There hasn’t been a major studio film shot in the Quad Cities since 2009, and it may be a while until the next one.

It’s been 11 months since Davenport-based film and media consultant Doug Miller was hired by the city of Rock Island to help establish a new QC Regional Film Office. There’s been a lot of discussion with industry professionals and a recent website created for the effort, but not many results yet.

Davenport film and media consultant Doug Miller.

Last June, the City Council approved a one-year contract with Miller and his firm, Two Rivers & Associates, to be funded by a $65,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The bare-bones website home page (launched earlier this year) includes a paragraph on “Ideal Locations,” saying the “central, midwestern location of the Quad Cities provides a diverse backdrop for a variety of productions, including unique, open landscapes, the Mississippi River, historic architecture, industrial buildings, downtowns and main streets, farmland, and scenic vistas.”

A photo of downtown Rock Island is featured on the new QC film office website.

Tarah Sipes, the city of Rock Island economic development manager, said there may be funding from the state to continue Miller’s contract, but it’s up in the air.

“Conversations cannot really begin until we understand what the funding situation looks like. Despite that, Doug continues to engage people in conversations in efforts to strengthen the coalition of people working in the industry in the Quad Cities,” she said Wednesday.

The funding is actually a “non-competitive grant,” which means that it is written into the state budget, Sipes said. “We don’t have to apply, but we have to do all of the compliance and reporting activities a grant would normally require.  If the grant is not awarded, work wouldn’t be discontinued.

One home page image for the new QC film website is of The Blues Brothers, who according to the classic 1980 film were from Rock Island.

“It would just be in a different form as there may or may not be funding available in the budget to compensate Mr. Miller and others for their work,” she said, noting city budget planning for 2024 will begin soon, but there isn’t money budgeted in 2023 for the work since the grant covered expenses.

Miller said the website will serve as a “one-stop shop” to attract film production to the area. It will eventually include a directory of contact information for local people who work in the industry — from actors and directors, to costume, hair and makeup, lighting and set designers, to grip and gaffers.

“I’ve had meetings with over 100 people in the area who are either interested in, they already are trying to produce films or they are crew types and they’re working on projects,” Miller said Tuesday. “Talking with those folks about, what are they doing? Do they know what the film office is about, kind of a Q-and-A thing. Plus, I’ve had a number of phone calls and/or Zoom calls actually with various folks that have shot films here before. and just kind of checking their temperature.”

“We’ve got your equipment sitting here, so that essentially a producer is looking at that thing, they can look through the guidance and here’s this multimedia thing that tells them everything about us,” he said of the website.

Writers Guild of America (WGA) East members walk a picket line at the Disney Upfront event at the Javits Center on May 16, 2023 in New York City. Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten joined members of the WGA East as they held its recent picket line at an event for New York Upfronts week, a decades-old tradition where media companies stage lavish events to promote their lineups in an attempt to woo advertisers, during the third week of the Hollywood writers strike. Union members have stated that they are not being paid fairly in the streaming era and are seeking pay increases and structural changes to the business model. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The current Writers Guild of America strike (which began May 1) has halted all film and TV production, which doesn’t help. The last similar strike (in 2007-08) lasted 100 days.

“Now that the strike thing is happening, there’s not quite the pressure, you know what I’m saying?” Miller said of the new QC film office. “But by the same token, we want to make hay while the sun shines. So I’m hoping here that we’re developing it here through the spring and, and we’re on board in some meaningful fashion by mid-summer,”

The writers’ strike is reflecting the major changes in the industry, such as dominance of streaming services, and how writer compensation has changed with them.

“So the writers are the first ones that are going out on this. But without them, you can’t do anything else. And that means everybody else is gonna go back and they, their deals are gonna be redone to reflect the new industry because the industry is totally changed from what it was,” Miller said.

Illinois film showcase in Variety

Miller last worked with a major QC filming production in 2019, with the TV series “The Now” — which involved shooting exteriors in Rock Island, Moline, East Moline, Port Byron and Riverdale.

It was originally to debut in 2020 on Quibi, but moved to The Roku Channel due to Quibi’s shutdown in December 2020. It premiered on Roku on Dec. 10, 2021.

The 2023 Oscars week issue of Variety (this past March) had a big section devoted to Illinois filmmaking, which quoted Miller and Gary Camarano, director of the Northwest Illinois Film Office, based in Whiteside County.

A large section of the March 8, 2023 issue of Variety promoted filmmaking in Illinois.

While downstate locations might not have cutting-edge studios, Miller said there’s a major advantage the QC area has that Chicago can’t match: affordability.

“No offense to Chicago, but it’s cheaper here,” he told Variety. “I like to use my Coors Light test. At the end of the day I can get a Coors Light for $2.50 at any of the local bars here. What’s that beer going to cost in Chicago? The same is true for hotels and everything else. We offer an economic advantage on top of the tax credits.”

An ad for the new QC Regional Film Office in Variety this past March.

Added Camarano: “The state is saying, ‘This is a good place. Come and make your film here with a tax credit. You can do it economically, and we have a lot of good locations.’”

In 2022, the 30% tax credit for qualified expenditures on production spending and salaries — plus an additional 15% on salaries for people living in disadvantaged areas — was expanded to include a limited number of out-of-state residents’ wages for production work performed in Illinois.

An ad for the Northwest Illinois Film Office.

According to the Illinois Film Office, in 2022 the state’s film and television production revenue was $110 million more than 2019’s pre-pandemic high. 2022 was a record-breaking year for film and TV production in Illinois with nearly $700 million in qualified production spending. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit through 2032, and on July 1, 2022, the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit expanded allowing for a limited number of non-Illinois residents to have their wages included in the tax credit.

“Illinois has long been a thriving arts hub, with iconic movies filmed right here including ‘The Blues Brothers,’ ‘Home Alone’ and of course, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ’,” Gov. Pritzker said in the Variety piece. “This is why in 2022, the $700 million production revenue in our state shattered records and eclipsed our pre-pandemic revenue numbers. I attribute this success to our expanded film production tax credit as well as our diversity, inclusivity and commitment to equity; we’re ensuring our state is a welcoming place where every production wants to film.”

The 2009 TV movie of “Children of the Corn” was shot partly in the Quad Cities.

Among the movies filmed in the Quad Cities are:

New QC indie theater coming

Perhaps the most exciting QC film news is happening across the river in Davenport, where The Last Picture House, a state-of-the-art two-screen movie theater and lounge, is currently under construction in the heart of downtown Davenport, at 2nd and Iowa streets, expected to open this fall.

A rendering of The Last Picture House, to open by late 2023 in downtown Davenport, on East 2nd and Iowa streets.

The Last Picture House (proposed and co-owned by acclaimed filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) will blend first-run, art-house, family, cult, and classic cinema programming with a social lounge, cocktail bar, rooftop screening venue, and exclusive entertainment events.

East Moline-based Twin Shores is overseeing the renovation of the building. The firm has completed more than 120 movie theater projects across 32 states.

The 8,700-square-foot building in Davenport’s Motor Row and Industrial Historic District will be transformed into a two-story movie theater including two state-of-the-art viewing screens, a cocktail bar and social lounge, and a rooftop bar featuring an additional screen for outdoor viewings when weather permits.

Augustana College in Rock Island also is launching a new film major in fall 2023. The private school is renovating Sorensen Hall (at 38th Street and 7th Avenue), which will feature a state-of-the-art studio, professional lighting and grip equipment, iMac computers, high-quality, high-definition video cameras, audio equipment and LED lighting.

To visit the new QC Regional Film Office website, click HERE.