GRILL: Hollywood was very generous in its support of Barack Obama during the last campaign. Now that he’s president, what can the industry expect from Julius Genachowski and the new FCC?
All we can ask is an opportunity to be heard on matters that impact our industry, such as dealing with increasing domestic production and creating more American jobs. Our industry is part of the solution to our country’s economic problems and we will be advocating for legal and fiscal policies that promote that.
GRILL: But doesn’t the administration owe the industry? Shouldn’t there be something in the stimulus package for the movie business?
The stimulus is a complicated undertaking. We’re hoping it will include provisions that address our economic crisis and stimulate productivity. The administration and Congress are faced with an enormous challenge right now.
GRILL: In this economic meltdown, what are the danger signs for the industry? For instance, do you think states and local governments facing huge unemployment rolls and falling tax revenues will drop the tax incentives they once enacted to lure moviemakers to their towns?
We hope they won’t revoke them but we’ll just have to watch what happens in this economic climate. Last year, during the [$700 billion] bank bailout debate, we had U.S. tax incentives in that bailout. Hopefully it will produce a lot of jobs. You know we create one to two million jobs in this country on the entertainment side of film and TV.
GRILL: We’re in the worst economic meltdown since the Depression, when movies were said to be a crucial escape. Will they be again?
Certainly movie attendance is not down nearly as much as other economic purchases. It’s flat. Which when you consider the state of the economy, is good. I suspect movies are not going to be hit as hard as other forms of entertainment. I’m an optimist. I think people will always want the communal theater experience. But we also have to get movies into consumers’ homes. This is critical for us. This is the core of our business.
GRILL: With all the economic problems Hollywood faces, is piracy the greatest threat to the industry?
It’s always a worry for us if people believe individual property rights are not worthy of compensation. The Internet offers people all sorts of opportunities to view our product, but also to hack our product. These are very clever people. Those illegal DVDs you see with the street vendors, that was pretty easy. The online stuff is more elusive, it’s ubiquitous. And we’ve raised a generation of young people, many of whom think if it’s on their computer they don’t have to pay for it. It does worry us.
GRILL: The music industry has struggled with that issue. Realistically, in a world of real-time information, where young people seem to be born understanding how to hack, how can you protect against piracy?
We’re hoping to do what ITunes has been able to do. If it looks like we’re trying to stop people from getting material on their sites, it’s not compatible with this new generation of users. We do have to be innovative, amenable to new methods. And we do have to protect movies through technological means, and education. After all, young people need to know that it’s not right to steal stuff. But we have to affirmatively give them the option to find things out there reasonably priced and easy to get.
There’s a way we can message that I think that the new world can accept.
GRILL: Even if you could control domestic piracy, doesn’t China loom as your biggest threat?
It’s a continuing issue for us for two reasons. China allows little of our product in legally. And they allow every product in illegally. We continue to work with Chinese officials but it’s a very slow process. The problem is China’s lack of a legal system. They don’t have a history of protecting private property. With the exception of some years with China, we are the only industry with a positive balance of trade with every country we do business with. We are the great success story of American exports.
GRILL: You are a lobbyist in Washington at a time when lobbying has a bad rap and competition for spending bills is fierce. What’s your strategy?
The most important thing we can do is make sure policymakers understand the joy we provide. The truth of the matter is that we’re not the American Toxic Waste Assn. or the American Shoe Manufacturers. I don’t mean to demean them. They manufacture things.
But we make things that make people smile or cry, or inspire or scare them. We work on the emotions. In a time when things are bad, that’s a pretty good business to be in.
And it’s a lot cheaper than a shrink.