MPAA reaches out to lawmakers

Summit focuses on Hollywood and the economy

WASHINGTON — In Hollywood, as in D.C., image is everything, and a slew of showbiz heavyweights stormed Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers that, contrary to popular misperception, the entertainment industry is central to the nation’s economy and even its recovery.

The occasion: the second biennial summit sponsored by the industry’s chief lobbying arm, the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

The cast: an all-star gathering including Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Jim Gianopulos, Paramount Pictures topper Brad Grey, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Michael Lynton and Jeff Blake, Universal Pictures prexy Ron Meyer and vice chairman Rick Finkelstein, Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook and Warner Bros. Entertainment topper Barry Meyer.

The unspoken event hovering over the gathering: In February, the industry lost $246 million in tax breaks when the Senate altered the economic stimulus bill, eliminating a key provision. The reason: Republican lawmakers agreed that Hollywood didn’t need the bailout given the previous month’s record-breaking B.O.

Tuesday’s event was a daylong series of meetings at the National Portrait Gallery designed to combat the image that Hollywood’s elites are impervious to the economic struggles in the rest of the world. And to show that the hard-working showbiz folk stimulate the income wherever they go.

The events attracted congressional and administration aides, reps from area think tanks and other behind-the-scenes powerbrokers.

A delegation of execs trekked to Capitol Hill later in the afternoon to meet with congressional leaders. Other activities included a luncheon where Dwayne Johnson, star of Disney’s “Race to Witch Mountain,” spoke, and a private dinner that featured remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and the presentation of the Jack Valenti Humanitarian Award to director Martin Scorsese.

To underscore the boon that entertainment can be to a far-flung number of congressional districts, the MPAA released a report with a state-by-state rundown of the wages produced by the entertainment industry in 2007. While California and New York dominated, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Illinois each posted between $1 billion and $2 billion in wages from the biz.

Those figures were hailed by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who said he witnessed first hand the economic impact of film and TV production in communities throughout Washington state while serving as its governor. He agreed that the ability to trade in a rules-based system around the world is critical to the industry’s success. He also said President Obama is concerned about the impact of counterfeiting and piracy.

Locke’s views about the impact of location filming on local economies were echoed during the opening panel discussion. Film office execs from Chicago, Philadelphia and Georgia were among panelists who shared their experiences about the fast-growing location production biz. The lively panel was moderated by broadcaster and educator Nick Clooney, who explored the experiences of film-induced tourism throughout the U.S.

For example, some 70,000 people per year continue to visit the Iowa corn field featured in the pic “Field of Dreams,” said panelist Georgette Blau, CEO of On Location Tours. She said, “Film it, and they will come.”

The pro-industry message began in the morning with MPAA prexy Dan Glickman’s opening remarks. “The American film and television industry is a national community of diverse, talented, hard-driving and creative people who are driving this country’s economy forward,” said Glickman. “All we ask for is policies that value creative jobs in creative industries.”

He urged the gathering of creative and policymaking communities to jointly focus on the future and pledged the industry’s support in the country’s economic recovery. But he warned that historic intellectual property principles must be maintained and enforced throughout the world, while the environment at home must foster ingenuity and creativity.

In Washington, meanwhile, “It is important that people understand who we are,” said Glickman. “Too often in our politics, Hollywood is cast as a stock villain in a tired tale.”

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