After nearly four months in office, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has chosen Cynthia Lopez as the new commissioner to head the Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. An official announcement is expected Friday. Lopez was an executive vp of PBS’ POV documentary franchise.
The commission over the last decade has revitalized the city’s film and TV production, bringing millions of dollars to the state via aggressive tax credits and a streamlined permit process. Currently 29 TV series are based in New York, while an average of 200 films — from tentpole blockbusters to indies — are shot here each year. It is estimated that 130,000 New Yorkers work behind the scenes in film and TV production.
Lopez, who is something of a left-field choice, will replace Katherine Oliver. Insiders describe her as a sleeper candidate with extensive experience. She was responsible for all aspects of POV development including programming, community engagement, digital strategies and overall strategic growth of the organization. During Lopez’s tenure, POV earned numerous awards and last year was one of only 13 nonprofits worldwide to receive a $1 million MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
De Blasio has big shoes to fill, given former Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s industry-friendly stature in the artistic community. In a guest column published in The Hollywood Reporter, de Blasio pledged to “work with producers in local communities to build this rich tradition,” adding that his “vision would be long-range and wide-focus.”
The mayor has been criticized for being slow to name a new executive to the position, causing some anxiety in the community that the new commissioner would not be as production-friendly as Oliver. Speculation has swirled around several names, including Pat Swinney Kaufman, who previously headed the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development. Other candidates included Michelle Byrd, the former head of the Independent Feature Project, former SAG-AFTRA co-president Roberta Reardon and indie producer Lisa Cortes.
Industry watchers have been eager to see who de Blasio would name to the post and whether it would signal a continued commitment to the industry or a possible rollback, given his “tale of two cities” rhetoric about taxes and income inequality. But the number of below-the-line jobs are clearly an important measuring stick for the new mayor.
“The film and TV industry is central not just to New York’s cultural vitality,” wrote de Blasio in THR, “but to our economic strength as well.”
Since 2004, film and television production has grown from $5 billion to $7.1 billion, with such films as Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah and Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street and Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 filming in New York. Television also thrived under Bloomberg’s reign with The Blacklist, Person of Interest, Girls and The Good Wife (where de Blasio made a recent guest appearance in a taxi cab video) becoming staples on New York City streets, and the growth of numerous studios including Steiner Studios, Silvercup, Kaufman Astoria and Broadway Stages.
Qualifying film and TV productions earn a 30 percent credit for production expenditures through the New York State Film Production Tax Credit program. In April 2013, new legislation extended the program through 2019, allocating $420 million per year.