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Tom Sherak's passing is a loss to L.A.'s film industry

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The death of Tom Sherak, the respected Hollywood executive and recently appointed film czar for Los Angeles, is a blow to the city's film industry.

Sherak, the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, died Tuesday at his home in Calabasas after suffering a long bout with prostate cancer.

His passing comes only four months after he was tapped by Mayor Eric Garcetti to lead his efforts to support the local film industry, which has been buffeted by the exodus of film and TV production to other states and countries.

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Sherak was charged with making the city more film-friendly and lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento to bolster California's film tax credit program. He was working with a coalition of industry groups to support legislation that would increase funding for the state program and lift some of the restrictions to make it more competitive with New York, Georgia and other states and countries.

"The bottom line is, these countries and these states realize what production means to them, and we have to show them [lawmakers] why we're missing the boat here," Sherak said in an interview earlier this month. "It's unbelievable they are doing this right under our noses."

When he was named film czar, Sherak talked openly about his chemotherapy treatment and was confident his condition would improve, but friends and colleagues say his health rapidly deteriorated in recent weeks.

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Despite his illness, Sherak was determined to fulfill his responsibilities as an unpaid film czar and continued working, meeting with Garcetti as recently as four days ago, according to his associates.

Garcetti vowed to continue the work that Sherak started.

"I am devastated to learn of the passing of my close friend and advisor Tom Sherak," Garcetti said in a statement. "Tom was a true Hollywood original, moving up the ladder to promote blockbusters, running the Oscars and having a bulging rolodex filled with not just A-list contacts, but so many close friends who were smitten by his humor, drive, and spirit.  In just a few short months, Tom laid a policy foundation that my Administration will stand on for the next four years."

Sherak tapped former Motion Picture Assn. of America President Bob Pisano as an informal advisor and hired Rajiv Dalal, a former Time Warner executive, as his deputy. Dalal recently met with lawmakers on Sherak's behalf to discuss California's film tax credit. He is expected to continue running the day-to-day operations of the office, though it is not clear who will replace Sherak.

"We found Tom to be a true gentleman, and he had great enthusiasm for this mission and his leadership will be missed," said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. Inc. "We will do everything we can to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward on this important initiative to increase film production in California."

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Sherak acknowledged the challenges he faced, including convincing skeptical lawmakers in Northern California that they should do more to help an industry concentrated in Southern California.

"I know it's tough and it's not an easy thing to do, but that's never stopped me before," Sherak said in an interview last September. "Politics is new to me. What's that line from 'Star Trek'? 'Politics is the last frontier.' That's the way I look at it."

Sherak was about to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A ceremony was scheduled for Feb. 14.  He was also due to be honored at the CinemaCon trade convention in Las Vegas with the Pioneer of the Year Award.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

Twitter: @rverrier

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