Tom Sherak, the “film czar” appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last year, is working out strategies to stem the tide of runaway production.
The 68-year-old Calabasas resident, who has been battling prostate cancer since 2001, knows a lot about Hollywood politics. He held numerous posts at 20th Century Fox, was a partner at Revolution Studios and served three years as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Well-liked by just about everybody in the industry, Sherak's new job, for which he's being paid $1, not only involves persuading Hollywood decision-makers to keep production in L.A., but lobbying Sacramento lawmakers to increase and expand state production tax incentives. He expects to submit his plans to the mayor in a few weeks.
Q: You first met with the mayor's people while you were still undergoing chemotherapy. What made you accept the job?
A: After this meeting, I was still going to call them back and say no. But the following Sunday afternoon, my children and their spouses all came to the house. The next thing I know we're having a family meeting — why I'm taking this job and why I should take it. It's good for me to be active, it keeps me going. And if they want you, why wouldn't you do it? The mayor's all for it, and maybe you can do something. So on Tuesday I called the mayor's people back.
Q: Why, other than it's therapeutic, would you take on such a task?
A: The people in this industry, we've been blessed, the ones that have had success. But a lot of people in it, they don't want to be heads of studios. They want to go out in the morning and do their work, then come home at night to their families. I said to myself, that's what I want to do, to give back. In that regard I've been involved, primarily, in health-related issues. This is a way to give back to a community. We have the jobs; they're just leaving because people are going where the production is cheaper. We have to figure out ideas to convince Sacramento to do something about that.
Q: How will you approach that?
A: Southern California and Northern California could be considered the Hatfields and McCoys, but for no reason. No reason! It's money coming into the coffers, it's wages, it's taxes, it's all those things that people spend money on that make the state healthy.
Now, there are some questions from up north, probably because of the Calderon issue. (Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, is being investigated for allegedly accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as a studio head seeking expansion of the state's film tax credit). Our job is to come up with a plan that makes sense for the city and the state, try to convince everybody that this makes sense for all of us.
Q: How's that coming along?
A: The strategy is to analyze what other states offer and figure out how to compete with them. Not that I feel we have to do everything that they do, but show some things that we're missing, and why this makes sense for the state.
I don't know that we'll ever be Louisiana (which has an extensive film incentive program). But here's the thing: We really have something that none of those other places have. We have people who want to go home at night. So what does that mean to a production?
Q: You'll need to show some of your old colleagues at the studios other reasons why they should make shows here.
A: I understand very clearly that they have a business to run. I need to go to them, at some point, with a plan of what we can do for them; to convince them why, if you're getting 30 percent there and you're getting 20 here, they should stay here. My job is to show them, OK, here's what we can do for you in L.A. You need to shoot somewhere? We have empty buildings, we'll make a deal with you, as close to as little as we can take so it will cost you less. We've got to figure out all of those ways.
Q: Any ETA on when you'll have these plans together?
A: We have to have a plan prepared before the (state) budget meeting, which is in May. So it's going to have to be well before then, so we can get some proposals together.
Q: Aren't you going to be developing those with a lot of the same folks who have been pushing for expanded incentives for years?
A: That's what's good about it. They know the pitfalls and they're going to tell me. And there are certain things we can't do. But I want to get everybody who wants to go in the same direction to do what they can. We need to have a force of that size moving in that direction.