Mon, Apr

Kevin James: What’s the King of LA’s Public Works Commission Doing In the Movie Biz?

MY TURN-One would think that for Kevin James, the President of LA’s Public Works Commission, one full time job would be enough.  However, in March, Mayor Eric  Garcetti appointed him as Director and Chief liaison to the Mayor's Office of TV and Film Production.  

James (photo left with Mayor Garcetti) said he wound up with this assignment because 1) He interacts almost on a daily basis with all of the City Departments involved in facilitating movie and TV production 2) His background as an Entertainment Lawyer and radio host, prior to becoming head of Public Works gives him the ability to know who is doing what in the entertainment industry 

He hastened to add " I do not earn any extra money or benefits for taking on this new assignment." 

LA doesn't have the most inviting new business climate.  But when Governor Brown tripled the amount of Tax Credits in AB1839 (the California film and television job retention and promotion act), Mayor Garcetti decided to take full advantage.  He did something that his critics haven't given him enough credit for--- and delivered an executive order to all City General Managers, Heads of Department Offices and Commissions. 

"The film and entertainment industry is one of the most important industries in the City of Los Angeles, the creative capital of the world. The industry generates billions of dollars for the local economy and employees hundreds of thousands of workers. 

The extension of the City's filming use fee waiver and the creation of the Mayor's office of motion picture and television production means the City must collaborate more closely with the film industry.  As such, City Department interaction with the film and entertainment industry needs to be consistent, streamlined, and efficient. 

The Mayor called for each Department or Office to appoint a liaison to the new film office as well as to the non-profit organization FilmLA.  All the City staff involved, shall ensure that all fees imposed for the recovery of costs for city services, and for the rental of city property or equipment meet the following requirements: 

  • Fees shall be simple to understand and administer
  • Fees shall be predictable and consistent to estimate
  • Fees shall be billed immediately upon completion of the provisions of city services or the use of city property or equipment in accordance with current city invoicing guidelines
  • Fees shall cover only incremental costs to the City
  • Fees shall be set at the lowest level possible to achieve the above criteria 

The EWDD (Economic and Workforce Development  Department) under Jan Perry shall develop and should update semiannually a comprehensive list of city-owned properties, including available buildings, facilities, open space, and parking lots/structures that could reasonably accommodate production shoots or base camps; the EWDD should work with the FilmLA to notify and to inform production companies such locations are listed on the websites of the City of Los Angeles and FilmLA and promote in any other applicable ways.    

In other words, promote the facilities and the City. 

According to James, the process is worked from inside City Hall where all the relative Departments, Transportation, Parking, Street Services, Parks and Recreation have a liaison so that there is no duplication of work or overcharges. The outside activities are taken care of by FilmLA. 

In June, The California Film Commission, which administers the tax credits, announced a list of eleven projects selected to receive tax credits under the allocation of the State's new filming Television Tax Credit Program 2.0 which expands program funding from $100 million to $330 million annually. 

The programs first application, held  in May was open only to television projects scheduled to begin production on or after July 1.  A total of $55.2 million in credits was made available for new TV series, mini series, movies of the week and pilots, along with $27.6 million for TV series relocating production to California from out–of–state. 

The approved projects are categorized as follows; 

  • New TV series... 6 projects
  • Pilots................. 1 project
  • Relocating TV series ....4 projects 

On data provided with each application, the 11 approved projects will generate an estimated $544 million in direct–in-state spending, including $216 million in wages for-below-the line crew members. Four TV series are set to relocate production to California from Louisiana, Georgia Maryland, and North Carolina. 

The next application period for the new tax credit was held in July with $48.3 million for feature films and $6.9 million for independent projects. 

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I asked James how neighborhoods react to the additional traffic and blocked streets.  He said that community relations was an important part of their process.  FilmLA keeps records of which neighborhoods were amenable and which ones showed the most discontent.  Among the services provided by FilmLA are finding sites for specific needs.  He used as an example:  Warner Brothers looking for a site for one of the horror shows.  It just so happens the City owned an old Bank building that was perfect for them to build out the sets. 

Even though the City does not receive rental profits from City owned sites it is also a neutral cost since the expenses are paid by the production companies. 

He was quick to point out that a great deal of help in obtaining these new projects goes to Ken Ziffren, the Mayor's appointed  "Film Czar."  Mr. Ziffren, a well known entertainment lawyer, volunteers his time and puts in exhaustive efforts in getting LA the business. 

In the year that Ziffren has been Film Czar, California has gone from handing out $100 million a year via a much-lamented lottery, which caused production to flee to more lucrative states and territories; to a program of $300 million a year for five years based on a job-creation-centric criteria. It now also includes features with budgets over $75 million and network pilots – a massive shift for the town, the state and the industry, 

In this case incentives definitely help and the expansion of this program is showing positive results in a short period of time.  The right people make a difference.  Kevin James has taken on an additional work load, without compensation, because as he says, "Everyone loves Hollywood and needs to be here. We have a great story to tell!" 

Taking on extra responsibility is nothing new for this "Renaissance Man".  He has been a Federal Prosecutor; a radio host for two local LA stations; an Entertainment attorney; a candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles; and a tireless volunteer for the AIDS Project Los Angeles.  

He must also be part masochist, since the Mayor talked him into becoming the President of the Department of Public Works. Talk about a thankless job given the condition of LA's streets, sidewalks, and trash problems. Whatever maintenance problems occur land in Kevin James's office.   I wonder how many people call him to say "thank you" for fixing things as opposed to those who call and complain? 

Why couldn't similar thinking solve our existing Veteran issues, homelessness, and affordable housing? 

What would happen if the Mayor formed a similar program with other types of industries?  Not every industry has the glamor of entertainment. It does show, however, that once the layers of bureaucracy are eliminated, and private organizations and commerce are invited to the table, amazing things can happen? 

As always comments are welcome.


(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist.  She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com)




Vol 13 Issue 66

Pub: Aug 14, 2015