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Blockbuster summer awaits movie-set fans

Divergent, Jupiter Ascending and Transformers bring Hollywood to Chicago

Luis Gomez

7:21 PM EDT, June 23, 2013

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There's a good chance you will cross paths with one of the many projects filming in Chicago this summer — especially if you work or live downtown. After all, there are three major-studio movies and five (possibly six) TV series scheduled to shoot in and around the city during that time. Rather than be one of those passersby who inevitably walks by the set and says things like, "They made an '80s toy line into a movie?" "Are they filming 'E.R.'?" or "What's a Channing Tatum?" why not prepare yourself for what could be one of the busiest summers of filming in Chicago history?

You'll be the envy of everyone on their smoke or lunch break and tourists who don't know what they're taking photos of.

First up is the post-apocalyptic sci-fi film "Divergent," starring Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants"), which began shooting in April and will wrap in mid- to late July. (Maybe you saw the housing project development they built in a field in the South Loop?). The movie based on the young-adult novels by Northwestern University alum Veronica Roth is set in a futuristic Chicago, so much of the filming has taken place on indoor sets at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on the West Side.

"Chicago doesn't look like it's been fully operational for hundreds of years in the story," said Chicago Film Office director Rich Moskal. "Filming outdoors would be complicated, but they still managed to do some (filming outside), like on LaSalle and Madison (streets). They removed all kinds of street furniture, like light poles, and dressed it up to make it look decayed."

The Snow White-like "Jupiter Ascending," directed by the Beverly-raised Wachowski siblings ("The Matrix"), is scheduled to film in Chicago July 12 to Aug. 27 and revolves around a janitor (played by Mila Kunis) destined to become the queen of the universe, and the bounty hunter (Tatum) sent to Earth by the current queen to kill her. Most of the filming in Chicago will be exterior scenes, said Moskal, and will include helicopters in some capacity.

(The city gave Warner Bros. permission "to conduct landings and takeoffs of rotary-wing aircraft in … portions of downtown Chicago," according to an ordinance passed earlier this month.)

The most anticipated film to hit Chicago this summer will likely be the sequel to "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," which famously shut down Michigan Avenue during filming in 2010. The franchise is scheduled to return for filming Aug. 11 to Sept. 20 — now with Mark Wahlberg ("The Fighter") as the lead — and is set four years after the destruction in the previous film. How will Chicago's role in the next "Transformers" compare to its role in the last one?

"So much of that was the battle sequence," Moskal said of the Chicago scenes in "Dark of the Moon." "It had to be about 30 minutes (of screen time). … This time, I don't think we'll get quite the same treatment. But they're still developing story ideas."

In addition to the three big movies, the TV series filming here full-time in 2013 will likely help the state top last year's record-breaking year in revenue from the film and TV industries. "Chicago Fire," which begins shooting Season 2 in late July, is the lone full-time series shot in Chicago to return (expect more scenes at Lottie's Pub in Bucktown — or Molly's, as it's known on the show), and will be accompanied by its NBC spinoff, "Chicago PD," which begins filming in early September. NBC's "Crisis," starring Gillian Anderson ("The X-Files"), and ABC's "Mind Games," starring Christian Slater ("True Romance") and Steve Zahn ("Treme"), will start shooting in late August. Also shooting here this summer will be ABC's "Betrayal," featuring James Cromwell ("Babe"). USA Network's "Sirens," produced by Denis Leary ("Rescue Me"), has yet to announce filming dates. And don't forget Showtime's "Shameless," which will shoot exterior scenes for Season 4 in Chicago in the fall.

Moskal doesn't see the large number of projects filming in Chicago this year as a coincidence. He likes to think of it as "the new normal."

"It sort of started last year when we had four full-time TV series shooting here. Our tax incentive is becoming well understood throughout the industry," said Moskal, who also credits the emergence of Cinespace. "It takes a while for that to be recognized. Believe me, Hollywood evaluates its decisions carefully, but sometimes they go where they've been going for a long time, like Louisiana. 'Where did we shoot the last one? Let's go back there.' It takes a while for the word of mouth to catch up."

With so many projects filming here this summer, is there a risk Chicago might get overexposed on camera and become too trendy of an option?

"There probably is," Moskal said. "Part of Christopher Nolan's decision to take ('The Dark Knight') franchise to Pittsburgh was due to the fact that he'd already shot so many places here in 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' and probably wanted new places. But I think there's a lot of diversity here. Chicago's character extends far beyond downtown."

Big time: The 15th season of CBS' "Big Brother" premieres Wednesday and will feature Chicago residents Andy Herren, a professor at College of DuPage and aspiring improv actor, and Helen Kim, a political consultant who moved here from Virginia. The winning houseguest will receive a $500,000 grand prize.

About this week: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros will perform Friday at the World's Largest Block Party at Old St. Pat's Church. Phil Vassar and Gretchen Wilson will play there Saturday.

Sightings: NBA legend Michael Jordan and golfer Luke Donald dined Tuesday at Siena Tavern. … Mekhi Phifer had dinner Saturday at Paris Club before heading upstairs to Studio Paris. His "Divergent" co-star Ray Stevenson hung out Saturday at Cuvee. … Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, had dinner June 14 at David Burke's Primehouse in The James hotel. … Disturbed singer David Draiman and his wife and former WWE Diva Lena Yada visited The Squared Circle on Tuesday. … Rocker Tom Morello dined Thursday at Quartino. … Before their show Wednesday at Metro, members of the band Fitz and the Tantrums dined at Rockit Burger Bar in Wrigleyville.

lgomez@tribune.com