Guest celebrities and leaders alike came together in Santa Monica at the Harvelle’s Night Club on 4th Street to fight for the entertainment industry job drought in California. The host was Bring Hollywood Home and at the forefront of this unique movement, Sharon Jimenez, one of the few outspoken residents defending what is considered a national heritage. The spotlight was the Hollywood Golden Age: The movies back then were still mostly made in Hollywood.
Bring Hollywood Home originated in 2010 as an independent lobby, when California passed a series of tax credits which excluded most independent film productions. Sharon Jimenez, a media and industry veteran, knew immediately that something was wrong and decided to take action. “The tax credits were woefully underfunded. We were not competitive with other states and other countries that were taking the [industry] jobs out of Los Angeles,” explained Jimenez while waiting for guests to arrive outside of Harvelle’s.
Jimenez remembered the days when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of the state, vowing to save Hollywood jobs yet finding himself overtaken by special interests. Schwarzenegger himself admitted to Jimenez that it would take grassroots organizing to push back against the exodus of industry jobs from Los Angeles. “We endorsed for mayor, we got involved in the 2013 mayoral race, we helped elect Garcetti,” emphasized Jimenez. “Garcetti declared a crisis in the loss of Hollywood.”
According to Jimenez, major budget productions – internationally made – like Transformers might require inevitable overseas filming, but the focus is on keeping the independent and smaller films at home. A recent and famous case of a local production that helped fuel the economy is the Oscar-winning La La Land. “It was a wonderful film about how our city of stars is made,” reflected Jimenez, “It was more than just a film, it was something very big for those of us fighting for Hollywood. If we want to continue being the city of dreams, we need to be a city of activists.” As Jimenez describes it, the film industry is now a multinational operation. Any initiative to bring Hollywood home has to be applied globally. “We have to understand that the six major studios are already global, they have investors all over the world,” said Jimenez, “do they want to save California? Well, it can’t be their first priority, because their first priority has to be the bottom line to protect their investors.”
Garry Hobday, the evening’s Master of Ceremony, fully endorsed Bring Hollywood Home’s mission. “For me it’s personal. As an actor, I want to see more films done in California,” said Hobday. “California is not willing to pay and keep the entertainment capitol of the world, which is Hollywood, in Hollywood.” Hobday added that he’s getting tired of the little peach at the end of a film’s credit roll informing audiences that the movie was made in Georgia. Local businesswoman Sandra Hamilton also attended in support of what she considers to be a personal cause. “I’m always interested in seeing Hollywood become the old Hollywood we knew before. My son is in the entertainment industry. I think about it all the time,” said Hamilton. “Perhaps people are trying to find other places where it’s less expensive to produce, but we’re trying to keep it here.”
Inside Harvelle’s is a cavernous club, with rich, dim lighting and a crimson glow that emanates from the walls decked with musician portraits. The storied 1931 blues, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and spoken word club set the scene for the night’s entertainment. Bring Hollywood Home’s line up of guests, included comedian Garrett Morris who began by reciting the famous exclamation from the film Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” and “you’re in American now, speak Spanish,” about meeting an Armenian newcomer to Los Angeles. In attendance was also actor/director Bill Duke, Olympian Gary Visconti and Rem J, who set the stage alight with a pitch-perfect impersonation of the late Michael Jackson. Singer Shalini Varghese began the vocal section of the evening with soulful and jazz-fused melodies. The lineup was both a celebration of pop entertainment combined with the classic style of old Hollywood’s Golden Age. The highlight was on each artist pondering how to preserve L.A. as the capital of cinema industry. Actress Rocio Lopez, who just recently starred alongside Demian Bichir in the stage revival of Zoot Suit, enjoyed a drink from the bar while speaking about both the need to keep industry jobs at home while expanding diversity within the workforce. “As a working actor, I want to see more work stay in L.A.,” said Lopez, “but I would also like to see more diversity in front and behind the camera.”
“When people speak, lawmakers listen,” Jimenez added, “but if we only let lobbyists speak for big corporations then our voices are drowned out.” The great challenge is convincing the state government to expand incentives to continue shooting movies in California. “The major studios’ blockbuster films, which are keeping them alive, cost over $100 million. Well, California legislature is not going to give those kind of tax credits to keep those big productions here. So ‘Star Wars’ is shot in the Middle East,” lamented Jimenez. She remembered a phone call from Russell Crowe – long distance from the land down under- asking why he should lend his support. “I said Russell, we all have to fight for Hollywood, because it’s more than a brand, it’s a place we call home.”
Already Bring Hollywood Home has become an active force within the world of local industry legislation. Since 2010, the group has met with lawmakers and supported key bills in the state capitol. As someone who hails from Georgia’s Civil Rights struggles of decades’ past, Jimenez and Bring Hollywood Home have also supported initiatives to diversify Hollywood and build coalitions with women and minority-led productions. How do aspiring artists moving here, chasing their movie dreams, feel about jobs actually leaving Hollywood? For Jimenez, it is a simple coda, “If you want to join the fight to save Hollywood, then come on!”
Learn more about how you can join Hollywood’s leadership here: www.bringhollywoodhome.org