On-Location: Fargo Production Sparks the Illinois Economy

filming a scene for a tv show

Producing a TV show is complicated. It requires the right talent, the proper financial resources, an experienced crew…and most importantly, the right setting. Some build sets on a soundstage, while others have mastered modern technology to create out-of-this-world digital hologram stages. Nothing, however, compares to the authenticity of filming on location. Big hits like The Walking Dead, Westworld, and Homeland all use real-world settings to lend a sense of reality to their stories, and often have a positive impact in the communities where production takes place.

Bringing Jobs and Money to Local Communities

Before the most recent season of the FX hit Fargo began production, location scouts went to work finding the perfect stand-in for 1950s Kansas City. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds, since so much of the city has changed over the last 70 years! To match the architectural styles, Fargo chose to film in Chicago on account of its well-preserved historical buildings. That one season, according to the Illinois Film Office, “brought an estimated $56 million in production spending, including $30 million in estimated wages. While every production creates hundreds of jobs, last year, Fargo brought an estimate of 326 Illinois crew and production staff hires, and 1,515 estimated talent and extra hires.”

Spreading the Wealth

The economic impact goes well beyond the direct crews hired to support the filming. “Production brings a multiplier effect – equipment rentals, building supplies, restaurants, hotels, taxi drivers, ride sharing, etc.” the Illinois Film Office explained. “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.”

The Best is Yet to Come

In the era of so called “prestige TV” more and more productions are choosing to film on-location. Between the credibility that a real-world backdrop gives scenes and the tax incentives offered by local governments, there’s a lot to like about this filming option. “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.”

After the Dust Settles

As the COVID-19 pandemic starts to subside, there is a great deal of optimism for the return to normal production. “After the pandemic halted production for nearly 6 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.” Only time will tell how and when things get back to normal, but in the meantime there are plenty of incredible TV shows that just might have helped bring jobs and economic prosperity to a community near you.

Where else does Hollywood like to film? Check out our earlier articleTV Shows are Boosting America’s Economy”, and if you want more up-to-date information, visit Beyond!