Richard Riordan starts work today as the city’s new mayor, assuming the mantle at a time when the entertainment industry is torn by a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles.
While nearly every major studio in L.A. is moving forward with expansion plans, the city is facing difficult issues related to the entertainment industry , notably how to stem the continuing exodus of film production from Southern California.
It’s estimated that the state of California lost $ 4 billion in film business to other states in 1992.
Additionally, the number of permits issued in Los Angeles has continued to drop since 1990, falling about 17% between 1990 and 1992, according to recent statistics.
How a mayor affects these trends remains unclear; Tom Bradley vowed to keep industry filming in L.A., yet the flight continues.
William McCarley, Riordan’s chief of staff, said that among the “very important” items on the new mayor’s agenda are creation of new jobs in Los Angeles and retainment of the jobs already here.
“That obviously includes the film industry,” he said.
Film flight can be chalked up to too much red tape to film locally; ongoing complaints from various neighborhoods faced with filming burnout; a city bureaucracy that is more process-oriented than results-oriented; and the higher costs to shoot a film under union contracts (many other states openly advertise non-union rates, although the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is cracking down on these out-of-state non-union sets).
Bradley attempted to address this problem through the hiring of a “film czar, ” Beth Kennedy (see related story), yet her abrupt dismissal this week has thrown some doubt on the strength of L.A.’s commitment to the local film industry.
“I don’t think the mayor has a whole lot to do with the film industry,” one senior film exec noted. “What the mayor can do is make the city as good a place to live as possible. We want to film in Los Angeles because we live here and our major facilities are here. It’s the mayor’s job to make sure we’re not getting shot at or not getting carjacked.”
Representatives from other areas of the film industry are more optimistic about how Riordan will tackle this problem, given his “cut through the bureaucracy” style of management.
“He certainly appears to be pro-business,” said David Handelman, senior veepee, external and legal affairs, at Fox Inc.
Handelman led the three-year-plus fight to get city approval for the studio’s expansion.
He described the years of zoning fights and red tape as a “slow and frustrating” process that repeatedly pointed to a city beset with paralysis.
However, “Riordan sought us (Fox) out early in this whole zoning process and then singled the project out as one of the failures of this city administration. And he’s been sympathetic to the problems we faced,” he said.
“Right now I think Los Angeles needs to think through how it will attract jobs and given that the film industry is its one vibrant economic force, my hope is that Riordan will start that process,” he said.
Unlike other candidates, Riordan steps into the job with seemingly only a few ties to the industry: Producer Dawn Steel sits on his transition team; he received open support from TriStar Pictures chairman Mike Medavoy and Warner Bros. senior veepee of real estate planning Dan Garcia; and he dates Nancy Daly (former wife of Warner Bros. chairman/CEO Robert A. Daly).
He nonetheless comes to the job knowing a lot about the industry’s problems with the city, according to several industry executives.
Officials within the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, after early discussions with Riordan, said that he seems very “pro-industry.”
“He’s certainly more interested in the film industry than most anyone else who has been in City Hall,” one AMPTP source noted.
Medavoy agrees, saying he believes Riordan — like Bradley — will be industry-friendly, but that he will conduct business differently.
“Anyone who is halfway intelligent can see that the film industry is maybe one of the most important industries for this city and for the country,” he said. “Bradley understood that and so does Riordan. But I think Riordan will bring a new energy to the job.”
Warner Bros.’ Dan Garcia points to a number of Riordan’s statements, one in which he said he wants to insure that his administration “does whatever it can to keep film production here.
“I believe he’s going to take a look at how film permits are issued,” Garcia said. “He’s going to take steps to make the building process work. The focus is going to be on security and economic development and that includes the studios. There’s no question about it.”