Alex Pissios just finished giving a tour to a group of people who do not seem to be directly connected to the film industry. That’s fine with him.
“My Uncle Nick was big on giving back to the neighborhood,” Pissios explains. “He used to tell me that, ‘these people have lived here a long time. You need to respect them and grow with them.’”
Uncle Nick Mirkopoulos is the Greek-born Canadian who purchased the former home of Ryerson Steel and transformed it into Cinespace Studios in 2011. Although he passed away four years ago, his memory is alive and well.
This is partly due to the fact that there’s a stretch of Rockwell named after him, and partly due to the fact that Pissios, his actual nephew, speaks so warmly and frequently about Uncle Nick that everybody in the place has become part of the family.
This is also how Pissios likes to do business.
“Behind closed doors, we can have arguments — like brothers, like you’re supposed to,” he says. “But when we go out to LA, you know, we are united, like a team.”
It’s hard to imagine Pissios arguing with anyone. He is one of the most obliging, gregarious and kind people in the neighborhood.
Pissios visits the west coast two or three times a year to pitch studios on the idea of filming at Cinespace. The process involves “bringing them a nice little Chicago token, usually the pizza or the caramel corn.” He’s also courting a number of non-traditional content providers to make sure that the city doesn’t miss a beat.
Along the way, he has become the unofficial ambassador of the Chicago film industry.
“I always say, ‘what are we doing wrong, what do we gotta change, cause I never want to hear that you’re not coming,’” he explains. “If something’s bothering you, please tell me now.”
The stories that Uncle Nick used to tell about Cinespace’s Toronto location not only help motivate Pissios, but also leave him with decades of wisdom.
“In thirty years, Cinespace Toronto only had one show that lasted five years,” he explains. “When the shows go, others will come. This is the business. We just have to keep going, you know.”
His resilience will be put to the test in two days, when a major network will postpone plans to begin filming a new show at the studio this year. After learning the news, Pissios’ will remain just as obliging, gregarious and kind as he is now.
The shows aren’t the only things going well at Cincespace. There’s also DePaul University, which is “so happy” with the stage it leased for its film program a few years ago; and the CineCares Foundation, which is finding internships for underprivileged kids in the neighborhood.
Down the road, Pissios hopes to expand Cinespace into a major Hollywood-style studio, “like Warner Brothers,” with a huge back lot giving tours and rows of houses housing talent.
But right now, it’s a late summer afternoon and the place feels like a campus. Nestled alongside a classic bungalow neighborhood away from the noise of Western Ave., the 50-acre complex is home to an abundance of leafy trees and well-placed patches of grass.
In a matter of weeks, the new production season will begin, and the studios that occupy the converted factory buildings will be in the full swing of another year.
To read more “Day in the Life of Cinespace,” click here.