MPAA chief sees additional gains in China, too

In the 14 months since Christopher Dodd took the top job at the Motion Picture Assn. of America, he’s been scrambling to get up to speed.

“My learning curve about understanding this industry is still climbing,” Dodd told Variety in an interview at the Majestic Hotel on Saturday in his second trip to Cannes as chief of the trade association.

He’s upbeat about the current state of the entertainment industry, particularly with the twin boosts of a 17% hike in grosses this year and February’s landmark pact with China to up the revenues going back to studios from Chinese box office, increasing the number of foreign films allowed annually from 20 to 34 and easing rules on foreign companies coming into co-productions.

“China is becoming a very big deal for us,” he added.

But Dodd, who’s hosting a private reception Sunday at the hotel, has already concluded that he wants to educate the world about the nuts and bolts of the entertainment biz, noting that it employs more than 2.2 million people in the U.S., with 98% of those in blue-collar slots. He noted that showbiz has had an immeasurable impact in promoting the U.S. as a source of values.

“Look at how people were dressed in Cairo Square during the Arab Spring,” he said. “That’s a tremendous advantage for us.”

American characters such as Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” — named the top film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute — have a profound worldwide impact, Dodd noted.

“That’s a black and white film with very little action and no special effects,” he added.

Yet the industry, Dodd admits, remains saddled with an image of excess and selfishness, adding. “The dominant view of the business is of red carpets.”

The MPAA chief said he had attended Sean Penn’s Haiti fundraiser on Friday — noting that he had served in the Peace Corps in Haiti before turning to politics — and pointed to other humanitarian efforts such as Brad Pitt’s work to help New Orleans recover and George Clooney’s aid to Sudan refugees.

“These guys could have been doing other things,” Dodd said.

It’s a dynamic that’s been particularly pointed for Dodd, given his efforts to move forward on legislation preventing theft of intellectual property. The Protect I.P. Act and its counterpart in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act, had broad bipartisan backing last year when Dodd was in his first months with the movie biz and was joined by the recording industry, book publishiers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the effort.

“We’re in a transformative period with an explosion of technology that’s going to need content,” he said.

But Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter campaigned effectively against the legislation, mobilizing users on grounds that the new rules would impede the free flow of information on the Internet.

“Google chose wisely by making Hollywood the enemy,” Dodd said ruefully.

He said Saturday that the industry will need to take a far more nuanced approach to promoting future antipiracy legislation.

“We’re going to have to be more subtle and consumer-oriented,” he added. “We’re on the wrong track if we describe this as thievery.”

Dodd retired early last year from three decades in the U.S. Senate, so he’s precluded from lobbying his colleagues on industry issues on Capitol Hill until January.

“I can’t say anything to them about this for another seven months, but I think my colleagues understand how important this is,” he said.

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