Mayor Fenty to Crystal Palmer — Cut!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After 23 years, Crystal Palmer has been replaced as director of the District of Columbia’s film and television promotion office. Ms. Palmer is respected by location, craft, technical, and film production professionals in the film industry worldwide, a persuasive advocate for movie production in a city government not always cited for proficiency. She will be missed, especially by DC actors, extras, technicians, catering locations, and local prop and location managers.

Mayor Adrian Fenty has named Kathy Etemad Hollinger as the new director of the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. Ms. Hollinger has served as the senior director of government relations and public affairs for Comcast of the District of Columbia, is on the Board of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, was chief of staff for former DC. Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, and worked in communications for American University’s Washington College of Law. A member of the DC Chamber of Commerce, she is married to Tony Hollinger, Vice President for Planning and University Relations at the University of the District of Columbia and former Vice President-General Manager of Comcast of the District.

Image by Mike Licht. Quiet on the set.

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10 Responses to “Mayor Fenty to Crystal Palmer — Cut!”

  1. jindc Says:

    Crystal is very nice, but you are incorrect. She will not be missed.

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    jindc: Hold your judgment until after the movie unions hear that Crystal’s replacement worked for union-buster Comcast.

  3. jindc Says:

    Well….OK, but why do you think that the unions will be interested in Mrs. Hollinger’s Comcast experience?

    As the DC Film Office has had limited interaction with the unions (or the studios for that matter) for the last 15 years and has no role in contract negotiations between the International and the producers, i’m not sure why the locals will care that she’s from Comcast.

    For better for worse the DC Film Office has been a virtual non-entity, partially due to lack of motivation and partially due to lack of control over the elements of filming that are of interest to LA. I don’t think Mrs. Hollinger can change that.

    I hope that she will be able to change the District’s reputation as a place to avoid like the plague when looking for filming locations. But the local unions are only a small part of that perception.

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    The larger problem (as so often in DC) is the Federal Government, and Crystal dealt with the Feds as well as anyone can, better than most. Film crews need access to the monuments, and post 9/11 paranoia adds yet another complication.

    On DC turf, from many years of observation, Crystal was great with location suggestions, permits, public works, and police, and superb with logistics — she would get a large indoor space to feed everyone or an outdoor assembly point close to your location. I doubt Mrs. Hollinger’s marketing and public information jobs have given her the same pavement-level local knowledge.

    Most film and video projects will continue to shoot 3 to 5 days in DC and three weeks in Baltimore due to simple economics, and that will not change. It is simply cheaper to work in Baltimore and shoot it as DC than to shoot a month in DC. While subsidies are often arranged, they cannot make up the full difference. And now that every major production has a CGI shop, films may decide to skip DC altogether and put a digital monument in a background when they need one.

    Electricians have been in a battle with Comcast for five years. You can’t make a major film without union electricians. Feelings run high in this dispute, especially on the West Coast, and charges of “union-busting” abound. Mrs. Hollinger comes to this job after many years at Comcast. This is like hiring a Walmart official as the Takoma Park urban design officer. The thought of even informational picketing adds a hassle producers don’t need.

  5. jindc Says:

    I have to respectfully disagree and say that my experience over the last 15 years has been that Crystal and her office were often not great about permitting and assisting film crews. They would promise locations that they couldn’t deliver, ignore permit requests until the last moment, and had terrible relationships with the Park Service, US Park Police, Secret Service, and Capitol Police, let alone D-DOT, who would barely work with her.

    We were more often working around the office rather than working with them. I know that most of the DC location managers and producers felt the same way. I like Crystal personally, but the office was in an impossible situation vis a vis the Feds, and she was not a suceesful advocate for the film community here.
    She didn’t seem to be able to get any competitive film incentive legislation passed and wasn’t able to bring out of town production in to DC.

    Any issues that Mrs. Hollinger (who i’ve never met and had not heard of until 2 weeks ago) and Comcast may be having with union electricians in LA has little to do with local 487 of the IA, as Comcast doesn’t do any union filming in Washington and the local only really interacts with filming features, TV, and major commercials. Local commercials, documentaries and corporate films are generally non-union anyway. The DC FIlm Office has little or no effect on the National IATSE contracts that govern and create the rate disparity that makes Baltimore so much cheaper to shoot in.

    While i would have had someone with location/production experience as the new film commissioner, i hope that some new blood can revitalize the film office. I think we’ve made progress with a new incentive program from the Mayor and the Council for this Fall. Perhaps things are starting to turn around.

  6. Mike Licht Says:

    jindc:

    My knowledge of Crystal and the DC Film Office dates from the period prior to your experience so, assuming both accounts are accurate, I wonder what happened. Was it something inside the Film Office or changes in external conditions?

    I know there were several changes in regional NPS leadership which may have hampered effectiveness; other DC organizations I worked with had to renegotiate agreements and understandings. I also recall changes in the leadership of the DC Special Events Task Force which also hampered Federal-DC and inter-agency actions about a dozen years ago. Also, when Mayor Williams dissolved the two redundant DC tourism offices, the Film Office was saddled with some of their duties during the transition to the current structure. I don’t know if there were changes in Film Office staffing and structure.

  7. jindc Says:

    Mike,

    I’m not sure. I think we agree that the city’s relationship with the Feds is a real hindrance to anyone in the film office. Since most of the features and TV shows want to shoot the Monuments, Memorials, WH, and Capitol, there’s not much Crystal (or anyone from the District) can do to permit those areas. I still feel that there was a lack of outreach from the Film Office to the other power brokers (and a well voiced lack of respect by the NPS, Capitol Police, etc for Crystal). The NPS can be remarkably unfriendly to film crews (understaffed, unwilling to be flexible, ever changing and inconsistent rules and regulations), so the bad relationship with the city only compounded the problem.

    The Secret Service and the Capitol Police just don’t care a whit about filming in my opinion. It’s not their job and they’d rather just say no to a filming request. Again, i think outreach and education on the Film Office’s part was lacking.

    Finally, the Film Office has been basically ignored by the city government as far as i can tell. I believe their annual budget is in the range of about $400k/year. This is laughable compared to the surrounding areas and comparable cities. But Crystal didn’t seem to be terribly aggressive in trying to increase the budget (or put in place permit fees as a revenue source) or in trying to get competitive tax incentives. Boston has had at least 6 feature films shoot there this year, in no small part due to their incentive programs, and trumpet that 100′s of millions of dollars are being spent there yearly.

    More shows than i can count have shot Baltimore for DC, as you pointed out. But the Film Office seemed to accept that as the natural order of things instead of fighting to bring those productions to DC. There isn’t much that can be done about the inequitable IATSE 487 contracts that make filming in Baltimore cheaper, but incentives and a simpler, more effective permitting process could have made a difference.

    And, unfortunately, i don’t think Crystal was an effective advocate for these sort of changes.

    J

  8. Mike Licht Says:

    The State Film Office competition has definitely ramped up. I know North Carolina and Texas are very aggressive.

    As for the Feds, I recall that when I had a rush live production schedule and needed NPS permits in less than 6 months, I talked to the head of the DC Special Events Committee, a Barry hold-over, who interceded, and I got them fast. He isn’t there anymore. He was surely Crystal’s Federal liaison too. Peer-to-peer relationships are important everywhere, but they mean even more in DC, so that must have affected the Film Office, too.

    IMHO, a labor-friendly DC administration could jawbone IATSE into temporary rate agreements that would make the city more attractive to film production, especially if DC government committed to more aggressive outreach and actually brought a greater number of projects to town. It would be difficult for the new DC Film Office director to pull this off.

  9. jindc Says:

    I’m sure that the loss of those long term contacts has been a problem. And the times have changed….the Feds just aren’t interested in bending the rules to allow filming. And as new people have come in, the default is always “no”. It’s easier for them. And don’t get me started on trying to shoot aerials in the No-Fly Zone……

    I think it would be great if the city had a way to influence the IA, but i’m unsure how they can re-negotiate national contracts that the Studios and the IA have signed.

  10. Crystal Palmer Replaced by Herbert Niles at D.C. Film Office - Arts Desk Says:

    […] office attracted its share of criticism; she led the department for 22 years, from 1986 to 2008, when she was canned by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. Kathy Hollinger was appointed film office director in 2008. When Fenty was voted out of office in […]

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