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Letters & Comments, November 26, 2009 

The death of Gino Bartucci has been greatly miscalculated

A Bit of a Stretch

In "My Mozzarella," published November 19, I reported—due to a miscommunication with my source, Carmelo Pugliese—that Gino's Italian Imports had closed because its owner, Gino Bartucci, had died. Though his store did close, Bartucci is very much alive. He currently owns a gallery called La Bomboniera and co-owns the pasta shop and restaurant Pasta Fresh, both on Harlem near Addison. He's recently been cheerfully fielding phone calls from friends demanding to know why he didn't invite them to his funeral. Says Bartucci, "Gino's Italian Imports died a little bit, but not Gino Bartucci." His imports store may soon be resurrected as well: Bartucci wants to reopen it if he can find enough time.

Julia Thiel

Chicagoans in the Industry

I am writing in response to Deanna Isaacs's article "Is a Soundstage a Sound Investment?", published November 19—a skeptical (at best) examination of the state of Illinois' plans to offset the expenses of converting the empty Ryerson Steel plant into a series of stages for use in motion picture production. In her article, Ms. Isaacs misconstrues the work of another writer, and then, with seemingly no familiarity with her subject—delivers a lackluster assessment of Chicago's film community. I have already responded to Ms. Isaacs directly, on your Web edition.

In her article, Ms. Isaacs leans heavily on a five-page summary of a forthcoming report by Professor Susan Christopherson, of Cornell University. At the center of Christopherson's work lies the question: "Can new, sustainable industries really be built in cities and states that have no history of media industry investment, nor a sizable skilled production workforce?" Christopherson discusses reaction to (and criticisms of) state subsidies of film production in Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The criticisms include the inability of such subsidies to, by themselves, create the environment producers need to work in those markets, and she implies that without such favorable environments, subsidies do not pay off for producers, or the states that offer them. She eventually concludes that producers and studios are dependent on an already existing, and sizable, infrastructure, or: "a complex concentration of specialized businesses that serve them. These include specialized lawyers and accountants, payroll companies, equipment rental companies, casting companies, agents, and technical specialists in all the fields that go into film and television production."

Christopherson's quote is an adequate description of what the state of Illinois, and particularly Chicago—currently offer, but all of this is apparently lost on Deanna Isaacs, whose lack of knowledge regarding the Chicago motion picture industry seems profound. Regarding the employment of local crew, Isaacs contends that such work: "typically ranges from a couple days of hairdressing to a couple weeks of carpentry." I must take exception with her finding. A typical (modest budget) feature film with a 30-day shoot schedule is going to require as much as a month's prep time, give or take a couple of weeks—depending on the particular job. Carpenters might begin work well over a month before a single frame of film has been shot. Then, the 30 shoot days (six weeks of shooting) followed by wrap weeks—at least one week, and frequently more. So—the six-week shoot schedule might create any number of jobs that run as long as 12 weeks or more, and—again, I'm talking about a low-to-medium budget project. Large projects, like The Dark Knight, effectively double all of those numbers. But, what kind of jobs, and how many people, am I talking about?

In her response to me, Ms. Isaacs contends that she has been trying to answer that question, but she does not say how. Evidently, she did not call the offices of IATSE Local 476. IATSE Local 476 does not represent everybody who works in this market—just 800 painters, carpenters, medics, property masters, set dressers, recording engineers, boom operators, electricians, grips, riggers, script supervisors, craft service/catering workers, laborers, special effects techs, and hair and make-up stylists. Camera operators have their own Local. Costumers have their own Local. And then there are location managers, and assistant directors (members of the DGA), all of the production department employees who work in the offices and on sets, the drivers from Teamsters Local 714, and the many vendors, and employees of rental houses and stages all over Chicago and the suburbs.

So, there are hundreds of skilled workers in this market—a whole community of individuals who make their livings this way: they buy houses, pay taxes, clothe and educate their children, and pay for durable goods with the money they earn making motion pictures. If she had called the Chicago Film Office, or the Illinois Film Office, agencies that exist, in large part, to compile the sort of information she claims to seek—they would have put her in contact with this community.

Simply put—Isaacs did not do her homework. Yet, she had the "soapbox" for a week, while the Reader moved from coffee shop, to CTA train, to office, to home—potentially influencing public opinion along the way.

Robert Yale

Member

IATSE Local 476

20-year veteran of the Chicago film industry

Deanna Isaacs replies:

For more on Chicago's infrastructure, please see my new column in this issue. I asked both the Illinois Film Office and IATSE how many people are working in the film industry here. Marcelyn Love, spokesperson for the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, says it's difficult to get a firm number, but there are 6,348 Illinois members in relevant unions including SAG, IATSE, and others (costumers, cinematographers, directors), plus vendor companies with employees who may or may not be union members. The firmest number available seems to come from the Illinois Film Office, which reports that in 2007, the biggest film production year that Illinois has ever had, "Illinois film industry activity supported more than 4,000 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) jobs."

But in March of this year Illinois had an employed workforce of more than 5.5 million. If 2007 was comparable, the film industry, in its best year, "actively supported" less than one-tenth of one percent of that workforce. We might want to subsidize this industry because we value it and it can showcase our city. But right now we're kicking in 30 percent of the cost of television commercials in which the city's usually not even visible. The current incentives, put in place at the end of last year, were touted as a way to create jobs and bring money to the local economy. If that's the case, the public should have specific information about what it's costing and exactly what we're getting back.

Fancy Food

Re: "Meet the Mangalitsas: Local chefs invest in a rare breed of pig said to be the Wagyu of the pork world," by Mike Sula, November 12

Good story. I'm happy to see a farmer carve out a niche and more importantly have a market to sell his hogs. The whole food issue the Reader did was enjoyable to read, but as I read more about this push in the food world to a certain type of agricultural production nowhere is it mentioned the actual expense to the consumer. We might complain that food is too cheap (and I'll heartily agree there's a lot of crap out there masquerading as food) but there's the flip side—affordability. Granted not everyone is going to be able to buy this pork and that's not his market—fine. But it seems all stories about agricultural production are focused on small farmers in small markets selling to people who can afford to pay a lot of money for that product. Yet what happens when that market dries up because the person who didn't think twice of paying $6 a pound for grass-fed hamburger or $5 for a dozen free-range eggs loses his job? Given national unemployment is at 10 percent and rising, the number of "food insecure" (aka hungry) people in the U.S. is growing, making good food affordable has to be considered.

Keep up the nice profiles of area farmers and chefs. It's always good to see someone striking out on their own. But I'd like to see how the food culture can reconcile the growing number of hungry with higher cost of food.

Debbie

Vocalo's Virtues

Re: "WBEZ Staffers Want to Talk Turkey: And they think their boss, Torey Malatia, is focusing on the trimmings," by Michael Miner, November 19

Back when Vocalo was still the "Secret Radio Project," it was presented as a highly cost-effective radio/Web hybrid, with an alleged firewall between their resources and WBEZ. The online aspect was to include new ways to solicit listener donations—which hasn't happened. The radio aspect was key to the low cost as it would use a pre-existing tower with a radio boost. The problem is, this plan relied on a zoning change which didn't get approved. Instead of scaling back and trying again, Malatia spent more than the project's entire budget building a new tower.

This is the start of Vocalo's financial woes, which started to drain WBEZ. Vocalo had no money for PR and marketing of their initial rollout.

Now Torey admits Vocalo "has not yet built visibility or loyalty consistent with norms for successful internet startups, and remains a costly early stage venture for us."

The problem is, after two years Vocalo is strangely low profile considering how attention can be generated with low budget tactics in new media. Beyond the Public Radio insider discussions and Reader investigations, it's so low it almost seems like they can't or won't seek a larger audience.

Maybe it's because Vocalo can't afford any more bandwidth than it already uses. Maybe because WBEZ listeners still aren't being told their money is being given to the project. Maybe it's because Vocalo's mission and purpose remains ill-formed and/or badly executed.

Vocalo—and WBEZ—seems increasingly more like an expression of Malatia's own midlife crisis—expressed by attempts to be hip online and the street—more than a well-organized attempt to create the next level in public media.

My Opinion

Tracking Greyhounds

Re: "What's Really Happening to Dairyland's Greyhounds," posted by Sam Adams, November 21

"Operation Dairyland"—the closing of Dairyland Greyhound Park—can be followed at a Web site hosted by the Greyhound Alliance: www.greyhoundalliance.org. The site provides the most recent information/status of the closing. Dogs that are available to adoption groups are posted and regularly updated; most of the dogs will be moved to groups after 1/1/10. There is a link for individuals interested in adopting to find their local adoption organization. Upcoming hauls, fundraising events, and news will be posted. Individuals can donate to support the dogs and subsidize transportation, and 100% of donations will go to the dogs. Thus far, there has been (as we expected and very much appreciate), a fantastic outpouring of support from the public and the greyhound adoption network.

Linda Cliffel

Adoption Coordinator

Central Illinois Greyhound Adoption

Government Opacity

Re: "A Kink in the Campaign: If his challenge to Deb Mell's nominating petition succeeds, state rep candidate Joe Laiacona just might run unopposed in the Democratic primary. But can a leather master actually win in the general election?" by Hunter Clauss, November 19

I'm the "Gryphon" mentioned in the article, and I said "He IS the lesser evil" not "might be." Mr. Rinella is a capable, intelligent, reasonable person, who happens to lead an alternative lifestyle. He would make an excellent addition to any governing body, not because his lifestyle makes him any more honest, any more communicative or any better than anyone else, but because that's just how he happens to be, whether or not his black leather couches dominate his living room.

Gryphon

I will add to Gryphon's comments (I'm the "Tutivillus" who created DungeonPlace and the podcast mentioned).

I can tell you (as I mentioned in a previous comment) that our comments were certainly taken out of context. I would support Joe and vote for him in a heartbeat if I was able (sorry, I'm not in Chicago). My support would not be due to Lifestyle loyalty. I know about him because I've studied who he is, what he stands for and his views on the things that matter to me. I agree with many of those things. That is why I would support him.

Again. Transparency. His lifestyle shouldn't matter, his integrity should. Joe has integrity, that's why he's got the respect of *many* world-wide.

Tutivillus

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