WASHINGTON — In some ways, Dan Glickman’s first year as head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America was a gimme.
Comparisons to his predecessor, the still-celebrated Jack Valenti, hardly seemed worthwhile. After all, Valenti essentially was the MPAA for nearly 40 years.
But Glickman, despite some grumblings about a slow start, has earned admirers.
An unassuming man who doesn’t reach for Valenti-like aphorisms, Glickman has won his share of friends in Hollywood, where his son works as a production executive. His emphasis has been on learning the system, not being the ultimate insider. As a former Democratic Congressman, he has proven talented at working the room at many an industry function.
Both Paramount topper Brad Gray and his Warner Bros. counterpart Barry Meyer applaud Glickman for, as Meyer puts it, “getting his arms around an organization this large.”
Some say the MPAA was slowly choking on its own bureaucracy when Glickman arrived last September. His most demanding task was — and still is — revitalizing an org that member companies had come to regard as increasingly outdated and inefficient, while trying to persuade the hostile Republican majority in D.C. to look favorably on Hollywood’s interests.
Glickman has certainly made headway on both fronts, having begun restructuring parts of the MPAA and mending fences with the GOP, not to mention overseeing creation of an antipiracy division with a $40 million budget.
But he’s also looking at a second year that promises to be an even greater test of his mettle.
Glickman fell flat with his first attempt to reach out to Republicans angry that one of their own had not gotten the job. He hired Stacy Carlson, a former GOP aide and D.C. representative of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to be his chief liaison to Congress. But she wasn’t well known on the Hill, and left within a year.
Glickman fared better with his next GOP hires, notably John Feehery, longtime spokesman for House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), and Gayle Osterberg, an experienced and well-connected Senate Republican aide. Originally tapped to manage communications, Feehery took over Carlson’s duties as Osterberg assumed his old post.Glickman strategically supplemented these efforts by personally donating to key GOP leaders and especially by supporting the GOP-endorsed Central American Free Trade Agreement.
As a result, the MPAA chief feels less like a perceived enemy now.
“At the beginning there were tensions, yes,” he says, “but by and large that’s gone away. I have tried hard to let people know that my own political views are not going to interfere here.”
But one insider, noting the GOP elephant has a long memory, says partisan rancor “is still in the back of the majority’s mind,” where presumably it will stay only if Glickman or Hollywood does nothing to provoke it to the fore.
Two major victories have occurred on Glickman’s watch: passage of an omnibus copyright protection bill, which the industry long sought, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Grokster. Both were in motion before Glickman was hired, but he contributed to the success of each, particularly the latter.
“Dan made a lot of conference calls and took care of a lot of things leading up to the decision,” says Joel Jankowsky, a lobbyist with the firm Akin, Gump, which has advised the MPAA for many years.
Gray concurs, adding, “Any misstep could have been impactful. We need to give him credit for that.”
Sorting out the MPAA’s bi-coastal bureaucracy has been more daunting. Industry insiders point to a creaky, strangulation-by-committee structure inside the MPAA. Glickman has recently instituted a reduction in the number of committees and a streamlining of areas of responsibility and authority.
“It is a good start, but it’s too soon to tell if it will make a real difference,” says one insider. “It’s a big operating challenge.”
“This is a much tougher place to run than the Agriculture Dept.,” Glickman says, recalling his time as a member of Bill Clinton’s cabinet. “The standards of leadership are the same, but in general it’s more complicated.”
Indeed, according to one industry exec, “In the beginning there was a sense that this might be a little overwhelming to him.” Which is why, the exec continues, Glickman seemed “beholden to the status quo at first,” when internal reform was needed fast.
Others do see progress.
“With all the responsibilities he was walking into, who would’ve wanted to come in right after Jack and throw out the whole bathtub only to find the baby went with it?” says Jim Free, president of the Smith Free Group, a lobbying firm that reps Sony Pictures. “We can all question how we might have done things differently, but the thing to ask at the end of the year is, how is it all going? Pretty good, I think.”
Glickman’s supporters hail his success at organizing an education campaign aimed at teaching young consumers the legal and moral wrongs of online piracy. How effective it is be remains to be seen.
Similarly, while the Grokster decision gave the industry a significant boost on piracy, the challenge of making movies both digitally protected and digitally friendly is enormous. Cooperation with the technology and online communities — adversaries so far — will be absolutely necessary.
“We’ve got to be more than a heavy in this,” Glickman says, noting he has already begun discussions with Google, Microsoft and Intel.
Glickman’s most formidable challenge, though, is likely to be within the MPAA itself. Observers say he needs to find among member companies an overarching, shared and clear sense of mission beyond antipiracy. Different and competing corporate parents of studios frequently mean different and competing corporate interests.
Glickman says he’s ready, willing and able.
“It reminds me a little of my family. Everyone was evocative and emotional. You really had to be agile to stay alive. You have to be agile to stay alive in this business, too.”
For the immediate future, though, his priorities exclusively concern piracy: developing an educational program for university students on legitimate file-sharing; continuing litigation against illegal file-sharers; and maintaining coordinated efforts with the RIAA against pirates.
He also looks forward to wearing the Valenti mantle comfortably one day.
“Jack was a powerful spokesman for the industry,” Glickman says. “I hope to be in my own way, too. That’s a big part of my job, being an advocate for the industry.”
“That’s good,” says an insider. “He needs to be a better spokesman.”