Smile Politely
Photo of a large air force base hangar against a bright blue sky.
Flyover Film Studios

Flyover Film Studios is an economic game-changer for Central Illinois 

By now, most of us have heard that Flyover Film Studios has set up shop in part of the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. Back in February, it was announced that Governor Pritzker was awarding $10 million in grants for soundstage and film studio development in the state. While The Fields in Chicago is getting the lion’s share of the development funds, Flyover Film Studios is poised to change the artistic and economic landscape here in East Central Illinois. 

Back in March, I spoke with one of the key players from Flyover Studios, director, producer, editor and all-round film talent, Luke Boyce of Shatterglass Films. Boyce is part of a team of visionaries including Shatterglass’s co-founders Brett Hays and Jennifer Shelby, The Line Film Company’s Sarah Sharp and Rob Stern, and Dustin Hoke of Dustin Hoke Services. 

Governor Pritzker holding a small sign that says Flyover Film Studios, flanked by people on either side.
(L-R) Luke Boyce, Jennifer Shelby, Brett Hays, Governor Pritzker, Sarah Sharp, Robert Patrick Stern, and Dustin Hoke; Shatterglass Studios on Facebook

I went out to meet with Boyce at Shatterglass’ new location in Rantoul and got a chance to tour Shatterglass’ space as well as one of the old hangars being converted to over 290,000 square feet of soundstage magic. I grew up on movies so the very idea that we will have a robust and thriving film industry right here on our patch of the prairie gives me goosebumps. 

A large industrial hangar is used for a film set including several staff in blue jackets, a purple scooter, and several tented sections
Filming Black Mold; Photo by Luke Boyce

I also attended last week’s (May 23rd) vendor information session at Analog Wine Bar. Brett Hays, Dustin Hoke, and Jennifer Shelby were on hand along with Mark Brown, Champaign-Urbana’s Director of Sports, Events, & Film to talk logistics with local businesses, including CRS Hospitality, the University of Illinois, the Art Coop, and other interested vendors about how they might work with Flyover Film Studios and what that means in terms of scheduling and staffing. 

Hoke, from nearby Paxton, noted that “the state made over $690 million last year from the film industry. I forget the exact figure, but it’s something like for every single dollar you invest in the infrastructure needed for film production, the state gets back $7. From forklift drivers to cleaning services to local thrift stores, everybody wins. And there’s nothing like this business. I caught the bug after working on Luke’s film [The Revealer] and I haven’t looked back. It’s a blast to work that hard on a project and then see it all on film. It really is nothing less than magical.” 

As a lover of all things Champaign-Urbana, I cannot wait to see how Flyover Film Studios will impact the local economy. But as a cinephile and lifelong English and Humanities teacher, I am even more enthralled about the fact that film and television production will be happening right here in our backyard, opening up opportunities students and creatives in the arts as well as those in the skilled trades and other fields.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Smile Politely: How did this talented team of creatives come together to create Flyover Film Studios?

Luke Boyce: Brett [Hays] and Jen [Shelby and I have been partners here at Shatterglass Films for some time. We’ve worked with the talented team from The Line Film Company, aka Robert Patrick Stern, who’s this amazing director of photography, and Sarah Sharp, producer extraordinaire, on several projects. Then construction genius Dustin Hoke caught the film bug after working on The Revealer, which we built and shot in Downtown Champaign (at the old Rogard’s building) a couple of years ago. We all had the same crazy vision: “Hey, what if we built our own sound stages and could make even more films here in central Illinois?” The Line Company’s Holiday Holdup was shot on location in the old Destihl in Downtown Champaign, and Black Mold shot in a creepy old building here on Chanute’s campus and we all started sharing the same idea and vision. We decided to throw caution to the wind and started serious conversations about how and where to create the space for expanding filmmaking in Central Illinois.

Photo of actors on a film set in a room with several brick pillars and a camera and crew filming with a camera on wheels.
Luke Boyce

SP: Repurposing the air force base in Rantoul is such a smart move.

Boyce: Yeah, I cannot say enough about The Village of Rantoul. They have been absolutely fantastic to work with. This space is incredible. It’s basically right off the highway and a pretty easy commute for teams and crews who may be based or working in Chicago. The film and television industry has been growing and Chicago has its own dynamic film business. We brought Pete [Peter Hawley, the Director of the Illinois Film Office] down to show him the space and share our vision and he got just as excited about the possibility of growing Illinois’ film industry downstate. Honestly, with the success of so many shows and films based in and produced in Chicago, the state needs more space. Chicago is a beautiful city but it’s a packed city — just the parking alone is a huge tactical issue for film crews — and we want to grow the industry elsewhere in the state. The Department of Commerce and Equal Opportunity’s grant is a great start.

SP: And you’ve already been doing some training for the much-needed workforce, is that right?

Boyce: Yes. We’re on our third workforce development workshop aimed at training camera grips and set construction. But we’re going to need so many more people for the workforce. Think about all of the film and television projects on every network, their streaming options, and all of the streaming content on platforms like Hulu, Netflix, Max, Showtime, Starz, etc. The demand for places to make film and television is only going to keep growing. Atlanta, Georgia blossomed as one of the top film locations after Tyler Perry and the State of Georgia invested in the creation of a film economy. We can do the same thing here. Maybe not at the scale of an Atlanta, but Illinois has the will to grow the industry and it’s funding that effort. We started by training production assistants and we still need those. But we also need trained camera grips, people who can build sets, electricians, and accountants.

SP: Ultimately, this creates mind-blowing opportunities for artists in our area.

Boyce: Exactly. If you think about it, film is perhaps the most inclusive of all of the arts. A film or television show needs everything from musicians to painters, hair and makeup artists, costume designers, writers, sound designers and engineers, stage managers, cooks, architects, everything. If it’s an art, it’s needed to make a film or a television series. And that’s just in the arts. A film also needs people to help with paperwork, maintenance, catering, accounting, and of course, trained electricians, plumbers, and construction experts. We need hotels and rented mobile homes, trailers, food trucks — and that means jobs, jobs, and more jobs. 

SP: If we build it, will they come?

Boyce: Oh, they’re already coming. We’re fielding calls now. I can’t talk about some of the projects yet but they’re coming. The demand is very real. It all starts with having a physical presence. Big and small projects. Our stages will be larger than those at The Fields in Chicago. They have an incredible space and it’s been a huge boost to the Chicago economy. But just because of the nature of this beautiful old Air Force base, we have some amenities, including the fact that this is still an active air field and so flying cast and crew in directly is another potential benefit. The state funds will go to converting the hangar into state of the art soundstages. But there’s so much more here than just the space for stages. Think, too, about the cost of living in Chicago versus a place like Rantoul or Champaign. Producers will always be looking for ways to keep budgets in line and you just get more for your dollar downstate.

SP: What, do you think, will be the biggest benefit to Champaign-Urbana?

Boyce: We have the community and the infrastructure to be something like a smaller version of Austin, Texas. The talent in this community is enormous and we look forward to partnering with local businesses and artists in an effort to grow the local film economy. Brett Hays lives mostly in Chicago now, but Rob and Sarah moved here after working on films here and they love it. Of course, I grew up in Cissna Park so I feel very tied to Central Illinois. Champaign-Urbana has so many advantages as a big university town. And, you know, this brings recognition to an already booming place for technology and innovation. Films may also shoot on location at private homes. Think about how many people travel to the Winnetka, Illinois house they used in Home Alone [which, ironically, just went up for sale as a ‘piece of American history’ with an asking price of $5.25 million]. Or the iconic house in Cleveland, Ohio used for 1983’s A Christmas Story. The economic benefit to ET’s in Downtown Rantoul — everybody loved ET’s — while they were filming Black Mold was incredible. Rantoul has had the vision to dream big, just look at their family sports complex. This whole area is bubbling with creativity and initiative. It’s going to be a noticeable boost to the economy in this region.

Several people stand around a large room with a table in the middle and colorful art on the walls.
Vendor workshop at Analog; Photo by Amy Penne

Arts Editor