The Windy City: Ultimate Guide to Film Shoots in Chicago

America isn’t just the land of opportunity, it’s also the land of great film locations. From San Francisco and its Golden Gate Bridge to New York City and Central Park, the United States is a very camera-friendly nation. Chicago, Illinois is an incredibly scenic city – hundreds upon hundreds of films and TV shows have been filmed here. Read ahead for the scoop on shooting in the Windy City.

Time Lapse photo of the Cloud Gate and surrounding buildings

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/tnv84LOjes4

Stefan C. Asafti on Unsplash

Do’s and Don’ts of Shooting in Chicago

Do’s

Planning is the ultimate factor that separates a successful film shoot from a bust. If you and your crew drive into the city and capture some amazing footage, you’ll be crushed if your battery suddenly dies on you. 

On the flip side, you won’t get much done if you’re lugging around C-Stands and spare lenses that you don’t even need. Plan, plan, plan as best as you can before hitting the road. And remember to take the weather into account – Chicago isn’t called the Windy City for no reason.

Over the years, Chicago has become very fond of cinematographers and shutterbugs. You can bring your crew and equipment almost anywhere in the city – if you know how to ask. 

We recommend calling ahead and getting permission if you want to shoot in a private space. Public spaces like parks and beaches might seem like free pizza, but you should still contact the Chicago Film Office just to be safe. 

Time Lapse photo of the Chicago Theatre

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/XXA8PTuLD1Y

Omar Elsharawy on Unsplash

Don’ts

Rain isn’t the only thing that falls out of the sky in Chicago. Each year, the city experiences rain, sleet, snow, or even hail showers. This sort of weather occurs 125 out of 365 days of the year, meaning that the Windy City can become the Slippery City real quickly. 

Don’t ignore flash flood warnings and don’t try to shoot in the snow without the proper equipment. Doubly so if you’re using actual film stock.

Some folks might consider the next few issues to be common sense problems. Still, we gotta mention ‘em. Do not, under any circumstances, lie about having a permit  – or not having one, to be more specific. 

A person can get into a lot of legal trouble filming in locations that require permits – expensive legal trouble. We also discourage cameramen and women from filming people who don’t want to be filmed. Even in public spaces, people have a right to privacy.

Our Favorite Film Locations

Hollywood isn’t the only haven for filmmakers, not while Chicago’s around. Check out the following locales if you need inspiration for your next project.

The Loop

When most people hear the name Chicago, they probably imagine a city full of skyscrapers. Well, places like the Loop fit that description to a T. The Loop is a part of Chicago’s sprawling downtown area. 

There are skyscrapers aplenty here, but there are also trains, bridges, and even a few boats. Filmmakers will find plenty of amazing open spaces to film in the Loop. They can also find several famous landmarks nearby, like Chicago’s legendary Cloud Gate statue. 

Head to South La Salle Street and you’ll find a location from The Dark Knight (2008). Chris Nolan and his team shot the infamous “Joker Truck” scene here.

Daley Plaza

Cinematographers are experts at utilizing everything in the environment for dramatic effect. Michael Chapman had a field day shooting scenes for The Fugitive (1993). Most of that film was shot in Chicago. 

Daley Plaza served as a backdrop for Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) as he tried to clear his name. These days, tons of filmmakers and photographers flock to this famous venue. Contact the Richard J. Daley Center if you want to learn how you can get in on the action.

Marina City Towers

Filmmakers know that even unassuming venues can make for great film locales. Think of how many diners and hotels became ionic thanks to popular movies. That isn’t the case with the Marina City Towers. 

This enormous dual-tower complex is the polar opposite of unassuming. Both towers have partially exposed parking lots that overlook the city. This venue is also where Buzz Kulik and his team filmed very memorable scenes for The Hunter (1980).

UIC Police Station

A guide to filming in Chicago wouldn’t be complete without mentioning UIC. After all, thousands of talented filmmakers have graduated from the University of Chicago over the years. 

The campus as a whole is truly beautiful. However, UIC’s Police Station should look very familiar for Chicago P.D. fans. Hill Street Blues (1981 – 1987) was also filmed here too. Anyone who’s interested in shooting at this famous venue should contact UIC’s Campus Film Office.

Union Station

There’s a good chance you’ve probably visited Union Station if you came to Chicago by train. This building’s exterior and interior have appeared in a bevy of films. Zack Snyder filmed the climax of Man of Steel (2013) in the Great Hall.

 Kevin Costner (aka John Kent in MoS) also starred in another film here – Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables (1987). The Union Station scene has become the stuff of legend these days. Reach out to Union Station’s management if you’re personally interested in filming here.

Lights, Camera, Action

Now it’s time for you to make your own masterpiece. There are plenty of great places to film in Chicago. We encourage you to look around for the perfect shooting spot.