RIVER NORTH — There’s a spot at State and Erie, two floors below the Chinese consulate and just down the hall from a same-day surgery office that’s become quite a secret celebrity hot spot.
No, it’s not the hot yoga studio Lady Gaga rented out to rehab her ailing hip last year. But her boyfriend, “Chicago Fire” heartthrob Taylor Kinney, is a regular.
On any given day there could be as many as 25 actors — from “Chicago PD” stars Jason Beghe and Marina Squerciati to "Chicago Fire"’s Lauren German and Eamonn Walker — popping in to take care of business at Bam Studios in River North.
Recently, I spotted "Chicago Fire" actor Jesse Spencer recording lines there when I stopped by to finish up narration for the final episode of CNN’s “Chicagoland.”
And I couldn’t help but blush when Bam Studios owner Brian Reed told me that I’ve shared a microphone with "Chicago PD"'s Sophia Bush, arguably the hottest cop in TV history.
“This is a pretty amazing time for the film industry in Chicago,” Reed said. “And celebrities absolutely love Chicago. Some of the actresses freeze their ass off, but they love this city to death and tell us all the time how great people are here. And I tell them that’s because we’re from Chicago. It’s not like L.A. We don’t see them as just stars, we see them as people.”
It’s no secret that Chicago’s become at least a part-time home to more celebrities as it’s grown into a Hollywood boomtown fueled by the six TV series, three movies and unprecedented number of commercials that pumped a record-breaking $358 million into the local economy last year.
You’ve probably heard about all the film locations and how the industry boom has pushed Cinespace Chicago Film Studios and Chicago Studio City on the West Side to expand its stages to keep up with the crush of new business headed our way from Hollywood.
But the crush of film work also has fueled a demand for Chicago post-production outfits like Bam, a boutique audio recording studio that specializes in automatic dialogue replacement.
“The huge push in production earned us a reputation for doing [audio recording] work that’s typically done in Hollywood or New York,” Reed said. “Studios call and say they have an actor who happens to be in Chicago and we need to have him record new audio for a scene once production is over. The fact that this work is being done in Chicago is a big deal.”
Bam Studios counts Pixar and Wolf Films, the production company led by executive producer Dick Wolf and best known for creating the "Law & Order" franchise, along with "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago PD," among its top clients. But the place is also used for recording radio and TV commercials and video game narration, among other things.
Reed, 49, grew up in suburban Palatine and got his first recording industry job in Chicago when he decided against working for a new sound studio opening in Minneapolis called Paisley Park.
“I didn’t want to work in Minneapolis, no way,” Reed said. “As it turned out, Paisley Park is Prince’s studio. My friend in college, Eddie Miller, took that job, helped build the studio and became Prince’s engineer on so many gold records.”
Reed, who lives in Streeterville, got his start with a studio that specialized in radio and TV advertising. After it went belly up in 1999, he turned his spare bedroom into a sound booth and started a company under his childhood nickname.
“I’ve been a drummer since age 9. My sister called me 'Bam Bam' because I was always banging on s---,” he said. “That’s where the name Bam Studios came from.”
After years of steady growth, Bam Studios has become a name that Chicago’s little slice of Hollywood has gotten to pretty know well.
“You, know, I’m still amazed when the phone rings and we’re getting hired to record all these celebrities on big shows and movies,” Reed said. “I’m honored because it shows they trust us. And not just because we have the acoustic facility and the gear and the knowledge to do it right, but we also make this place inviting and comfortable. They know we give a s--- about them. We’re Chicagoans.”