Chris Dodd made his Hollywood debut as head of the Motion Picture Association of America on Tuesday, saying he hopes to get the industry talking itself up more to audiences.
The former U.S. senator and 2008 presidential candidate delivered his first public address as the boss of the industry's top trade group at CinemaCon, a Las Vegas convention for theater owners. Dodd emphasized the group's long-standing efforts to fight illegal film copying and to open markets such as China to more Hollywood films.
But he says getting the word out on Hollywood innovations and threats facing the film industry are critical goals, too.
"It would be great to get the industry to be better storytellers about themselves in a sense," Dodd said in an interview. "These are not shoe salesmen. They've got a theater."
"As a politician, if I had a theater _ let me tell you something, if I had a theater owner say to me, 'On Saturday, can you come down here and meet with all my people and talk about the movies?' As opposed to what, going to talk about health care at one of those crazy forums or talk about taxes? I would jump at the opportunity. I think there's an opportunity to really educate people about the economics of this business."
Dodd started the job this month after leaving the Senate, where he represented Connecticut for 30 years. He replaced Dan Glickman, a former congressman and U.S. agriculture secretary who retired after six years as MPAA chief.
Before that, the MPAA, which represents top Hollywood studios, was run for nearly 40 years by Jack Valenti, who oversaw the creation of the film-ratings system that remains in place today. Valenti died in 2007.
Dodd, 66, reiterated aims launched in Valenti's time to fight movie theft and open overseas markets. He also defended the ratings system, which critics, filmmakers and audiences often gripe about, saying it can be too permissive on violence and puritanical on sex.
With 9- and 6-year-old children of his own, Dodd said he and his wife rely on the ratings system to help them determine what films are appropriate for the family.
Unlike avid film fans Valenti and Glickman, Dodd said he is more of an average movie-goer. Among his favorite films are "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Midnight Cowboy," "The Deerhunter," the Billy Wilder tales "The Apartment" and "Days of Wild and Roses" and several films starring his late friend Paul Newman, including "Hud" and "Cool Hand Luke."
Dodd said he is in learning mode now, aiming to talk with executives, directors and others in Hollywood before setting out any grand agenda for the MPAA. Colleagues already are calling Dodd a quick on-the-job student.
"For a senator to be modest is a unique thing. But when Sen. Dodd says he's only been on the job for a few days and he's just learning, that is a modest statement," said John Fithian, who heads the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Dodd has been walking into meetings quoting figures on the number of domestic movie screens and laying out issues facing the theatrical business in Europe, "a tour de force for a guy who's got, like he said, nine days experience on the job," Fithian said.
As MPAA boss, Dodd will get to travel to glamorous film festivals, attend movie premieres and stroll red carpets with A-list celebrities. He is matter-of-fact about that part of the job, though.
"Yeah, it's fun, all the red carpets you do. But I've reached an age in my life. I've done a lot of things. I've been through eight elections. I've had people pat you on the back and people give you the finger, so I've seen it all, in a sense," Dodd said.
"I'll do what I have to do in that part to do my job, but I really see it as a great business that is getting a bum rap in many ways for what it actually does. Even in bad times, what a difference it makes in the lives of people. I'd like to really elevate the understanding of what this industry is."