All in favor as Amstutz is used as location for scene from TV show
By Jim Newton Special to The News-Sun March 10, 2013 1:04PM
The "Chicago Fire" TV show crew work on cameras for a shoot on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in downtown Waukegan. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media
The Amstutz is a 2.9-mile stretch of four-lane, divided highway in Waukegan that runs parallel to Lake Michigan and basically connects with Sheridan Road on the north end and with Sheridan Road again on the south end. Hence, the “road to nowhere” moniker. Most people driving on Sheridan Road stay on Sheridan rather than veer off to get onto the Amstutz. Because Sheridan Road is a viable alternative, it’s easy to close down the Amstutz for use for movies and TV shows such as Chicago Fire.
Updated: May 10, 2013 1:37AM
One small drive along the Amstutz Highway on Saturday was another big Hollywood-style shot in the arm for the City of Waukegan.
“Chicago Fire,” NBC’s firehouse action/drama TV series, used the Amstutz Highway for a driving scene in which a conversation between characters takes place in a blue SUV. The relatively minor scene was nonetheless a daylong production that drew rave reviews from city residents and officials alike.
“I think it’s a great way to use Waukegan to do something positive,” said city resident and realtor Marty Golden.
Saturday was the second time the series had shot scenes in Waukegan.
“When they first came, I saw all the fire trucks and stuff and I was like ‘what’s going on?’ It’s one of my favorite shows, now,” Golden said as he waited to observe what he could of the action on the Amstutz.
Sam Tischler, the location manager for “Chicago Fire,” said the city is an easy choice, especially for scenes in which a nice stretch of highway is needed.
“We love filming on the Amstutz,” he said. “There’s so much great highway space. Usually when you are getting on a freeway of that size, it requires a lot of traffic control.”
The relatively easy-to-clear Amstutz isn’t the only draw, he said.
“Waukegan is very film-friendly, which we appreciate,” Tischler said. “That’s not always the case, even with cities of the same size.”
Waukegan spokesman David Motley said movie shoots are a benefit monetarily for the city and economically for local businesses, as well as good publicity. “Chicago Fire” rented a lot on Water Street for a staging area Saturday, paid for traffic control and security help from the Waukegan Police Department and bought breakfast and lunch for at least 60 crew members from the Paragon Restaurant in Waukegan.
As a result of its its first shoot in Waukegan, the city received about $25,000, Motley said. The city has also been home to scenes in the movies “Ice Harvest,” “Batman Begins,” “A Wedding” and “Groundhog Day.”
Waukegan Police Commander Gabe Guzman said “Chicago Fire” paid for the use of six officers Saturday. Guzman did a drive-along on the Amstutz with the show prior to the shooting of the scene to clear what the crew would be doing and ensure that traffic would be handled safely.
“We’re all for it. It’s great for us to do something like this,” Guzman said. “It’s nothing but positive.”
Waukegan resident Joe Fontaine, who watched some of the filming Saturday, said he hopes Waukegan continues to encourage such projects.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Waukegan. It’s a win-win for the show and us,” he said. “They should utilize it more.”
Joan Westphal of Waukegan said she saw the trailers and equipment Saturday morning and wasn’t sure what was going on, but was glad to find out it was “Chicago Fire.” “I watch it and I think it’s great,” she said.
Westphal added that she doesn’t mind the Amstutz being shut down for such projects ,noting that most locals use Sheridan Road anyway, and that bypassing the Amstutz for a short time, as well as bringing in crews from the show, is good for the city.
“They get to see the downtown and maybe they come into the restaurants,” she said.
Across Water Street from the staging area, a small audience watched as the vehicle and its trailer were prepped for the scene.
As he looked on, resident Paul Martinez said he had never seen Chicago Fire, but he will watch from now on.
“Oh yeah, definitely. It’s awesome for the city,” he said.
Beach Park 16-year-old Justina Hernandez came with her father to watch the action, and although there were no actors visible at the time, she held up a poster with a large red heart that said “I love Chicago Fire.”
That certainly seemed to be the sentiment around town.