Eric Garcetti's New Film Czar Faces Uphill Battle, Experts Warn

Tim Appelo
Eric Garcetti's New Film Czar Faces Uphill Battle, Experts Warn

At his June 30 inauguration, new Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti cheered Hollywood by vowing to appoint a new L.A. film czar and help stem runaway production.

"I don't know what they're waiting for," warns production manager J.J. Hook. "Since 2011, I've only worked three hours in L.A., and the rest all over the country. Bring me home!"

California's share of America's entertainment employment plunged from 47 percent in 1997 to 40 percent in 2010.

"I mean, we have about 40 percent of TV production,"  FilmLA president Paul Audley tells THR. "It used to be 85 percent. We're doing virtually no features. Last week the Association of Film Commissioners from all over the world and 30 US states came here specifically to take business away from L.A."

“Having a strong voice for Los Angeles production in the mix at the municipal level will add even greater momentum to all the industry’s efforts to stem the tide of lost production in California,” says Ilyanne Morden-Kichaven, SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles Local Executive Director.

"It's a righting of the ship," says Kevin Klowden, director of the Milken Center California Institute. "A film czar provides an effective, single point of contact for the industry that there hasn't been in years, to cut red tape, address permitting costs, ease the process of establishing filming locations, provide sales or business tax incentives, or fast-track develop permitting processes for upgrading studio spaces."

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Most important, the film czar can help Garcetti lobby Sacramento for higher state film tax incentives next year. "And look who's on the city council now -- Felipe Fuentes," notes Klowden. Fuentes was formerly the Assemblyman who sponsored California's $100-million-a-year subsidy. "Eric has been a tremendous supporter of film," says Audley. With Garcetti, Fuentes, and the film czar in place, things could get better fast for local production.

In practical terms, the film czar will provide FilmLA, a private firm with a city contract to coordinate film production in the LA area, with a heavy-hitter voice in Sacramento -- it is forbidden from lobbying -- and a local public leader and advocate. At present, notes Audley, FilmLA has more responsibility than power.

"Having someone to get us through the city's bureaucracy and decision-making process would be valuable," says Audley. "We run into issues where a staffer was laid off and not replaced, and they were the person who dealt with filming, so we needed to fight to get someone to handle our calls."

A year and a half ago, FilmLA staffers started getting tickets despite their contractor placards, because parking enforcement workers presumed that if there were no film trucks next to a car, it was being used for personal reasons. Actually, the FilmLA people in lone vehicles were monitoring sets or doing two-day-ahead notifications of shoots. "It took us six months to find the right people in parking enforcement."

Garcetti promises to speed up the filmmaking process, which Audley says can be sluggish. "When The Dark Knight had questions about stripping all the leaves from trees to make it look like winter, or replacing trees on a two-for-one basis, we had to find the right authorities. When Inception needed to put rain towers on every street to crash a locomotive into a car on 6th Avenue downtown -- that wasn't CGI, it was real -- we needed to talk to the waste water folks. If I had someone in the Mayor's office who could say, 'Please take this call,' instead of moving my way up a chain of everybody, explaining, 'It's FilmLA, we're actually the city film office, here's why we need to do this, who do we talk to?' it would be a lot quicker."

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Things need to be easier in L.A., because rival cities are stepping up their game. "Permitting is a lot easier and cheaper in Pittsburgh is a lot easier -- not so many rules, more forgiving," says location manager Paul Schreiber. New York Mayor Bloomberg sweetens the state's $420 million tax incentive with local film incentives, dwarfing L.A.'s.

"New York has advantages over L.A.," says Klowden. "The Mayor's office has more control over incentives, partly because the city has its own income taxes and its own incentives. New York's Mayor has more power than LA's in terms of facilitating shoots and permitting costs."  Still, Klowden believes, Garcetti and his film czar may provide "just enough improvement to make the difference between filming in the city or elsewhere."

If the film czar can win over Sacramento as well as LA parking enforcers, that will be the paramount achievement. "Success in Sacramento would double or triple the impact of the film czar," says Klowden. The political obstacles are huge. "We have this weird thing where typically Republicans like business incentives, but Republicans aren't thrilled with Hollywood," says Audley. "Democrats don't like incentives -- they call it 'corporate welfare' -- but they love Hollywood. So we have this schizophrenia in Sacramento."

"It's not Republican and Democrat," says Klowden, "it's everybody in California vs. L.A. If you're the San Francisco film commission, you want to pull your hair out." Klowden says that politically, the incentives must reach out further from LA's center, to spread the benefits and support for incentives around.

To win in L.A. and statewide, the film czar will have to be a heavy hitter. "Peter Chernin would be great -- somebody with a high enough profile that people will take him seriously," says Klowden. "But it's a public servant position, and there's a limit to how much they can pay. Chernin is gonna say, 'Yeah...maybe.'"

Whoever takes the job, it had better be soon, experts warn.

"I don't think California has a lot of time left to get in this worldwide game," says Audley.