In 2007, Alex Pissios, a real estate developer and his uncle Nick Mirkopoulos started Cinespace Film Studios in Chicago, which today is the biggest independent movie studio outside of Hollywood.
Nick launched Cinespace Film Studios in Toronto 20 years earlier. The family’s film business was never planned and unexpected for Nick who was an electrician and decided, along with his brothers, after they arrived in Toronto from Greece in the late 1960s to buy and repurpose old commercial and industrial buildings. It was in the mid 1980s when Nick took the opportunity to convert some of those buildings into film studios.
The Cinespace Film Studios in Toronto are known for hosting many hit TV series and films, including "Chicago," which won an Oscar for best picture, and "Handmaid's Tale," a Hulu series that won a 2018 Golden Globe nomination for best actress. With such a huge success, Nick wanted to expand.
At the same time, his nephew Alex Pissios and his wife Patricia, along with their four children, were in a tough situation with the real estate collapse and were facing bankruptcy and eviction from their family home.
It was at a cousin's wedding that Alex and Nick, an uncle he barely knew, struck up a conversation that led to a huge change in both their lives. Nick paid off Alex's 11 million dollar debt and the two struck up a family partnership, launching Cinespace Film Studios in Chicago.
Today, Cinespace Chicago brings Hollywood to Chicago, specialising in the development, management and operation of studio space and support facilities for the film, television, and digital media production industry.
Pissios claims Cinespace has helped create 7,500 film-related jobs since it opened and has contributed billions of dollars in revenue to the local economy.
Cinespace is now home to producer Dick Wolf's successful "Chicago" franchise — Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, as well as TV shows Empire and Shameless, and productions from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Several feature films have also been produced here, including "Divergent" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."
In 2015, Cinespace Chicago launched an incubator for filmmakers called Stage 18 to provide workspace, programming and event space to help develop the local filmmaking community. Its goal is to keep local talent from leaving for opportunities in Los Angeles and New York City, and also organises events such as script feedback for budding filmmakers, plus the opportunity to pitch projects to investors.
To give back to the community, Cinespace Chicago also expanded and offers nearby DePaul University space for classes that teach filmmaking to the next generation of artists, as well as establishing the CineCares Foundation, providing Chicago residents with education and job training in TV and film. The family is very charitable and are always willing to support the community.
Pissios looking ahead into the future, says his dream is to create a back lot on Cinespace's property where building façades can be made to look like New York City brownstones or cities like London and Paris. It would be the only back lot outside of Los Angeles, and he says it would save filmmakers time and money by eliminating the need to shoot on location.
For the moment though, Pissios never loses sight of one of the biggest lessons he learned from his late uncle, who passed away in 2013. "He always told me to do things from my heart," he says. "Nick was a very stern and smart businessman. He didn't give handouts; he gave people opportunities. If he believed in you, he gave you a chance, always.” In his office, Pissios keeps a framed copy of his eviction notice, a gift from Uncle Nick. "He wanted me to remember where I came from, and I do," he points out. "Every day, I come to work with a smile on my face, and I try to find ways to pay this forward."