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L.A.'s mayor-elect aims to put Hollywood center stage

Eric Garcetti met with film industry workers to solicit ideas for fighting runaway production and pledged to name a film czar.

June 25, 2013|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti advocates strengthening California’s tax credits for location filming to make them more competitive with other states. Above, work on a scene from the MTV series "Teen Wolf" being filmed in Northridge
Los Angeles Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti advocates strengthening California’s… (Kirk McCoy, Los Angeles…)

In a closed-door meeting on the Sony Pictures Entertainment lot, a few dozen location scouts, agents, producers and studio executives gathered to discuss the state of L.A.'s hometown industry.

Taking center stage: Los Angeles Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti held the meeting recently to solicit ideas on how he can help stem the exodus of film and TV production from Southern California. He pledged to fight runaway production and to name a film czar to serve as an industry advocate in City Hall.

PHOTOS: Hollywood Backlot moments

Although reversing the loss of film production is beyond the power of a single politician, the fact that Garcetti was reaching out to the industry before even taking office was seen as a positive sign by his audience, according to people at the meeting. Several contrasted Garcetti's stance with that of outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who also contemplated naming a film czar but never followed through.

"There was a lot of disappointment that filming didn't appear to be a huge priority for" Villaraigosa, said location manager Chris Baugh, whose credits include the Oscar-winning film "Argo."

"I feel pretty good about Garcetti," Baugh said. "He seems to be working hard to understand the problem and bring filming back to L.A."

Garcetti has taken other steps as well, including meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to advocate strengthening California's tax credits for location filming to make them more competitive with other states.

"After school funding, this is my No. 1 statewide priority," Garcetti told The Times editorial board. "We can't take the industry for granted. It's crazy how we've neglected our brand."

Garcetti plans to take a page from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who regularly touts his city's pro-film stance and its Made in New York program, which gives filmmakers free advertising on bus shelters, subways and in-taxi TV programs. The city's film sector now generates more than $7 billion in spending a year, up  more than $2 billion from 2002.

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

As New York and other cities have gained production, however, Los Angeles has continued to see declines in its share of the business over the last decade. But Villaraigosa defended his record as mayor.

"One of the most important things that we can do is to support more film tax credits, and I've been one of the leaders of that effort since the 1990s," Villaraigosa said. "We've been able to get film credits passed at the state level. I spearheaded that with other legislative leaders, and I also spearheaded the extension."

But Villaraigosa acknowledged there is "a lot of work to do" in stemming the erosion of L.A.'s film industry.

"I think Eric is going to do a great job building on the things we've done in the past," Villaraigosa said. "He's right to focus on film and the entertainment industry. I'm very supportive of his efforts."

Garcetti, who represented the Hollywood area on the City Council, said the film czar could serve as a liaison to the industry, much as film commissioners do in other states. That appointee would promote the city as a filmmaking destination, serve as a troubleshooter for the local industry and lobby lawmakers in Sacramento to beef up the film-incentive program.

Much is at stake.  Location-based feature film production in Los Angeles has plunged nearly 60% in the last 15 years, and TV drama production dropped 20% last year as crews migrated to Canadian and U.S. cities — especially Atlanta, New Orleans and New York — in search of better tax credits.

PHOTOS: Billion-dollar films

New York state for example, allocates $420 million annually to qualifying production companies — dwarfing the $100 million offered by California. This year NBC announced its "Tonight Show" would move to New York in February, in part to take advantage of an amendment to the state's incentive program that made such talk shows eligible for a 30% credit on production costs.

"We have to figure out a better way to beat everyone over the head so they each do the right thing, so they invest here and stay here," Garcetti said during his recent meeting at The Times.

He cited leadership roles played by figures such as former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who championed that state's successful film program and would personally meet with filmmakers to show his support.

"More than just tax credits, other states are starting to build the infrastructure and the postproduction" facilities, Garcetti said. "These places are going to permanently take away this industry soon."

Garcetti already has reached out to lawmakers in Sacramento, engaging in a "spirited debate about tax credits and their importance" with Steinberg and shared his concerns with Gov. Brown, who he said did not include entertainment among his top five industries in the state.

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