IVCA Profile: Co-Founder & Executive Director Angie Gaffney of Stage 18, Chicago’s First Film and Media Incubator

IVCA Profile: Co-Founder & Executive Director Angie Gaffney of Stage 18, Chicago’s First Film and Media Incubator

August 19, 2015

On June 30th, a bold step in the evolution of TV, media and film production in Chicago occurred, with the launch of Stage 18. The new incubator is a first in the Windy City, focusing on developing a “Hollywood by the Lake,’ a home grown media industry that will rival the East and West coast output. The not-for-profit enterprise will focus on bringing together Chicago’s film and media professionals to enable the development of new, home grown production. The base of operations is among the Cinespace Studios on the west side of the city, part of a shared work environment that Stage 18 has made part of its plans.

The history of Chicago contains part of the early movie era. In 1896, the Selig Polyscope Company began a 20 year run as a working movie studio, followed closely by Essanay Studios in 1906. Stage 18 and Cinespace Studios hopes to add its name to that legacy, by taking a modern approach to production, through a utilization and  cooperation with local media talent. Representing Stage 18 in this profile is Angie Gaffney, a Co-Founder and Executive Director at the incubator.

IVCA: You officially launched Stage 18 on June 30th. What are the origins of Chicago's first film and media incubator, the name that you chose, and the goals for the incubator?

Stage 18: Stage 18 was founded by Alex Pissios and Angie Gaffney, with the goal to grow indigenous film production, development and financing here in the Midwest. We believe our state shouldn't be reliant on Hollywood to support our industry, and feel strongly that we have a great amount of talent and infrastructure that, when appropriately cultivated, can really redefine our local media landscape. In staying true to that mission, we will offer programming, development labs, networking events, and ultimate access to capital through our partnership with the Chicago Media Angels.

Stage 18 is literally the 18th stage on the Cinespace lot – we wanted to make sure creatives see us as a physical, safe, and creative space where they can come to grow their content and find great resources. 

IVCA: There has been a bit of a political wrangle with the State of Illinois government regarding the 30% tax credit offered to TV and film projects originating from the state. How did that tie into what Stage 18 is looking to accomplish?

Stage 18: The tax incentive is an important part of why Stage 18 is even possible today. Since the tax incentive became law, over $1.5 billion in spending has been generated by the Illinois film industry, supporting more than thousands of full-time equivalent jobs in the state. That number continues to grow with shows such as ‘Empire’ and ‘Chicago Med.’

Fortunately, those shows continue to receive their credits and will be here for some time to come. But it underscores the point that if we don’t grow our own content here, we will be at the whims of financiers in Los Angeles chasing tax credits. With the recent deferment of tax incentive applications, we feel it makes what we're doing at Stage 18 all the more relevant, and necessary. 

IVCA: With a expanding and professional Chicago film and TV infrastructure in place right now, what kind of reputation is the Windy City gaining as a destination for production?

Stage 18: It's a great destination for production. We have great crews, phenomenal locations, and a production-friendly city. Naturally, the summer months are favorable, but with Cinespace's large indoor facilities, it has facilitated year-long productions and TV shows. The reputation is growing, and will continue to grow so long as locally-produced content remains competitive. 

IVCA: You are planning to offer local film and TV creator/producers resources and access to facilities at a reduced rate. What currently is your criteria for finding such producers?

Stage 18: Many of our board members are active in the independent industry, and have a great sense of who's-who around town. We also acknowledge that there's a lot of individuals that we don't know - there's a lot of amazing undiscovered talent right here in our city. While the physical space is being built out over the next few months, we've tasked ourself with outreaching to various organizations and universities to find that talent.

Ultimately, members will need to fill out a membership application to join Stage 18 that will require them to submit examples of their work, resume, and references. We are looking for people who are driven, humble, hard-working, and honest. This is a business, not a hobby, and we want those individuals who believe they can achieve that.

IVCA: The creation of TV and movies is just one side of the business. What are your plans for the commerce angle of such production, such as distribution and marketing possibilities?

Stage 18: As we strive to bring together the community, we also realize that there's a need to re-engage companies on the coasts with the content being produced here in the Midwest. We hope to act as an aggregator for the best Chicago-based content creators, and use our large collective of talent to work with agencies, studios, and distribution companies. It is our hope that by physically bringing people together, we can be the one-stop shop for the hottest new talent in the Midwest – and that's worth something.

IVCA: What has been amazing in the last five years has been the major network television shows located here. What has been the feedback from these shows as far as what Chicago has to offer such productions?

Stage 18: These producers and shows have been thrilled so far. That's not an understatement, they've genuinely enjoyed their experience. Notable TV producer Dick Wolf is launching his third series this fall, ‘Chicago Med.’ He has consistently spoken positively about filming here. 

Chicago has a more diverse landscape than many major cities, providing a ton of location opportunities, and it is physically easier to shoot in than places such as New York. With every show, they are moving over a hundred people around on a daily basis, and that's no easy feat. 

IVCA: Like the early days of film, with names like Selig Polyscope and Essanay Studios, Chicago is poised to become another ‘Hollywood’-style production location. What kind of factors, in the opinion of Stage 18, need to be in place for that destiny to happen?

Stage 18: Like we mentioned above, many of those factors involve the education of our local creative producers, as well as the education of our local investors. In short, we need to be able to develop, finance, and produce content entirely in the Midwest, and not be reliant on larger shows to come in from the coasts. 

IVCA: Return on investment in films is much different than forms of investments. What is encouraging regarding the potential for returns within the structure of your mission as an incubator?

Stage 18: We think something important to realize is that it's not just feature film that we're hoping to cultivate, we're looking at all sorts of content: TV, web series, and branded content as well. With the changing distribution landscape and all of the online distribution options, there is no reason to not be able to monetize your content - it just takes research and hard work to put those elements in place. 

Part of our incubator program will include an advanced development lab, which will be an 8 to 12 week intensive course where the top projects will get to be actually produced. Once producers graduate from that lab, they'll get to pitch to the Chicago Media Angels for a chance at investment. That pitch opportunity incentivizes our members, and, in turn, the Chicago Media Angels know that they're getting vetted, top-quality, investment-worthy projects with Stage 18. 

IVCA: Finally, what would you tell the membership of the IVCA about Stage 18, that would interest the investor community?

Stage 18: Content is king. Whether you're a marketing company, a brand, an online video aggregator, or a film studio – you need visual content, and today’s digital economy offers more platforms to monetize content to producers than ever before. While the Midwest has been a laggard in the space in recent years, our friends at the Chicago Media Angels are working to organize, educate and accelerate the Midwest investment community to recognize the vast opportunities investing in content.

For more information about Stage 18, click here. To learn more about Stage 18 or Chicago Media Angels, contact Angie Gaffney directly at [email protected]