By Jack Egan
Few in Hollywood are acquainted with Bonnie Reiss. But they have a stake in getting to know her much better. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not only named Reiss, a long-time associate and political intimate, to be a senior adviser, he’s also designated her as his liaison to Hollywood, which involves dealing with the hot-button issues of runaway production and retaining jobs for California’s movie and television professionals.
“We’ve been strategizing on the best ways the governor can use his influence to curb runaway production,” declares Reiss, 48, in an interview with Below the Line. “Arnold’s approach is to be an honest broker, he’s listening to the passionate debates from all sides.”
Schwarzenegger, in other words, is trying to stay somewhat above the fray on issues that divide Hollywood interests, such as the rising costs producers say are pushing them to make films abroad and claims from the guilds that the absence of subsidies makes it harder to compete with other states and countries that dole them out. And given a lack of available government resources, he’s looking to the private sector. One suggestion he’s made, according to Reiss, has been to tap some private donors to restore the $200,000 Sacramento cut from the California State Film Commission’s budget last year.
Reiss’s experience in show biz is fairly limited. She had her own entertainment law firm for a few years and developed a “green” practice, forming Earth Communications Office—backed by the likes of Meg Ryan, Tom Cruise, Michael Keaton and Ron Howard—which made environmentally-minded spots for movie theaters.
Her clout comes from her close links to Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, which go back some 25 years. She interned on Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Washington staff and worked on his failed 1980 run for the presidency; that’s how she became friends with Shriver, the Massachusetts Democrats’ niece. She later met Schwarzenegger when he was courting Shriver. For the last 10 years Reiss was president of the Inner City Games Foundation, renamed After-School All-Stars, which was Schwarzenegger’s favorite charity.
As senior adviser, Reiss sits in on the governor’s staff meetings and strategy sessions. Most of her time lately has been spent working on California’s massive financial woes. She did, however, find time prior to the governor’s inauguration to show the flag for him on issues of concern to Hollywood by meeting with select members of the Los Angeles entertainment community.
Attendees at what she terms “brain-storming” sessions included Paul Maslansky, the producer of the Police Academy movie series, and a long-time Schwarzenegger cohort; Paramount’s Chris Essel who heads the California State Film Commission; Kathy Garmezy, in charge of government affairs at the Directors Guild; Schwarzenegger financial confidant Paul Wachter, who runs his blind trust; and attorney David Crane, who was the governor’s top economic adviser during the campaign.
Although Schwarzenegger raised the issue of runaway production in his campaign, noting how he had taken a multimillion dollar pay cut to get Terminator 3 made in Los Angeles instead of Vancouver, he’s not said much since. It should be noted that in his State of the State message, Schwarzenegger didn’t even mention runaway production or jobs in Hollywood.
Reiss admits Schwarzen-egger can’t and won’t propose any significant tax breaks soon to keep jobs in Hollywood while the top priority is dealing with the state’s finances. “We’re in a budget nightmare,” she declares. In later budgets she says Schwarzenegger will consider what incentives can be enacted. But don’t expect anything costly. Asserts Reiss: “His view is that a little money upfront can get you a lot more money on the backend.”
By Jack Egan