Alex Pissios: From Real Estate to ‘Reel Estate’ — SelfGrowth
California and New York are the states most people think of when the conversation turns to film production. That makes sense, because they’re first and second in the nation for producing new movies and television shows. Despite the advantage coastal states have in the film industry, Illinois has become a serious contender thanks to Alex Pissios. The launch of Cinespace Chicago in 2010 put the Midwest on the map for film production. Illinois now ranks seventh, a feat that would have been unheard of before Pissios’ investment in Chicago.
The Rise of the Chicago Film Industry, in Alex Pissios’ Own Words
Nick Mirkopoulos, a distant relative Pissios refers to as Uncle Nick, launched and operated Cinespace in Toronto. Looking to expand into the United States, he put Pissios in charge of opening a branch in Chicago. Uncle Nick’s offer couldn’t have come at a better time. Pissios, a former commercial real estate agent in Chicago, had been unemployed for a year after the 2008–2009 industry crash.
Not only was Cinespace the turning point in Pissios’ life, but it also spurred incredible economic growth in Chicago. Here’s how he recently described it:
“Before us, they were maybe getting one movie here and there, one TV show here and there. Now there are, I think, 14 things filming in Chicago at the same time. It went from 200 to 300 people in the IATSE union and now there are thousands. We have created 20,000 jobs in Chicago since we opened. The amount of revenue and taxes from the hotels is amazing. Then you throw in the film crews going out to eat and shopping while they are here in Chicago.”
Unfortunately, COVID threatened to undo all the contributions Alex Pissios made to Chicago within a matter of months. After Cinespace got the OK from Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker to reopen after pandemic shutdowns, Chicago experienced a growing economy once again. Film production created a trickle-down effect, stimulating economic recovery across the city and state.
Cinespace Chicago has provided jobs for 17,200 Illinois residents who have earned a combined income of $1.17 billion. Chicago, and Illinois as a whole, would be in a different place without it.
Recognizing this, film industry representatives are currently lobbying the Illinois legislature for an expansion of the film production tax credit. Passage of a new bill would provide greater assistance for an industry hit hard by coronavirus. Increasing tax benefits would also allow Illinois to compete with other states and improve its current seventh-place ranking.
Helping Others in the Middle of Chaos
Cinespace had to close its doors during the first days of the pandemic like most other businesses. Almost overnight, actors, stage crew, and everyone involved in production found themselves out of work. Alex Pissios certainly understood what that felt like. He helped displaced workers by allowing the city to use 20,000 feet of studio space for a food bank depository. Pissios also hosted an appreciation dinner for 200 local workers in the health care industry.
The CineCares Foundation Internship Program
Alex Pissios wasn’t content to just stimulate the economy in Chicago and throughout Illinois. He also wanted to equip underprivileged people living near Cinespace with skills that would last them a lifetime. Having this desire is what prompted him to launch the CineCares Foundation. Here’s how he describes the foundation’s internship program:
“I always tell people what I’m most proud of is the CineCares Foundation, which we started to honor Uncle Nick. CineCares Foundation probably has the best internship program in the city of Chicago or state of Illinois.
“I started noticing that North Lawndale, one of Cinespace’s locations, is a predominantly Black neighborhood. Our workforce was not looking like our neighbors, so I started this internship program. I partnered with NBC first and Dick Wolf Films. We took kids from this underserved community and gave them a paid internship right after high school graduation. They also had a pathway where I pay the $5,000 to become a union member.
“These kids were getting jobs making $40,000 to $60,000 a year out of high school after the internship program. The Academy Awards partnered with me. That’s what I’m most proud of, and it’s still going strong. Our buyer [Pissios sold Cinespace in November 2021] took on the CineCares program and was happy to do so. I believe in providing opportunities to overlooked populations and that meaningful jobs are what changes the next generation.”
Chicago Continues to Thrive in Film and Television Production Despite the Challenges
Neither a housing market collapse nor a worldwide pandemic can stop Alex Pissios from making Chicago a better place. Before selling Cinespace, he helped the company bring in $700 million for the local economy just over one summer. Illinois increased film production tax credits last year, and studios, filmmakers, and networks took advantage of the opportunity. The hope is that the state legislature will do the same in 2022.
Pissios worked with Chicago Force, a newly launched workforce development initiative, to find skilled workers last summer. Chicago Force specifically recruited people with trade skills that could easily transfer to film production. For example, people with carpentry skills could work on stage construction.
Despite their experience, skilled carpenters may have never applied to film production openings because they lacked industry connections. Most applicants belong to one or more minority groups. Alex Pissios partnered with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to fill the openings with minority workers. The partnership reflects his belief in giving people opportunities by lining them up with well-paying jobs with purpose.
Alex Pissios Plans to Make Full-Time Philanthropy His New Career
Pissios has been giving back to the community since the launch of Cinespace. However, working long hours as its CEO often left little time to become as involved as he would have liked. After selling Cinespace in November 2021, Alex Pissios’ next goal is to spend most of his time as a philanthropist. He will continue to provide job and education opportunities for people often overlooked by society. Pissios is especially interested in helping low-income people living in high-crime neighborhoods and young adults with special needs.
Pissios doesn’t seek accolades for his philanthropy. He feels it’s the least he can do after the kindness he received from his Uncle Nick. As the son of Greek immigrants, Pissios would do anything he can to benefit Chicago. He grew up in the Windy City, and it will always hold special significance for him. He’s optimistic when others feel discouraged, a trait that makes him shine as a business leader and philanthropist.