Is the film industry turning its nose up at Oak Park? Are its ordinances overbearing to directors? Are the days when notable films like Backdraft and Ocean’s Eleven used Oak Park as a backdrop over?

Probably not.

At a village board study session last Thursday, Rich Carollo, president and CEO of the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, presented a list of recommendations to the board. Included was the thought that Oak Park needs to do whatever it can to “relax” current rules and better entice the film industry.

In conversations with friends in the business, Carollo said Oak Park is perceived to be strict on filming with certain hour restrictions and other ordinances.

“I just want to make sure that it’s not an issue, and that we aren’t limiting ourselves,” Carollo said Monday. “It would be nice to showcase us more; it’s free exposure.”

Increasing film production in Oak Park would increase the village’s exposure and business opportunities in dining, catering, and the hotel industry, he argues.

“We used to have tons of filming here,” said Village Clerk Sandra Sokol at the meeting, disagreeing with the idea that Oak Park is too strict as a filming location. “We had people knocking and banging on the doors.”

The idea that Oak Park is too strict is “total misinformation,” but Sokol, a 20-year veteran at village hall, said filming in Oak Park “instead of growing has backslid.”

However, Community Relations Director Cedric Melton, whose department deals with the movie types, says things couldn’t be better with 32 filming projects already having taken place in Oak Park this year.

“I’m not sure where the deception comes from,” Melton said. “Oak Park is quite well known in the film industry, both locally and nationally.”

People in the business often seek out the village for its large homes and quaint streets he said.

“We at the Illinois Film Office have a great working relationship with the village of Oak Park,” said Todd Lizak, who has been a production manager for eight years.

Lizak contacted three location scouts for filming in the Oak Park area, and said he got back a very good report, with one scout saying the village’s police department was the best he’s dealt with in 24 years.

The one area for improvement Lizak heard in conversations was that filmmakers would like to have more flexibility on filming hours. You can film from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Oak Park, but some crews would like to have a little leniency on those hours. River Forest allows filmmakers to petition the board in special instances, and if neighbors approve, filming can go beyond the restricted hours.

So far this year, crews have shot national commercials in Oak Park for Quaker Oats, Radio Flyer, Allstate Insurance and Sears, among others. Three feature films have also done some shooting in Oak Park, Melton said.

A film called Wanted with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman did some exterior shots here. The Opposite of Life, also a feature film, did some shooting in Oak Park, and so did an untitled project with Tom Hanks attached to it, which utilized the Hemingway home.

The TV series West Wing did a “major” shoot in Oak Park in 2006 for its series finale, and ABC shot a pilot at OPRF High School called Enemies, which never got picked up.

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama shot commercials last month at Petersen’s Ice Cream Parlor and Pleasant Home.

Altogether, 32 projects have been shot in Oak Park this year, up from 23 in 2006. Melton said 2005 records lumped together inquiries and actual shooting, which totaled at 59.

Melton works directly with location scouts on projects, many of which are repeat customers.

Filmmakers must adhere to the village’s noise ordinances. They’re told to pass out leaflets (to make neighbors aware of any filming) and are encouraged to use local businesses. Oak Park doesn’t currently have any tax incentives for filming here.

“We try to remove as many obstacles as we can,” Melton said.

When a filmmaker applies, the police are notified by community relations in case any situations could arise, and Melton sits down with them to figure out how much space is needed for parking and filming. The village charges about $125 a day per half block for obstruction. The production company must provide any barricades and signs. They also must be insured for at least $1 million to protect both the company and the village, Melton said.

“It’s a win-win situation for us,” Melton said. “We want people to come film in Oak Park and we want to continue those relationships.”

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