MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd on Trump’s Attacks on Entertainment: ‘This Industry Is Fearless’

Chris Dodd
Stephen Voss for Variety

Many in Hollywood are still shocked by Donald Trump’s victory, but MPAA chairman Chris Dodd strikes a sanguine tone.

Dodd says Trump’s rants against the establishment — including Hollywood figures who didn’t support him, the cast of “Hamilton,” and “Saturday Night Live” — don’t necessarily translate into how he will govern when it comes to key industry issues like piracy, copyright, and even trade.

“I take some heart in the fact that President-elect Trump is not a stranger to film and television,” Dodd says. “He is an individual who understands branding and the importance of it. And so at least based on his personal experience and background, I like to believe that he approaches our industry as someone who is aware of it, knowledgeable about it, and someone who understands the value of it.”

Along with just about every studio chief, Dodd backed Hillary Clinton. Now the leaders in entertainment will have to adapt to a new era in Washington — whatever that may mean. “Obviously we have to wait and see about any particular policies. Whatever disagreements there may be about President-elect Trump’s policies, I am somewhat optimistic about how he views the film and television industry.”

Dodd spoke to Variety about piracy and expansion into new markets as well as about what Trump’s election means to Hollywood.

How are we progressing in the fight against piracy?
We are successful at it every day. We make great inroads, but it is a problem that isn’t going away. Some days I do feel it is hydra-headed. But in the past few years, we have developed a more sophisticated and efficient way of dealing with piracy issues.

We have now established a global hub — an office in Brussels. It has been tremendously successful in closing down Kickass Torrents, the single largest pirate site in the world.

I am feeling more optimistic, but the pirates are getting more sophisticated. Technology not only is increasing our opportunity for more people to consume our content, but technology is also making it possible for people to steal our content, and it is not insignificant.

Hollywood studios supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that seems dead now. What is going to be the impact on the industry?
We are looking at something very different from what we’ve ever seen in our lifetime in terms of presidential politics. This was a race of historic significance. It is a fundamental sea change that has occurred. We may have to go through several more cycles, but we may be looking at something that creates a very different type of candidacy, a very different style of politics, in this country. Having said that to you, I think the president-elect will come to understand that, ultimately, [for] economic growth and making America stronger again — (if he wants to fulfill his campaign promise to make America great again) — trade is an integral part of that.

The window is still open for ratification of trading agreements, and I have got to believe that Donald Trump will ultimately see the value in trade. He has said that he will make better deals. There is going to be a whole new negotiation on NAFTA, anyway, with Mexico. And I suspect, given the importance of the Pacific Rim and American leadership in the Pacific region, that it wouldn’t surprise me if it came back with fixes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and we would see the ratification of it.

Some members of Congress have expressed concern about Chinese investment in American industry, including the film studios. Where do you see that going?
I think we ought to take a deep breath and step back. I have been around long enough to recall when Japan started buying a lot of real estate in the U.S., and we had similar concerns. There are a lot of Chinese and foreign investments in our country every day. In fact, foreign investment has been a major economic growth factor in our country, as people take part in sovereign wealth funds, or personal wealth, and invest in the U.S. because of what they perceive as being secure, responsible investments to make.

There is talk of tax reform from the next Congress. What are the prospects for greater incentives, at the federal level, for film production?
I would not be at all surprised if very quickly the new Trump administration, working with Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate, would pass a major tax reform bill. And there is serious talk about bringing down the corporate rate from 35% to something probably in the neighborhood of 20%. The industry I represent is a strong advocate of that, and believes that would be beneficial to encouraging more production locally, and increasing the opportunity to finance additional film products and television programming.

Will the MPAA change its roster now that Republicans will be in charge of all branches of government?
We have great people. I have people who worked for Republicans; I have people who worked for Democrats. I hired them because they are talented, good people. I didn’t sit there and ask what party they belonged to, but whether or not they could do a good job in working with me to represent the studios and the thousands of people who get up every day to work in the film and television industry.

Trump has tweeted about his disdain for “Saturday Night Live.” Do you have concerns over a president taking aim at entertainment content?
We watch it very, very carefully. And I am not going to allow myself to be persuaded that somehow this administration is going to abandon its commitment — that every other president has had — to the First Amendment, despite the fact that they don’t like being criticized. I have yet to meet a politician who loved being criticized. So they are not unique in that regard. One thing I can guarantee you: This industry is fearless, and has been fearless over the years, and will express its point of view. In fact, the fearlessness only increases when people suggest that there is going to be some retribution. So I have no doubt whatsoever that the industry … will not sit back quietly and idly in expressing its point of view on actions that this administration, or any other administration, would take.

Given that so many people in entertainment publicly opposed the president-elect, are there fears that Trump will retaliate in some way?
I don’t know. I hope not. Maybe the best evidence may be, as we’re watching over the last 20 days, that he has been reaching out, dining with people who were highly critical of him during the campaign. He seems to be willing to sit down and break bread with people who did not support his candidacy, and in some cases were vociferously opposed to his candidacy. That is a good trait I see in him: someone who is willing to move beyond the rhetoric of a campaign to assume the responsibilities of being the president.

Where were you on election night?
My daughters and my wife and I had a nice evening with Vicki Kennedy, Sen. [Edward] Kennedy’s widow. We had a nice dinner and then left at 9 p.m. By then, things were turning. We stayed up, like a lot of people, into the wee hours of the morning, watching the final results.

Were you able to sleep?
Look, this is a very resilient country, and I have always tried to be optimistic. I know that’s hard for people, given that I was a strong Hillary Clinton supporter. I was a Democratic national party chairman in 1996 and spent 30 years in the Senate and a number of years in the House of Representatives. I went through nine elections, and so I had strong feelings about Hillary Clinton’s election. But I have stronger feelings about my country. And I’m a great believer that at a time like this, we need to step up — all of us — and make the best of the situation, to contribute where we can in a positive way so the country can move forward.