When film studio executive Nikolaos “Nick” Mirkopoulos died in 2013, he left his film studio legacy to a relative, Alex Pissios. Pissios, who started the U.S. branch of Mirkopoulos’ Canadian film empire, went from filing for bankruptcy to becoming a significant film industry player in just three years. He grew the film studio, based in Chicago, to the largest in North America before selling it last year. The story of how Mirkopoulos left that empire to Pissios is a story of the fulfillment of an American dream and of how a Midwest city became the Hollywood of the Midwest.
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The Beginning for Nick Mirkopoulos
Nick Mirkopoulos, also known as “Nick the Greek,” was born in Greece and trained as an electrician there. In the mid-1960s, Seimens hired him for a job in Germany. The stint in Germany opened his eyes to international opportunities, and he decided to move to Canada. In Toronto, he and his two brothers started a contracting business restoring landmarks. He realized that Canada needed film studios and bought an old 250,000-square-foot warehouse on Eastern Avenue in 1988, which he and his brothers renovated, and his film empire was born.
Mirkopoulos turned the warehouse into the first large-scale production studio in Toronto and called it Cinespace Film Studio. After that, he developed three more large-scale studio complexes in Toronto, one of which he permanently designated as exclusively for underwater filming. Another studio, Marine 28, was the filming site of Chicago, the only movie filmed in Canada to win the Oscar for best picture. Cinespace has become one of the largest film studios in Canada.
The Beginning for Alex Pissios
Alex Pissios was born in Chicago. He attended Northeastern Illinois University and planned to be a special education teacher like his father. Instead, his uncle, John Mirkopoulos, persuaded him to run his fur and leather business. He later entered the real estate development field until that industry crashed in the late 2000s. He owed creditors more than $13 million.
Pissios received an invitation to a cousin’s wedding in Toronto. He lacked the money to attend, so the cousin paid his way. At that wedding, he struck up a conversation with Nick Mirkopoulos, another relative, who Pissios called “Uncle Nick.” Mirkopoulos asked Pissios to send him copies of his loan documents when he got home. Pissios did, and Nick Mirkopoulos decided Pissios needed another career because his debts were so high that he’d never be able to return to real estate. He flew to Chicago and gave Pissios the money to file for bankruptcy.
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After that, Mirkopoulos asked Pissios to find him a 100,000-square-foot building in Chicago that was large enough to accommodate three soundstages. In 2011, Pissios found and bought the former Ryerson Steel complex in the North Lawndale neighborhood. Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program gave the team a $5 million grant to build the first five stages of what became Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.
Mirkopoulos and Pissios traveled to California to convince executives that their Chicago studio offered a greater value for producing movies. Their pitch worked, and Mirkopoulos put Pissios in charge of developing the Chicago business. During its first five years, the studio’s annual revenue doubled to $1.3 million.
The studio has produced many important movies and TV series, including Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, The Dark Knight, Superman v Batman, Transformers, and Divergent. It currently has 31 soundstages in its original location and three others in a nearby neighborhood. More than a dozen projects film simultaneously on any given day.
Chicago magazine called the Cineplex Chicago Film Studio the “Hollywood of the Midwest” and praised it for creating more than 15,000 jobs and infusing billions of dollars of revenue into Chicago and the rest of Illinois.
Honoring the Legacy
Pissios honored Mirkopoulos’ legacy by building such a large, successful studio. But he and his two brothers also honor Mirkopoulos’ legacy in other ways. Nick Mirkopoulos gave back to the community, supporting many charities, including several hospitals, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, DePaul University’s School of Cinema, the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, and the Ark of the World children’s charity of Greece.
Likewise, Alex Pissios and his brothers are philanthropists. They’ve created The CineCares Foundation in honor and memory of Nick Mirkopoulos. The foundation’s goal is to allow low-income Chicago residents to receive free or reduced education in television and film. The foundation operates the Mirkopoulos Apprenticeship Program that partners with community organizations to teach youth and young adults the skills they need to work on productions at the Cinespace Chicago campus.
As CEO of Cinespace Chicago, Pissios started an annual Christmas party in the North Lawndale neighborhood for 500 local children and their families. The Anixter Center has honored him for raising more than $800,000 to support the center’s outreach to persons with disabilities.
Alex Pissios sold Cinespace Chicago to TPG Real Estate in November 2021 and is transitioning out as CEO. One project he’s working on will help young adults with special needs to find jobs. He remembers how much Mirkopoulos’ faith in him made a difference in his life. He also heard many speak at Mirkopoulos’ funeral about how much his faith in them changed their lives. He wants to continue that legacy.