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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio officially named Cynthia Lopez as the Big Apple’s new film commissioner, confirming the news first revealed by The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday.
Lopez, who served as executive vp and co-executive producer of American Documentary and PBS documentary series POV, replaces Katherine Oliver as commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.
Lopez is a native New Yorker with more than two decades of experience in New York City’s film and television industries. At POV, she was responsible for all aspects of 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.
“The film and television industries are central to New York City’s cultural vitality and to economic strength,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Cynthia has the experience and understands how the industry works in the city, and as commissioner, she will lead the administration’s efforts to continue keeping New York City a top filming destination — while opening up the industry to New Yorkers from all five boroughs.”
Lopez has made it a priority to promote the work of filmmakers from traditionally unrepresented groups and mentor first-time filmmakers, but she’s also something of a left-field choice, with insiders describing her as a sleeper candidate with extensive experience.
“Having spent my entire career working in the television and film industries in New York, I’m honored to join the de Blasio administration,” Lopez said in a statement. “New York City is a thriving center of production and home to thousands of creative professionals who contribute to the film and television industries — and I look forward to leading the administration’s efforts to drive more film production to New York.”
“Cynthia has been fundamental in transforming American Documentary into a tremendously successful organization. We cannot thank her enough for her tireless dedication and commitment to supporting storytelling and mentoring the next generation of filmmakers,” said Simon Kilmurry, POV executive director, in a statement. “While we’ll miss her, Cynthia leaves the organization stronger than she found it and her legacy will live on through her work with the city of New York.”
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 THR, 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. He didn’t pick Lopez until he’d spent nearly four months in office. Several names had been floated for the position, 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.”
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.
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.
Steiner Studios chairman Douglas C. Steiner said of de Blasio’s pick, “It’s incredibly challenging to produce television shows and feature films. It’s exponentially more difficult to make documentaries. Cynthia Lopez has had a stellar career in the documentary field. We’re thrilled with her selection as the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment — her experience in the trenches will help make New York City even more attractive to the exploding industry of content creation, which is vital to the city’s future.”
Broadway Stages president Gina Argento added: “Under Mayor de Blasio’s leadership, New York City is poised to become the go-to destination for filming blockbuster movies and award-winning TV shows — and Cynthia Lopez is just the woman to deliver on his vision. The industry has played a vital role in driving the city’s economic resurgence — creating tens of thousands of good, middle-class jobs, and supporting mom-and-pop shops in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. With Cynthia Lopez as our new commissioner, we’ll build on that success, and cement New York City’s reputation as Hollywood East.”
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.
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