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Set in Chicago: DePaul Cinespace Studios hosts Comedy Central show

Natasha Major
Natasha Major lights a scene on one of DePaul's Cinespace soundstages for the Comedy Central show "South Side." Major graduated from the School of Cinematic Arts and works in Chicago as a set electrician. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
A hush came over a DePaul soundstage at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios this summer, and cameras started rolling on a scene from Comedy Central’s new show “South Side.” Inside the bungalow living room set, actors delivered their lines, and when they heard “cut” the crew buzzed around, adjusting light and sound. 

Natasha Major, a set electrician and DePaul alumna, helped to reposition lights and thread cables into the scene. “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve lit that space for all my student projects. So coming here as a professional is really cool,” says Major, who graduated from DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in digital cinema production. 

About a dozen DePaul alumni, students, faculty and staff have been involved in making the first season of “South Side” — from producers to actors. Several of those credits will go to alumni of the School of Cinematic Arts. Kevin McGrail was one of the first students to graduate from DePaul with a master’s degree in digital cinema. Now he’s assistant unit production manager on “South Side,” and when he needed to find a ready-made space to film some scenes, he knew whom to call. 

“When you are making a show so quickly like we were, it’s often hard to provide many of the needed amenities,” says McGrail. He connected with his classmate and DePaul Cinespace director John Corba to set up some filming days on DePaul’s sets. 

“I like the fact that I have alumni and faculty to work along side with in Chicago. Ten years ago, there were very few working DePaul alumni in the industry. Jump to today and we are able to staff many different types of shows with new and seasoned alumni,” McGrail says. 

Major says she’s thrilled to be one of those tapped for the show. Right after graduation, she joined Local 476, the studio mechanics union, and has since been working as a set electrician. She dreams of becoming a cinematographer and traveling the world to make documentary films, but for how she says there’s “a lot of work” in Chicago. 

“I love lighting with my hands, working with a team, and problem solving. I love that my job is physical and that I get to lift things and run cable and be responsible for equipment,” she says. So far she has worked in Chicago on a season of the Fox television show “Empire” as well as “Electric Dreams,” a science fiction series on Amazon. 

In an office on the expansive Cinespace lot, DePaul alumna Justine Marcantel was working on the logistics of a driving scene for later that afternoon on Ogden Avenue. She coordinated with local police and the crew to find the right spot to minimize disruption. Marcantel spent some time in Los Angeles after her undergraduate studies before coming to DePaul for a master’s in digital communications and media arts. 

When she arrived in Chicago, opportunities to do “production work just spiraled — indie features, reality shows, scripted series,” she says. Her teachers on DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts faculty were very understanding as she balanced school and a burgeoning career, and she graduated in June. One of her last classes was held in a room right behind where Comedy Central was filming. 

“I’ve had people ask if I’d move back to L.A. for production, and I don’t think I would,” says Marcantel, who is originally from Michigan. “I love Chicago so much, and now we’re having 10, 15 plus shows coming to Chicago to film in the summer.” 

Her advice to DePaul students? She gestures to the DePaul facilities at Cinespace and says, “You’re doing it; this is exactly how it happens. It’s not like you’re doing a student film version of the work.” 

Corba agrees. “From day one, we've always modeled our facility to be a professional production company that could acclimate to academia, not the other way around,” he says. “Now we're ranked as the No. 13 film school in the country. That's huge, but honestly not really a surprise for those of us in the program. We've been to the other schools, and no one has anything remotely close to our Cinespace facility. And the opportunities our students and alumni are now getting is really something." 

The first season of “South Side” is the brainchild of executive producers Diallo Riddle, Bashir Salahuddin and Michael Blieden. Watching it come together, McGrail admires the show’s Chicago roots. “The writing is smart. It’s light-hearted and goofy and most importantly, it’s one of the first shows in recent memory that is highlighting the south side of Chicago in a positive and comedic light. I feel it is a show that everyone will enjoy, regardless of what neighborhood you live in.”