S.F. mayor ups Cohen to head city film office

Johnston named Brown's press secretary

SAN FRANCISCO — When Willie Brown calls, attention must be paid. After one such call, San Francisco’s film office has a new head.

Martha Cohen was officially named exec director of the San Francisco Film and Video Arts Commission Monday after a stint as acting director. Cohen succeeds P.J. Johnston, whom the mayor summoned to be his press secretary.

Cohen worked for more than a decade as a freelance unit manager and location scout for the local NBC affiliate on shows such as “Unsolved Mysteries” before signing on seven years ago at City Hall as Mayor Frank Jordan’s neighborhood liaison. When Brown was elected two years later, Cohen was hired as his advance person.

“Martha’s forte is troubleshooting enormous projects and cutting through the labyrinth of city government,” Johnston said.

Brief tenure

Johnston had a singularly brief tenure in the film office. Less than three months after accepting the post in April 1999, he took a six-month leave of absence to work on Brown’s re-election campaign.

Nonetheless, Johnston told Daily Variety, “I was able to go a long way toward convincing our leaders that filming is good for San Francisco, and that the local film scene ought to be supported.”

Cohen was officially appointed Monday at the regular monthly meeting of the S.F. Film and Video Arts Commission. Technically, the exec director is appointed by and works for the commission, but the vote is a rubber stamp as the commission members are themselves appointed by the mayor.

“People dream when they go to the movies, and this city is so much a part of people’s dreams,” Cohen told Daily Variety. “Anybody who comes with a dream — from across the Bay or across the country — I want them to contact this office and we’ll help them to achieve their goal.”

Carole Isaacs remains deputy director of the film office.