As my colleague Dominic Patten was first to report earlier today on Deadline, former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak has been named to the new post of LA Film Czar by Mayor Eric Garcetti. Sherak will be paid only $1 a year (“an infinity compared to what the Academy paid,” he laughed about his previous nonpaying gig) in the post designed to bring a halt to runaway production and put it back in Los Angeles, capital of the film world. Of course Sherak is no stranger to politics, of a sort: Being a former President of the Motion Picture Academy is no walk in the park. He knows the real “capital” is Sacramento, where he will spend time trying to convince Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers this is an important issue — not only for Los Angeles but California as a whole. In a conversation that turned very personal this afternoon, Sherak told me he initially resisted the job but took it only after a meeting with Garcetti this week and an OK from his oncologist. Sherak has gone public with his 12-year battle against prostate cancer and expects to be up to the task full time in a few weeks after final chemotherapy treatments. He’s even jokes now that he’s the “czar,” does that mean he can pick his own spot for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
DEADLINE: With everything going on in your personal life right now and your regular paying job as an industry consultant, why take this on?
TOM SHERAK: I resisted it, but I got a call from two of Garcetti’s people saying they’ve vetted me and they want me to meet about this job. So I went to lunch with them, and they said, ‘We’ve talked to the mayor, and he’s approved this and we want you to take it.” And I said I would have to think about it. I went home and I thought about it. And again, I am going through all kinds of stuff with my body, and somebody once said don’t make a decision when your body’s going one way and your head’s going another way. I took another couple of days and said I wanted to meet with the mayor. This past Monday I met with the mayor, and when the hour-and-15-minute conversation was over, if he offered me the Brooklyn Bridge I might have bought it from him. … I told him when it was all done to let me go home and talk to (my wife). I did, and she said, “Take it.” I next called my oncologist, and he said, “Tom, take it; you’re going to be fine.” And that’s what happened.
DEADLINE: This is really a job where you have to deal with Sacramento and state politics.
SHERAK: I asked that question. The good news for me is the mayor said, “When we go to Sacramento, we go to Sacramento.” He knows he’s not throwing me into the lion’s den. He is going to be there with me. That was really important to me. I have dealt with Academy politics, but this is a little bit different. I have not done it before, but the mayor has, and being by his side will be fun for me. All I can do is try to bring a plan, using some of the best minds and people in this town working above and below the line and help me start this plan. I intend to put a group of people together who I know and I trust and have opinions. They may not be the same opinions. They may be argumentative, but I am going to put that small group together and from that, make a plan. I know people who set this up in different states and helped write those incentives studios are getting. I want them involved. How do I do this here? Especially in a city with limited funds. And how do I get the state to realize what this means to our community.
DEADLINE: I didn’t realize you had made your cancer battle public. Why?
SHERAK: I did it because it saves me psychiatry money. I want people to know that you fight for what you want. I know I am fighting now. Bottom line is I want people to know that it’s a part of life to get it. I am going to get through it, I hope. I am not ashamed of it, and I’m dealing with it. I never thought of myself as a fighter, but I realized I am not afraid of it either. … There was a picture of me used recently that ironically showed me standing behind Garcetti at the opening of the Academy’s Outdoor Theatre. Here’s the thing: I am looking for that guy. Right now if you saw me, I am not that guy. From the head up, I am that guy, but I don’t look like that now. I have to get back to look like that again. I guess what I am trying to say is I’m not done. You don’t have to be done. This thing, like the Academy presidency, happened at the right time. Once my oncologist signed off on it, and my Madeleine, I wanted people to know. I am not ashamed of it; I am not afraid of it. It is what it is. Believe me, there are people in a lot worse shape than I am, and I want people to know that. Chemotherapy is not easy. But you get by it, and we live our life. I have that Jim Valvano ESPY speech quote that I read every day about “never, never give up,” and that’s helped me a lot.
DEADLINE: And the city is fine with this?
SHERAK: Everything is transparent. The mayor saw me. I don’t look like that guy in the picture. I have another treatment. It’s not like I could start right away, until the middle or end of November. My oncologist tells me I will be back to where I was. I am taking my hat off, and as my hair starts to grow back, I told the mayor, “I need you to look at me and understand I don’t see myself as me right now,” He said to me, “Tom, I want you to do this.” And the next morning I accepted. They asked me which picture to use with the release, I said, “Send them my official Academy photo, and tell them to put an asterisk on the bottom saying, ‘looking to look like this again.’ … I had the privilege and the pleasure of working for years with Laura Ziskin, and the way she dealt with her cancer from the beginning to the very end — I watched and I got it. She wasn’t afraid to talk about what she was dealing with. She wasn’t afraid to talk about what she was going through. She was an idol. She was always there for me, and if I can pick up that mantle even 25%, that would be a privilege.