L.A.’s New Film Liaison Helps Keep the Road Smooth for Productions

Kevin James is talking about a certain shade of green.

“It is a bit darker than the green the Dept. of Transportation wanted, but it is still in the bright green category,” he says.

James (no, not the actor) is referring to the hue he was shown on a recent visit to Hollywood Center Studios — about the tint of paint that could spell a compromise in a long-simmering standoff between transportation officials, who want to create safely marked bike paths on city streets, and filmmakers, who worry that a color that’s too reflective will limit their ability to shoot in prime locations.

That’s the kind of issue James is now delving into as the L.A.’s new chief film liaison. Mayor Eric Garcetti named him to the post in March, to work with film czar Ken Ziffren, in what was described as the next step in the city’s effort to draw production back to the world’s film capital.

Last year, the California Legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, AB 1839, the bill that more than triples the size of the state’s annual film and TV tax credit from $100 million to $330 million.

This year in Southern California, the focus has shifted to making the production process smoother — no easy task, as it involves negotiating with competing interests, upset neighbors and business owners, and dealing with a complicated bureaucracy.

One of James’ tasks is to update an inventory of available city-owned buildings. He’s also working with the Dept. of Building and Safety, the Fire Dept. and the City Attorney to try to quickly solve cases in which filmmakers have leased space that is not yet up to code.

“The best word to describe what I am doing is ‘mediator,’ ” James says.

In addition to his film liaison role, James continues as president of the city’s Board of Public Works. He says the dual roles dovetail nicely, as each involves coordinating with multiple city departments.

James’ career has taken many turns: He’s done a stint in the U.S. Attorney’s Los Angeles office; practiced entertainment law at firms including Lavely & Singer; been the conservative host of a radio talkshow; and made a run for mayor in 2013. After coming in third, just short of making the runoff, he endorsed Garcetti.

James says partisan politics don’t factor into his job. “I know it’s a cliche, but repairing a pothole is (a concern that’s) neither Republican nor Democrat.”

The City Council has passed measures to try to make filming easier, and extended a fee waiver for shoots for five more years. The most recent report from permitting org FilmL.A. showed that on-location production in the Los Angeles area slipped 1.9% in the second quarter of 2015, although there was growth in shoots for scripted TV.

The success of California’s beefed-up incentive won’t be measurable until next year, says James, as the California Film Commission has just started to award credits under the revised program.

As for the paint, the Transportation Dept. is looking into it. “Maybe we have found a match, which will solve a lot of problems,” James says.

It’s certainly a symbolic color in the city’s battle to regain it’s production mojo — and the new chief film liaison’s assignment to enable that.

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