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On Location

Hollywood not opening doors to Bring Hollywood Home Foundation

July 24, 2012|By Richard Verrier
  • A film crew sets up lights and cameras for an episode of the television series "Franklin & Bash" on the lawn of Los Angeles City Hall.
A film crew sets up lights and cameras for an episode of the television series… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times…)

Two years after disappearing from the Hollywood scene, a controversial nonprofit group called the Bring Hollywood Home Foundation is attempting to stage a comeback, holding benefit concerts and other events to raise funds to combat runaway production and build public support for filmmaker tax breaks.

But the group’s fundraising tactics are once again raising concerns as Hollywood’s powerful unions, studio representatives and film industry officials distance themselves from the foundation. In 2010, the organization raised alarm in the industry when it began soliciting donations of as much as $100,000 to support its campaign.

Some film industry officials and workers also have questioned the motives of the group, headed by Sharon Jimenez, wife of Bob Jimenez, a former communications aide to state Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), author of a bill to extend California’s film and TV tax credits.

Even Calderon, who once supported the foundation, has distanced himself from the organization.

"Sen. Calderon has no association with Bring Hollywood Home and no intention of associating with the organization," said Rocky Rushing, Calderon’s chief of staff. "I’m not aware of any activities for Bring Hollywood Home, or, frankly, what they’re doing."

Rushing added that Bob Jimenez, who has been helping his wife promote foundation events, no longer works for Calderon.

Sharon Jimenez, the foundation’s executive director, said her group had struggled to raise much money over the last two years and has had to scale back its ambitious fundraising plans. But she defended the role of the organization.

"It’s not about the money. We’re trying to raise public awareness," Jimenez said Tuesday. "If we’re not having some kind of grass-roots campaign to support this industry, what are we doing?"

Ed Gutentag, a cinematographer who operates a website called Shoot Movies in California, said he is bewildered by the group’s reappearance.

"To me, it’s misguided," he said. "Why are they asking people to raise money and where is the money going?"

Nor is the foundation drawing support from a coalition of labor and industry groups lobbying for film incentives.

"They’ve never contacted us, so we don’t have any involvement with them or knowledge of them," said Sahar Moridani, a spokeswoman for the Directors Guild of America.

Pam Greenwalt, a spokeswoman for SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents Hollywood’s actors and other performers, said: "They did approach us but we are not part of their coalition nor affiliated with them."

Ben Golombek, a spokesman for Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), said the foundation contacted him last year after Fuentes introduced a bill to extend California’s film tax credit program.

"We said thank you, but we have a coalition we’re working with and left it at that," he said. "We haven’t been working with them at all."

Bring Hollywood Home created a stir two years ago when it drew up a five-year plan for hosting a variety of fundraisers and conducting political education and fundraising campaigns, lobbying elected officials and sponsoring California film festivals.

The aggressive fundraising drive backfired and several leading unions and industry groups refused to give money.

Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county, said he had not been in contact with the foundation since early 2010, when FilmL.A. rescinded its offer to give the group a temporary office space.

"They made certain statements that made it appear as though they were connected to us and we were sponsoring them, which was not true," Audley said. "We made them retract their statements."

Jimenez chalked that up to a miscommunication and said she expects to build better relations with industry groups over time.

"Any time you start something new, people wonder what you’re doing," said Jimenez, who owns her own public relations agency. "Hopefully they will eventually see we are doing good things."

The foundation has scaled back its once-ambitious plans, which previously called for a $530,000 budget and $16,000 a month to pay the salaries of an executive director and a managing director.

Jimenez, whose biography describes her a lead producer on a documentary that helped pass redistricting reform in California, said she does not collect a salary from the foundation, which relies mainly on volunteer labor.

Two fundraising event this year raised only about $2,000, she said. Contributions cover costs of hosting events and financing future projects, such as organizing a film festival of movies shot in California, Jimenez added.

The next event, a music benefit, will held July 30 at a nightclub in L.A.’s Mid-Wilshire district featuring a concert by Tyler Lyle and American Bloomers, a Los Angeles band formed by filmmaker Jonathan Sheldon. VIP tickets cost $100 while sponsors are charged $1,000.

"They’ve started a conversation that’s overdue," said Sheldon, who serves on foundation’s board. "We’re watching the exodus [of film jobs]. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

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