UIC campus gets its closeups on TV, in films
By Deborah Cassell
Additional reporting by Jimmieah Hoskins
Chilling horror flicks, reality-based crime stories and quirky dramatic comedies have all been filmed on the UIC campus, whose Brutalist architecture and nearby neighborhoods play a role — literally — in scenes from many memorable movies and TV shows, on screens big and small.
Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Caine, Nicolas Cage, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Noah Wyle, Virginia Madsen and Taylor Kinney never attended UIC, but they’ve shared screen time with students cast as extras.
They’ve been filmed in front of such iconic buildings as University Hall and at now-gone locations such as the Student Center East swimming pool.
The creepiest movie to be made at UIC? “Candyman,” whose lead character is a grad student researching a local urban legend.
Biggest? “The Blues Brothers,” starring “Saturday Night Live” alumni John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.
More recently, the campus has served as backdrop for NBC’s hit programs “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” — two of the six full-time series currently being shot in the city, according to the Chicago Tribune. The number of movie and TV projects filmed in Chicago jumped 20 percent in 2013, the Tribune also notes, making the city a new “industry hub.”
Here’s a look at UIC’s versatile onscreen CV.
The Weather Man
Starring: Michael Caine, Nicolas Cage
Written by: Steve Conrad
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Plot: Chicago weatherman David Spritz (Cage) is loathed by viewers, estranged from his wife, distant from his daughter and at odds with his father in this dramatic comedy. Spritz’s career starts looking up when he’s given the chance to appear on a national morning program.
Shoot Locations: The movie includes shots taken at the Outpatient Care Center and UI Hospital, meant to portray health facilities in NYC. Cage and Caine were filmed together in the hospital’s pediatric unit. Eleven employees were cast as extras, according to UIC News.
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif
Written by: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland
Directed by: Tom Holland
Plot: The first of six “Child’s Play” films, this original storyline centers on a single mother (Hicks), who gives her young son (Vincent) a doll. The birthday gift spawns a horrific series of events, as it is possessed by the soul of voodoo ritualist Charles Lee Ray, aka Chucky — a serial killer called the “Lakeshore Strangler” (voiced by Dourif).
Shoot Locations: Scenes shot at UIC include one at the corner of West Maxwell Street and South Halsted Street, now part of South Campus. Another takes place at the 23rd District police station at 3600 N. Halsted St. A police car crash occurs on Maxwell Street when Chucky attacks Officer Mike Norris (Sarandon).
Stranger than Fiction
Starring: Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson
Written by: Zach Helm
Directed by: Marc Forster
Plot: This dark comedy follows Harold Crick (Ferrell), an uptight IRS agent who begins hearing the voice of a woman with a British accent who narrates the events in his everyday life, from brushing his teeth to walking to the bus. After consulting a psychiatrist, Crick determines he may have a literary, rather than a mental, condition. He seeks guidance from an expert in literature theory, Professor Jules Hilbert (Hoffman), who helps the auditor determine if he is living a comedy or a tragedy. They eventually find the writer penning his demise.
Shoot Locations: This film features shots of UIC’s Lincoln and Douglas Halls. Crick visits Hilbert, a faculty lifeguard, at the former Student Center East pool. The Rebecca Port Center on the second floor of University Hall is used, and the building’s distinctive I-shaped concrete window frames are visible in Hilbert’s office. Another location was the men’s locker room in the Physical Education Building. At least 100 UIC students and faculty were cast as extras in the film, according to UIC News, which also reported that UIC was chosen for its architecture.
TV Series (2012-)
Starring: Jesse Spencer, Taylor Kinney, Monica Raymund, Lauren German, Charlie Barnett
Creators: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Plot: From Emmy Award-winning producer Dick Wolf, the man behind the highly successful “Law and Order” franchise, comes this adrenaline-filled story of firefighters, paramedics and a rescue squad in Chicago.
Shoot Locations: “Chicago Fire” has used the neighborhoods surrounding UIC as well as UI Hospital as shoot locations. The exterior of the show’s fictitious local hospital is actually the School of Public Health, located at Taylor Street and Ashland Avenue. Another episode features the College of Medicine courtyard. More than once, a rooftop at Roosevelt and Halsted has doubled as that of the Fire Academy.
The new “Chicago Fire” spin-off also films around campus. Rumor has it producer Dick Wolf may launch a third Chicago-based show, given the high ratings of his two latest creations. Stay tuned!
TV Series (1994-2009)
Starring: Noah Wyle, George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Juliana Margulies
Creator: Michael Crichton
Plot: Before “Grey’s Anatomy”, there was ER — TV’s longest-running medical drama. Set at Chicago’s fictitious County General Emergency Room, the show highlighted the personal and professional experiences of physicians, staff and medical students.
Shoot Locations: Chicago is the heartbeat of this series, although it was filmed primarily at Warner Bros. Studios. Over the show’s 15-season run, UI Hospital buildings and the Taylor Street neighborhood were featured many times. The series also mentioned UIC medical students and residents. A scene from the final episode was shot at the Engineering Research Facility, framed as a medical foundation dedicated to Dr. Carter’s son. Carter (Wyle) walk up to a plaque (actually a campus map) that reads “Joshua Makalo Carter, 2004.”
Plot: This cult classic focuses on UIC grad student Helen Lyle (Madsen) as she researches her thesis on local folklore. Lyle decides to test an urban legend about a serial killer living in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project. The legend claims that if you say “Candyman” five times while standing in front of a mirror, he will appear and slay you with his hook-for-a-hand. Candyman later begins stalking the student.
Shoot Locations: Rose wanted to pay homage to UIC’s architect, Walter Netsch, and chose to spotlight the now-gone Forum, calling it “a classic of ’60s architecture,” according to UIC News. The main title sequence has an aerial view of Congress Parkway before zeroing in on the Chicago skyline, including the Sears Tower. It later focuses on the east campus, prior to its mid-1990s renovations. Prominently featured landmarks are the library, lecture center halls, University Hall and the Forum. The movie’s main character walks down the steps of the empty Forum, which is also shown at various angles and distances. Candyman confronts Lyle in a UIC parking garage.
TV Series (1981-87)
Hill Street Blues
Starring: Daniel J. Travanti, Taurean Blacque, Bruce Weitz
Creators: Steven Bochco, Michael Kozoll
Plot: One of the best-loved primetime police dramas in TV history, “Hill Street Blues” won many Golden Globes and Emmy Awards for its take on the professional and personal lives of members of an inner-city police precinct. The show was shot documentary-style and featured intertwined storylines, a unique tactic at the time.
Shoot Locations: Although filmed in Los Angeles, the series had a more Midwestern urban feel. The police cars were painted similarly to those in Chicago. Several establishing shots featured easily identifiable locations, including freeway entrances (such as I-55 and I-90) and bi-level commuter trains resembling the Metra. The image most often associated with the program is of the red-brick-and-limestone precinct house, which was the former Maxwell Street 7th District police station on Chicago’s Near West Side, now home to the UIC police station.
Starring: Melissa Sagemiller, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Eliza Dushku
Written and directed by: Stephen Carpenter
Plot: In this psychological thriller, college-bound Cassie (Sagemiller) survives a major car crash in which her boyfriend (Affleck) is killed. She begins to question her own sanity after sensing that she’s being followed by two men and seeing Affleck again—alive. Cassie attempts to uncover the truth, while her fellow survivors try to hide it from her.
Shoot Locations: Cassie is attacked (or thinks she is) by a masked stalker during a nighttime scene filmed at the competition pool in the UIC Physical Education Building on West Roosevelt Road. The film also features the UIC Psychiatric Institute, which served as an onscreen hospital.
Starring: Richard Gere, Edward Norton, Laura Linney, John Mahoney
Written by: William Diehl, Steve Shagan, Ann Biderman
Directed by: Gregory Hoblit
Plot: Based on the novel of the same name by William Diehl, this tense thriller follows successful Chicago defense attorney Martin Vail (Gere), who takes on a high-profile pro bono case. His client, a seemingly innocent altar boy named Aaron Stampler (Norton), is arrested for murder. When proof is uncovered that the victim, a Catholic archbishop, molested the accused, Vail questions the boy’s motive.
Shoot Locations: Les Miller Field, home of UIC Flames baseball, serves as a backdrop in this film following the archbishop’s murder. The movie provides other visual clues as to its Chicago origins, including footage of CTA trains and the city skyline.
The Blues Brothers
Starring and written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi
Directed by: John Landis
Plot: What started as a musical skit on “Saturday Night Live” ended up a big-screen success, thanks to the comedic talents of Aykroyd and Belushi. Paroled convict Jake Blues and his brother, Elwood, bring back their rhythm-and-blues band in an effort to save the Catholic orphanage in which they grew up. While on this “mission from God,” they also must evade Neo-Nazis, a country-western band and the police, who are always in chase.
Shoot Locations: One of the most famous films to take place in Chicago, “The Blues Brothers” captures scenes from Maxwell Street — now located on South Campus and known as University Village — which was portrayed as a bustling area of commerce for street vendors in the ethnically diverse community. Musician John Lee Hooker sings his now classic “Boom Boom,” with Big Walter Horton on harmonica and Pinetop Perkins on guitar, while Jake and Elwood cruise down Maxwell Street in their 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan (the Bluesmobile). The brothers then head into Soul City Café, a restaurant owned by Aretha Franklin’s character; the eatery’s real name: Nate’s Deli.
ALSO FILMED AT UIC
My Big Fat Fictional Film Shoot
It is common for films to be set in one city, but filmed in another. If you thought “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was shot in Chicago’s Greektown neighborhood, adjacent to UIC, you were duped! Toula (played by actress Nia Vardalos), the movie’s decidedly Greek heroine (whether she likes it or not), is a waitress at Dancing Zorba’s — not to be confused with the former Zorba’s House Restaurant on Halsted Street. It’s also implied that Toula takes classes at UIC. In reality, campus scenes took place at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, as was much of the rest of the picture, with a few parts filmed at Harry S. Truman College in Chicago. Opa!