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New York Mayor’s Office Closes in on Film Czar Selection Amid Backchannel Lobbying

With no New York City film czar yet appointed some three months into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s  term, the local entertainment industry’s backchannel lobbying has grown increasingly heated — a mark of the growing apprehension of an industry that has not yet gotten any sense of the new mayor’s attitude toward the biz and how its activities might be impacted by his administration’s policies.

With the selection process said to have narrowed to a handful of names — including, some sources add,  candidates who haven’t yet surfaced publicly — the decision could be made as soon as next week, according to those with knowledge of the selection process. Chloe Drew, a former exec director of the Council of Urban Professionals, has been named the new director of the Mayor’s Office of Appointments to assist in filling the vacant commissioner posts in the administration, which has taken some flack over the slow speed of its appointments.

The behind-the-scene politicking inspired by the hunt for the next commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting is largely fueled by industry fears that the appointment of an insufficiently experienced exec could stall the momentum that has helped the entertainment biz thrive in Gotham during the tenure of former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

There are concerns, too, that the new administration doesn’t recognize the importance of the city film commissioner to an industry that, according to a Boston Consulting Group economic study, employs around 130,000 New Yorkers behind the scenes and contributes some $7.1 billion to the local economy. The former exec in the position, Katherine Oliver, was generally seen as a valuable and effective advocate for the biz, and some factions worry that the wrong appointment now will prompt a runaway production problem along the lines of what L.A. has faced in recent years.

Particularly vocal support seems to have rallied behind Pat Swinney Kaufman, the former executive director of the New York State Office for Motion Picture and Television Development. With endorsements coming from labor union members as well as from above-the-line names including Darren Aronofsky, Kaufman’s backers tout what they see as her unmatched experience in wooing industry activity to New York state over the years.

Other constituents raise questions regarding the management skills of some of the candidates, including Kaufman and former IFP topper Michelle Byrd, while some segments of the industry worry that another name on the list, Julie Menin — the former chair of Community Board 1 — would prove more sympathetic to local community boards than to the industry that wants to film in the neighborhoods overseen by those boards.

While tensions have continued to rise in some sectors, the situation looks poised to reach an outcome soon. Sources had earlier indicated a decision on the new film commissioner would likely come by the end of the month, and in recent days those involved in the selection process confirmed that a decision could come by the end of next week.

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