Christine Essel joined Paramount Pictures in 1978, advancing through the ranks to Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Community Affairs. In that capacity she was responsible for shaping Paramount’s civic and political presence at the state and local levels, developing legislative strategy and advocating on matters that have the potential to impact the company and the industry. Ms. Essel has been an active civic leader and currently serves on the Los Angeles Airport Commission, the California Film Commission and as Vice Chair of FilmL.A.
To learn her views on FilmL.A. and the Los Angeles film production environment, FilmL.A. staff posed the following questions:
You have spent your career in the field of public affairs advocating for film incentives at the city and state levels, including while you served as chair of the California Film Commission (CFC). What are your thoughts about the incentive legislation that has been passed in Sacramento? Will local production increase as a result?
CE: After working closely with the industry as a whole for nearly a decade to bring attention to runaway production, it is very gratifying to see this current incentive finally materialize. All indications are that this will indeed have an impact on our levels of production. It won’t be in effect for some time, and clearly some work needs to be done to make it more useful to a greater number companies within the industry. We will also need to establish funds to staff the Film Commission to handle the workload. We at the CFC will be focusing on these issues in the coming months.
You’ve served on numerous boards and commissions over the years. What insights can you draw from that collective experience that will aid you in your role as Airport Commissioner?
CE: I believe the Mayor selected me because I have served on relevant boards in the past. Being on the FilmL.A. Board since its inception and the California Film Commission for over 14 years provides opportunities to bring the entertainment industry and the airports together to determine how best to make use of these tremendous assets for filming purposes. I also chaired the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency in the 1990’s, which gave me some valuable experience in real estate, design and construction. Los Angeles International Airport, as you may have noticed, is undergoing a tremendous building boom which will continue for many years to come. Additionally, having held the post at Paramount Pictures as head of Planning and Development for several decades provides background that helps me in my work at the Airport.
What opportunities do you see for improving filming at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA)?
CE: The Mayor, Board of Airport Commissioners and executive management of LAWA encourage filming at our airports, thereby keeping the important economic benefits of the industry in the L.A. region, and we are exploring opportunities to expand the amount of production activity at our airport facilities. For instance, there are numerous possibilities to maximize the use of our vast amount of property in Palmdale which we will be addressing in the near-term. Those facilities include a 45,000 square-foot indoor and outdoor recreation/fitness center, an airport terminal building and plenty of vacant land. Another idea I am working on with airport staff is to determine how to get a “mothballed” airplane dedicated for production use located at LAX. We have one in Ontario which is used all the time, and having a second one close by could prove quite valuable. LAWA’s filming liaison, Joanie Sewald, is a terrific resource and is enthusiastic about seeing more filming come her way. We welcome suggestions on how we can serve the production community as a greater resource.
You served for two years as chair of FilmL.A.’s Nominating Committee, where you were a strong proponent of expanding the diversity of our board. What does FilmL.A. look for when identifying future members of the board of directors?
CE: To begin with, we look for an appropriate balance of Entertainment Industry, Guild and Union and Community representation on the Board — this applies to the Executive Committee as well. In addition, prospective members are asked to submit their qualifications and then must participate on a working committee prior to being considered for a board position. This allows us to evaluate each person’s commitment to enhancing FilmLA’s operations and their willingness to spend the time to be involved and make a contribution.