L.A. film czar asked to stay on job for now

It was city politics as usual Wednesday when exiting Mayor Tom Bradley showed up at a press conference and was surprised to find that his film czar, Beth Kennedy, had been asked to resign (Daily Variety, June 30).

The dismissal reportedly emanated from the office of Bradley’s chief executive assistant, Anton Calleia. While Calleia could not be reached for a comment, a spokesperson for Bradley said all of the mayor’s appointees have been asked to resign in order to make way for a new regime.

Yet Bradley, upon hearing of Kennedy’s dismissal, called the former film executive and advised her to stay on the job, at least until she had a chance to talk to incoming Mayor Richard Riordan.

While Kennedy had not yet met with Riordan on Wednesday, the circumstances surrounding her dismissal pointed to communication problems within Bradley’s staff. Sources said it also points to problems of cronyism between the city’s film offices and the mayor’s staff.

“There were very severe problems between the city and the film industry prior to Beth Kennedy being hired,” noted one film indus-try official. “While Beth may have had a forceful personality and created some enemies, she was also faced with an uphill battle against people who felt the industry was nothing more than a nuisance.”

It’s not known how pervasive that attitude is in City Hall, although several industry exex said they were afraid to complain about problems because some officials are perceived as antagonistic.

“We never had any help from the city before Beth was hired,” noted one union official. “She was a positive force for keeping jobs in Los Angeles.”

Others disagree, saying Kennedy accomplished little on the job. One city official noted that Riordan’s transition team should concern itself with whether L.A. even needs a film czar.

Executives at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, one of the groups that lobbied to create the position, are strong believers that the city does need such an ombudsman.

On Wednesday, they were busy drafting a letter to Riordan asking him to quickly make a decision on whether to reinstate Kennedy or hire someone new.

“We need help and we need it quickly,” an AMPTP source said.

William McCarley, Riordan’s chief of staff, said that they would be looking to hire someone to fill the position.

Prior to Bradley’s phone call on Wednesday, Kennedy, on the job for about a year, had already fired off a lengthy report to Riordan, charging that Los Angeles must undergo serious change in order to make the city more hospitable to film production.

“In the broadest sense, the entertainment industry represents an important economic development opportunity for the city, and the opportunity to establish an economic model for improving the way L.A. approaches all business,” Kennedy wrote.

“To do this, we must take an honest look at ourselves as others see us, and make some hard choices. There must be a serious mandate for change to meet the needs of this industry from the city, the community and the industry itself. If they can do it in New York, we can do it in L.A.”

Pointing to a continuing drop in L.A.’s film permits and the loss of about $ 4 billion in production business out of California last year, Kennedy told Riordan that there are many ways that City Hall can be run more efficiently.

Among her suggestions:

  • Streamline or eliminate, where possible, inconsistent and cumbersome permit and film procedures;

  • Encourage staff to be “goal-oriented,” as opposed to “process-oriented”;

  • Initiate a customer-service doctrine;

  • Eliminate antagonism or hostility between city offices and the industry;

  • Emphasize multijurisdictional efforts in the Southern California area to help eliminate territoriality in filming disputes;

  • Increase staff sensitivity to industry needs and problems;

  • Institute a comprehensive community relations program;

  • Institute an effective complaint mechanism for the film industry that overcomes the “pervasive fear” of retribution if companies complain;

  • Implement a quality service survey in ensure customer service.

Among her other suggestions were to eliminate the conflict between the operating hours of city departments and industry needs, as after-hours information is generally not available; and to coordinate a public relations campaign to “Film L.A. … It’s All Here!”

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