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Thursday, February 6, 2014

James Keblas Out, Kate Becker In as Director of Seattle's Office of Film + Music

Posted by on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 7:11 PM

James Keblas, a cofounder of the Vera Project who's been heading up the city's Office of Film + Music since way back in 2005, just sent out an e-mail this evening announcing that "Mayor Murray has decided to not reappoint me to the position." He goes on to say:

I have been working with Seattle's creative community since the early '90s and have never seen it better. While we have enjoyed success in the past, this time it feels more authentic. Forget "world-class." We are "Seattle-class." Thanks to the hard work of so many individuals and business leaders, I look forward to seeing this work continue.

While I am sad to leave the Film + Music Office, I feel very confident that the staff will continue to serve the film and music industries well, and execute the day-to-day work smoothly.

The mayor's office could not yet be reached for comment (UPDATE: See below); Murray is spending at least part of his night at a meet & greet event with youth at the Royal Room, organized by his youth outreach director Rahwa Habte. The mayor's likely to face some tough criticism over the choice to can a well-respected and well-connected staffer like Keblas. For example, since the news is out on Twitter:

Guess we'll find out what Murray has to say about his choice in the morning.

UPDATE 8:04 p.m.: And the mayor's office has responded with some interesting news: “I’m pleased to name Kate Becker to the position of director of the Office of Film + Music,” says Murray in a press release. Becker is quoted as saying she is "honored" and calling the position "a dream job," while Murray adds, "I want to thank James Keblas for his nine years of service to the city."

As you may be aware, Becker, like Keblas, is a longtime all-ages music activist, having founded all-ages venue the Old Firehouse in Redmond, helped defeat the Teen Dance Ordinance in the early '00s, and served on the board of the Vera Project—when Keblas left Vera to take this position with the city in 2005, Becker even came back to Seattle from LA to help with the transition process.

It's late, people. More info surely will come out in the morning. In the meantime, Keblas's full letter is below the jump, and I've added the mayor's press release after that for good measure. Good night, all!

UPDATE 8:31 p.m.: I know I said good night, but remember when I said the mayor would face "tough criticism" for dropping Keblas? Well, a petition to reinstate him has already been created and is making the rounds, being tweeted by the likes of Lynn Shelton. Hmmmm. (All right, really good night now!)

To all my friends and colleagues,

I am writing to inform you that Mayor Murray has decided to not reappoint me to the position of Director for Seattle's Office of Film + Music.

It has been an honor to serve this community. My goal has always been to make Seattle better by making it a great place to make a living making film and music. Over the past nine years we have moved well in this direction. Seattle has earned a reputation as a film friendly destination and most importantly, our local filmmakers are having success. Just this month Seattle was ranked the 5th best city to live and work as a moviemaker. By all of our economic measurements business is up, and the Commercialize Seattle campaign is established to continue this trend into the future.

Seattle is now the City of Music. From showcasing our local musicians at the airport, during Seahawks games, and at Chamber of Commerce events, our community has embraced its musical identity tighter than any of us ever thought possible. There are more live music venues thanks in part to the live music incentives and nightlife initiatives we implemented. The business of music is strong in our community with labels, radio, retail, management, and tech-companies that have broken the old models and made new ones.

I have been working with Seattle's creative community since the early '90s and have never seen it better. While we have enjoyed success in the past, this time it feels more authentic. Forget "world-class." We are "Seattle-class." Thanks to the hard work of so many individuals and business leaders, I look forward to seeing this work continue.

While I am sad to leave the Film + Music Office, I feel very confident that the staff will continue to serve the film and music industries well, and execute the day-to-day work smoothly.

I will be staying active in Seattle and I'm sure our paths will cross soon.


James Keblas


Mayor Ed Murray names Kate Becker as Film + Music Office Director
Thanks James Keblas for nine years of service

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced today that he is appointing Kate Becker as the new director for the city’s Film + Music Office.

“I’m pleased to name Kate Becker to the position of director of the Office of Film + Music,” said Murray. “Kate has strong industry relationships and a passion for music, nightlife and film in Seattle. I’m looking forward to the energy and creativity she brings to my leadership team.”

Becker has most recently served as a strategic advisor and code compliance team facilitator in the city’s Department of Finance and Administration, working on nightlife, marijuana and I-502 implementation policy since April, 2013.

“I am so honored to be appointed to this important position,” said Kate Becker. “It really is a dream job for me. I look forward to deepening my relationships with the film and music communities and working to advance those sectors in Seattle.”

Prior to joining the city, Becker served in leadership roles with the Seattle Theatre Group, Art Share LA in Los Angeles, and at the Vera Project. She also founded an all ages venue and teen center, The Old Fire House, in Redmond, WA and led that program from 1992-2003.

“I want to thank James Keblas for his nine years of service to the city,” said Murray. “During his tenure, the Office of Film + Music has had strong success at promoting Seattle as a place to make a living making film and making music, and the City of Music and Commercialize Seattle initiatives promote our robust music and film industry sectors.”

Becker has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts with a major in filmmaking from Hampshire College. She will start at the office on February 24.


Comments (34) RSS

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This is fucking bullshit!!! First mis-step for our new mayor. Seriously, WTF?
Posted by BadMove on February 6, 2014 at 8:06 PM · Report this
Rujax! 2
You McGinn haters will rue the day Murray got elected. I'm just sayin'.
Posted by Rujax! on February 6, 2014 at 8:39 PM · Report this
Why does an appointment like film + music have to be political? Because surely there's no other reason for a nine-year incumbent to be tossed out.
Posted by sarah70 on February 6, 2014 at 8:55 PM · Report this
What a dumb and arrogant move by Ed Murray. Sadly, such moves are becoming typical of his administration.
Posted by junipero on February 6, 2014 at 8:59 PM · Report this
Kate Becker is amazing. Awesome as awesome gets. Nothing against James, but you can never go wrong with Kate. She is too cool and has a HUGE heart.
Posted by abomb on February 6, 2014 at 9:03 PM · Report this
Whatever, as if anyone outside the readership of this blog are going to give two fucks.
Posted by NobodyCares on February 6, 2014 at 9:08 PM · Report this
James and Kate are both incredible people, but Kate is one of my personal heroes and is pretty much responsible for my life not being terrible. Go Kate!
Posted by Benj on February 6, 2014 at 9:19 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 8
I know them both only by what I've read over the years, nothing but positive for both of them. If Murray was wondering whether he made the right decision, seeing James unilaterally announce his departure without mentioning his awesome female successor probably eases the mayor's mind at least a little.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on February 6, 2014 at 9:29 PM · Report this
@8, why should he? Are people who get summarily kicked out supposed to say "She's a MUCH better XXX than I was."
Posted by sarah70 on February 6, 2014 at 9:45 PM · Report this
James Keblas has focused and invigorated the film industry in Seattle for nearly a decade. The loss of his experience and commitment will hurt our industry. Please consider signing the petition to help Mayor Murray understand this.…
Posted by Douglas Horn on February 6, 2014 at 10:04 PM · Report this
Rik Deskin, Actor 11
James boots are going to be real hard to fill by anyone else.
Posted by Rik Deskin, Actor on February 6, 2014 at 10:04 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 12
@9, his email left a lot of people who've appreciated his work genuinely worried there'd be nobody capable at the helm after him. Of course he didn't have to say Kate Becker was to be his successor, he's understandably upset.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on February 6, 2014 at 10:18 PM · Report this
seatackled 13
@8, 12

What makes you think Murray would have told Keblas about his replacement?
Posted by seatackled on February 6, 2014 at 10:36 PM · Report this
It's Murray's call. The list of movies made in Seattle since 2005 seems underwhelming. Weirdly the city's site claims a Coen Brothers film about the other Washington.…
Also, it is a bad sign when a office is known more for its director than its work.
Posted by Zander on February 6, 2014 at 10:44 PM · Report this
This is tough. I've always seen James as a great, creative leader. I wish he would stay on. That said, Kate Becker is also fabulous. They both have their roots in Vera. Kind of an awkward situation.
Posted by jpward on February 6, 2014 at 11:06 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 16
@13, that's an assumption of mine for sure. And for all I know, Keblas had the mayor's approval to issue whatever official email about this he wanted.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on February 6, 2014 at 11:12 PM · Report this
Why do some mayoral appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the mayor, think they are entitled to keep their job when a new mayor takes office? That's just not the way the system works, nor should it.
Posted by Citizen R on February 6, 2014 at 11:28 PM · Report this
James Keblas has no involvement whatsoever in the petition to reinstate him. It is wholly generated and supported by people in the Seattle film and video production industry who appreciate and respect all he has done here and want him to continue his work for our benefit.
Posted by Douglas Horn on February 6, 2014 at 11:35 PM · Report this
Dominic Holden 19
@8, 16) You assume that Keblas was authorized to announce the mayor's appointment, on his way out the door, instead of the mayor announcing the appointment himself? That would be very odd.
Posted by Dominic Holden on February 6, 2014 at 11:39 PM · Report this
400+ signatures for the petition in just a few hours since James's announcement. Most signers are people who make a living in the film and video production industry in and around Seattle.
Posted by Douglas Horn on February 6, 2014 at 11:57 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 21
@19, it's odd to begin with that the mayor didn't announce all of this himself. It also would seem a little odd for the mayor to say, "James, feel free to email all your contacts that I've let you go, but do NOT mention that I've already hired someone they all know and respect to replace you."

As another peanut in our gallery pointed out, for all we know maybe Keblas hadn't heard about Becker's hiring. For that matter, maybe Keblas didn't ask the mayor's nod to say anything at all.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on February 7, 2014 at 12:10 AM · Report this
rob! 22
Ugh. Very poorly handled by all. Don't people plan transitions anymore? This looks to damage everybody. Ms. Becker also comes across as too chirpy in the mayor's statement and fails to mention her predecessor, though that's likely the fault of the mayor's press office rather than that of she herself. And an avalanche of signatures favoring Mr. Keblas from precisely the people Ms. Becker will need to be working with? Ugh again.
Posted by rob! on February 7, 2014 at 12:40 AM · Report this
James Keblas is a good friend and has served the city and it's music and film industries incredibly well. I know many in the music community are very sad to hear this news. At the same time, these positions serve the Mayor, and new Mayors have every right to appoint new people. In elevating Kate Becker, the film and music community will have fantastic representation in the City. Kate is not only one of the best people I've ever known on the planet, but has a broad and deep knowledge of both film and music. I remember when Keblas was hired (I was on the hiring committee), and the film community freaked out a little because then Mayor Nickels hired someone from the music community instead of the film community. But James ended up representing both equally as well, and we should expect nothing less from Kate. Take a deep breath. Change happens. And the new Mayor just appointed one of the best people in this city for this job.

PS - Kate not only served on the board of VERA, she, along with Keblas and Shannon Stewart, was a founder and staff member of Vera. She was also the only person Ian MacKaye trusted to promote Fugazi shows in Seattle in the 90's. She's amazing on many fronts.
Posted by Meinert on February 7, 2014 at 1:47 AM · Report this
Because, after all, it is all about you, Dave.
Posted by Just playing chess here, yo. on February 7, 2014 at 7:13 AM · Report this
Nine years is a good run. Change is good. Kate is AWESOME. Bring on the new regime.
Posted by xina on February 7, 2014 at 7:22 AM · Report this
I have to admit I'm feeling a certain amount of ambivalence at these announcements. On the one hand James has been an undisputed rock star in terms of representing the Seattle film and music making communities, helping to return both to national prominance in the post-grunge era. He's been an indefatiguable champion of local, independent artists and probably one of the most approachable figures in city politics. On the other hand, Kate is a truly stellar choice for a replacement; seriously, I could not think of more than one or two other people locally who would come even close to filling James' considerable shoes in this position, but Kate would definitely be at the top of the list.

I sincerely hope Mr. Keblas is scooped up by some other local entity (Amy Lillard - got any job openings?) to continue the task of making Seattle and the Pacific Northwest a home for young, energetic, creative filmmakers and musicians. He's certainly proved his mettle over the past nine years and we'd be collective idiots to let another city or out-of-state organization get their hands on him.

Good luck to both!
Posted by COMTE on February 7, 2014 at 9:10 AM · Report this
This is one of many difficult personnel changes at City Hall in recent weeks - notably the replacement of an effective advocate at Office of Civil Rights. A new administration routinely brings in people to execute their policies. I'm certain the Ms. Becker will have the support of Seattle's music and film communities. We thank James for his service and look forward to working with Kate on new film and music projects in Georgetown.
Posted by Larry Reid on February 7, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
dan10things 28
Kate Becker is one awesome person that has made an enormous difference in Seattle's music scene for decades. It's hard to dislike this decision and I just don't understand the petition or why people think it will go anywhere. I like James a lot and think he's done great things for this town (and will continue to do so), but his replacement is also a fantastic and well respected person. Sometimes change is good, even when it's hard. It brings in new energy, a new perspective and helps things progress.
Posted by dan10things on February 7, 2014 at 2:59 PM · Report this
I am a 25 year professional Union motion Picture Technician. I remember in the 90's when we had 3 episodic Television shows, (which are the bread and butter for Union cinema workers), Northern Exposure, Medicine Ball and Under One Roof (w/James Earl Jones). This and a dozens of feature films, Sleepless, Singles, Harry & the Hendersons, American Heart, Georgia, Assassins not counting all of the TV Pilots & movies of the week like Twin Peaks, Rose Red, Pandora's Clock etc. It was a good time for us. Then the bottom fell out, and I mean fell right through the basement into the sewer. Cinema in Seattle has never recovered.

Last year Portland had 3 episodic televisions shows. There are a number of top notch Seattle technicians working in Portland. Many of our best have moved there. The number of feature films shot in Portland over the past few years is embarrassing to me as a Seattle resident. Over the past 5 years Spokane has had more feature films than Seattle.

Sure, we have had a number of films shot here, not one of them were full pay union work. Most have been uber low budget films that exploit highly trained film workers at half, YES HALF or LESS their normal rate. Can you imagine Boeing telling their worker that they will have to accept HALF of their normal wage? Would the city even think they could tell city employees they will have to accept a 50% wage reduction, no benefits or pension?

I recently worked on a 1 week additional photography unit for a large feature film being shot in Vancouver BC. Full scale union wages , benefits and conditions. This is the first work like this I've had in 3 YEARS! But we had so many problems trying to get this job done. Government permit problem, location issues, access issues, no city office to coordinate the various government agencies, no interconnection with in the city & state, no place to get things fast tracked, at one point someone said, "I hope the words doesn't get out how hard it's been to shoot here, NO Producer will ever consider shooting in Seattle".

I'm not blaming Mr Keblas for lack of cinema work in Seattle, but to think that the Office of Film and Music has been a success ignores the obvious. 9 years ago, Portland, a much smaller city, with fewer skilled union technician, fewer cinema facilities, is now the shining star for film production in the northwest.

What the mayor and now Ms Becker needs to recognize is that a single full scale feature film can easily be 100 million dollars of work. 30 million is considered a small film. The money that those kinds of films brings to the local economy generally multiply 3 times. Hotels, restaurants, crews, services, facilities, equipment and they are generally ecologically safe & clean. We just need to make it as easy to film here as it is in Portland.

Posted by Camera Pro on February 7, 2014 at 4:33 PM · Report this
Kate Becker seems like an accomplished and talented leader. Certainly there are areas where she could be of tremendous value to the city. The push to retain James Keblas is not a negative reaction to her as the newly appointed Director, but instead a plea to retain someone who was rigorously selected with the input of industry stakeholders, has done the job phenomenally well for nearly a decade, knows the stakeholders and their needs at a deep level and shows little sign of wishing to leave the job.

However accomplished Kate Becker may be--and that is not in question--it's not conceivable that she could take up the reins from the person who is currently doing the job and doing it well. Changing the director will certainly lead to missteps and a loss of momentum at what is a crucial time for our industry. This is an undeniable and unavoidable consequence of any change in leadership. Why should our city and industry suffer this when we already have a very accomplished and experienced leader in the position? Certainly there is another area of city government where a leader of Kate Becker's talents would be appreciated and welcomed by all.

Over 1,000 people have signed the petition expressing their concern to the mayor over this issue. We await a response from Mayor Murray and look forward to hearing his vision for the future of the film industry in Seattle.
Posted by Douglas Horn on February 7, 2014 at 4:40 PM · Report this
I agree with Camera Pro for the following reasons. First it is more expensive to shoot in CA then here but LA doesn't know the infrastructure that we have here or the talent. Film crews have been hightailing it up to Vancouver BC because it is cheaper (but not any more its not - that was when the US Dollar was much stronger not even with the Canadian dollar). We need to start a two pronged approach to get LA films and BC films to come here instead - but in order to do that the City and State need to 1.) WORK TOGETHER 2.) Hire a person to go wine and dine the production companies and bring them here to see the potential 3.) Create an online catalog/directory of every service that LA would want, including details on permitting, catering, and all technical and acting positions. 4.) Partner with Unions to get their support in bringing business to this area, and show LA that they can get everything they need including well trained technical people, directors, producers, agents, managers, actors, writers, musicians, and anything else including trailers that the industry could possibly use. Also, someone needs to go around the state and take pictures showing how our topography would fill their needs - i.e. mid-west, plains, mountains, oceanside, vintage, etc. We have a diverse geography but no one knows that. We have locations that could be anywhere in the world, but no one knows that, we are cheap compared to NY, LA, and BC but no one knows that - we have a studio and soundstage with a three camera synched set-up but no one knows that. We have lots of talent but no one knows that. Our weather is the same as BC so we should be able to get as many films and television shows as they do - and if we create a website with a catalog of resources, then we can start to sell our state to the producers, but really someone needs to hire a sales person to do just that. Maybe Kate Becker can get Inslee and Murray together and see what could happen if everyone works together as a team. It worked for the Seattle Seahawks - Why not us????
Posted by Mother of an Actor on February 7, 2014 at 8:15 PM · Report this
Is film in Seattle really a viable industry if its fate rests on the presence of one government employee?
Posted by goodogsal on February 7, 2014 at 9:39 PM · Report this
I know and highly respect James. I worked directly with him in the past and saw him as a natural leader. His years in this position only reinforce that, but truth be told, he has much to gain by being free to move in new circles and opportunities professionally. City Council for example. Or another elected position, or the private sector.

Murray has an absolute right to make any changes in those roles that report to him, and he was elected by the majority. I don't know Kate Becker, but nobody has criticized her that I have seen, only the Major exercising his right.

Some have been critical because there is less film and TV here than in the past. Not sure if James bears any responsibility for this nor what the Mayor's vision is for the future.

On the topic of movies being made in Seattle. As a person not in that business, I am sick and tired of seeing public money being thrown at a largely for profit space, that makes millions for some. Hard to justify the arms race that Michigan, Louisiana, New Mexico and others have engaged in. The only thing more egregious is the public money thrown at sports teams. I too recall many more features being made in Seattle. In a global economy with special effects abounding, concurrent with other lower barriers to entry into film, we as audience are totally awash in more to watch than we have time for, with blockbusters and big films still getting most interest and viewers.

James is not asking for pity and I think any petition is an embarrassment for all. Management is not a popularity context. He is in the first inning of a 4 year run and will either please the majority by his work, or be voted out. He has a challenging job. Let's let him do it.
Posted by Park Place on February 10, 2014 at 2:55 PM · Report this
In message above. Last paragraph is confusing. I am referencing the Mayor's 4 year run. Not James'.
Posted by Park Place on February 10, 2014 at 2:56 PM · Report this

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