Tom Sherak, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s newly appointed “film czar,” said that he was stepping into a world in which he has little experience, politics, but that he took the position because “it was a way of giving back.”
Garcetti’s staff kept their talk with Sherak close to the vest, but it was only on Monday that he first sat down with the mayor to talk about the position, having been first approached a week earlier by two members of Garcetti’s cabinet, Sherak said in an interview. They said that they had already vetted him and that Garcetti signed off on the choice, he said.
“I wasn’t sure what was next up in my life,” Sherak said. “I didn’t think that this was it. But it gave me a chance to give back to a community that I have been blessed with for all these years.” His family urged him to do it.
Sherak’s job is alternately that of a high profile pitchman for the city or, viewed another way, a problem solver as problems come up with productions shooting in Los Angeles. Sherak will get a deputy for the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the job, while he concentrate on some of the larger issues, like convincing studio chiefs to shoot in the region.
Sherak will be nonexclusive in his position, he said, meaning that he will continue to consult for two film companies, Skydance Prods. and One Three Media. He is taking a $1-per-year salary — which he quips is $1 more than he got as president of the Motion Picture Academy — because he says “it gives me the opportunity to give back.”
But “my modus operandi is that I am not going to cheat this job,” he said. “Trust me, my family pictures will be in whatever office I have from the day I start.”
A challenge will be to convince production chiefs that it will be worth their while to locate in the area, a particularly difficult hurdle given the slew of production incentives that other states are offering.
“I can’t change their business,” Sherak said. “They are running a business. My job is to try to convince them and the people here in this city and this state what it means to have production here.’
He talked not just of the job benefits, but the boost from tourism to film locations or even when a production improves such things as a neighborhood park when they shoot a movie there.
Sherak said that taking the public position is “like a line out of ‘Star Trek’ for me: The last frontier. I know it is not going to be easy. But most things in life are not easy.”
Perhaps the newest task for him will be lobbying Sacramento lawmakers that the state’s incentive program needs to be altered or expanded to better compete with other states. Garcetti has suggested that the biggest impact may be at the state level and the amount that it can offer producers in incentives.
“I talked to the mayor about this and the mayor says, ‘Tom, we are going to do this together in Sacramento,’” Sherak said. “I want to be at the mayor’s right arm in Sacramento.”
Sherak said that he has known Garcetti for several years, and supported him in his campaign last spring. Sherak was president of the Academy as it considered the fate of its proposed Motion Picture Museum, once slated for Hollywood in then-councilman Garcetti’s district but moved to the former May Co. building at Wilshire and Fairfax. “What made this easier to take on was the fact that I believe in the mayor. I supported him.”
He said his first order of business will be to hire a deputy, and also to devise a “well thought-out plan” for how to approach the persistent problem of runaway production.
Update: In an interview on Thursday evening, Garcetti said that they sought out a high profile individual, and with someone who has the means to forgo a salary, they freed up funds for a deputy who will be charged with the troubleshooting aspects of the job. He said that Sherak is someone who has a “name and political savvy and drive.”
Sherak is undergoing treatments for his ongoing battle with cancer, but Garcetti called Sherak “one of the toughest fighters I know and someone who does more in a few hours than most people do in a few weeks.”
He said that when they sat down together, Sherak “wanted to feel my sense of commitment and I wanted to feel his passion” for the job.