTIVE: IFP Chicago

Last, but certainly not least, you need to get active. There are a number of different organizations in Chicago that offer resources and networking opportunities to independent filmmakers. For example, IFP Chicago’s “75 Minutes with …” series connects Chicago filmmakers with “well-known emerging directors, screenwriters, and technical experts of independent cinema.” It’s next event—the Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF)—focuses on the “artistic, aesthetic and fun side of independent filmmaking” by promoting works that contradict the “tired conventions of Hollywood.” This year, CUFF will be hosted by the Logan Theatre from May 13 thru May 17, 2015.

To learn more about purchasing CUFF tickets or other IFP events, call: (773) 998-1082.

Since 1980 more than 1100 feature films and television productions have shot in Chicago. In 2014, Chicago was the location of choice for some of the biggest shows on television, including Empire, Mike and Molly, Shameless, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD. Why? The producers chose Illinois because it has the talent, the locations, the tax credits, and the infrastructure to host everything from ultra low budget films to multi-million dollar productions.

Lawyers, agents, and managers are important. But there are a lot of other people that get up every morning and go to an office dedicated to helping Chicago filmmakers. You just need to know who they are and pick up the phone.

Katherine (Kate) Imp is an entertainment attorney at Ramo Law PC and Chicago native. She specializes in film finance, production and distribution for clients in Illinois and across the country. Contact Kate at @KatherineImp or kate@ramolaw.com.

Disclaimer: The information in this column is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.