Chris Dodd: Hollywood's Most Predictable Dissembler

from the make-it-stop dept

There were actually a few different interesting events happening in San Francisco last night, all of which were tempting, but it was impossible not to head over to The Commonwealth Club to hear former Senator and current MPAA boss Chris Dodd being interviewed by former SF mayor and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Given pretty much everything we've written about Dodd during his short tenure at the MPAA, I could have guesssed most of what he was going to say... and, indeed, there were few surprises.

As in the past, he stuck to his favorite themes since the defeat of SOPA, pretending to extend an olive branch to Silicon Valley, to talk about how we all need to "work together," but ignoring that Silicon Valley has tried repeatedly to help Hollywood innovate, and every time we're called thieves for doing so. Or, worse, Hollywood starts demanding ever increasing fees, making it impossible to build a profitable business, or innovators are told to make the product worse to slow the inevitable move into the future. What Dodd really means is not that he wants Silicon Valley to help Hollywood innovate, but rather wants Silicon Valley to figure out ways to prop up the obsolete parts of Hollywood's business models with technological forms of protectionism.

As per usual, Dodd also tried to completely ignore the fact that there were many, many times during the crafting of SOPA and PIPA that the tech industry asked for a seat at the table, and Dodd's MPAA rejected it. He ignored the fact that, during the height of the debate, when Senator Feinstein tried to broker a meeting between top tech companies and Hollywood studios, it was the MPAA studios who rejected the meeting. When asked directly (after the on-stage interview) about the failures of the MPAA itself to actually work with the tech industry, Dodd more or less tried to pass it off on past MPAA leadership, despite much of it happening under his watch.

And, of course, Dodd continues to focus on the tech industry as being who he needed to talk to... and not the public. This, honestly, is the biggest problem and misconception with Dodd's approach to all of this. He's still viewing it as a fight between the tech industry and the movie industry. He still hasn't figured out that it was really the users of technology -- i.e., the public at large -- who form the key party here. While speaking at the Commonwealth Club is one way to "reach out" (though, it didn't seem like there were very many tech industry folks there), that's not the people he needs to reach (I would guess that the majority of the audience were AARP members). What Dodd could have done is actually met with the public. He could have gone on Reddit and done an AMA. Even the President of the US can do that -- why not Chris Dodd?

Perhaps it's because Dodd and the MPAA know that the folks on Reddit would actually fact check his bogus statements in real time.

Because if there's one other common thread through Dodd's speeches since the whole SOPA/PIPA fight blew up, it's that he often has a rather loose relationship with something called "facts." And last night was no exception. He, once again, argued that the movie industry employs 2.1 million people. As the Congressional Research Service has shown, the actual number is 374,000 -- oh, and it's growing, except possibly at theaters, but that's got everything to do with consolidation, not copyright issues.

Dodd's bizarre move of the night was to use The Hurt Locker as his key example of why we need greater copyright protectionism. He argued that the movie was a financial disaster, because of piracy. Unfortunately, the evidence says... no freaking way. The movie had a production budget of $15 million. Yet, it made $17 million in the domestic box office, $33 million in the international box office, and then another $34 million on DVD. And that doesn't count any additional licensing, such as for Netflix streaming or TV broadcast. So, between box office and DVD rentals, we're talking a take of $84 million on a $15 million production budget. Another report claims that the movie was rented 8 million times, and was purchased on pay-per-view or VOD another 3 million times by mid-2010 (and probably plenty more since then). So there's likely to be a few more millions to pile on top there.

Now, that doesn't include the marketing budget, but the same report that details the rentals also highlights that the studio behind The Hurt Locker, Summit Entertainment, didn't spend that much on marketing the flick. In fact, people in the article complain that "Summit is not spending any money." Even if we go crazy and assume that Summit spent twice the production budget on marketing (so another $30 million in marketing the film), it seems pretty clear that the movie did quite well. To argue that it was in trouble due to piracy is simply hogwash.

Even worse, Dodd conveniently left out that the producers of The Hurt Locker sued tens of thousands of fans, and called any fans who criticized this bizarre move morons and thieves. He also ignored that among those that the producers sued was a dead man. So far, this strategy of suing fans has not met with legal success. Either way, you'd think such things would be relevant, but Dodd didn't mention them at all. In fact, quite bizarrely, he later claimed that one of the things the movie industry learned from the failures of the recording industry was that suing "the kids" who are file sharing is "misguided."

And yet his one shining example of a movie decimated by piracy (even though it wasn't) is a film whose producers directly sued over 20,000 of "the kids" and continues to do so? Really?

Perhaps this is why Chris Dodd doesn't want to have an open discussion with the public. The public might call him out (and, if you were wondering, people could only submit written questions at the event, rather than getting to stand up and ask).

Again, when Dodd was asked about The Innocence of Muslims film, after first distancing himself from it and noting that it was not an MPAA production, Dodd delivered a stirring defense of free speech, directly arguing that he "gets uncomfortable" with the idea of the movie industry "becoming a cop on speech." That's kind of funny, because so many of his efforts are about forcing others -- mainly the tech and broadband industries -- to "become cops" on expression.

There were a couple points at which Dodd went into his current favorite stump speech. Newsom asked him a question about whether Hollywood was "all red carpets." That had to have been fed to him by Dodd, who has been using the line about how Hollywood is not all red carpets for months now. He then does his "pull on the heartstrings" bit, about how the makeup artist and "the guy behind the microphone" are all suffering because of piracy -- but he fails to explain how. Again, the industry is making more films than ever before, and they're actually doing pretty damn well. He also ignores the real reason why those people might be suffering: because they're union employees, and the big MPAA studios have been trying to do non-union productions or move filming offshore to avoid having to pay American salaries.

Finally, he did the politician thing where he made statements that he'll ignore later or weasel out of at some point. He talked about how he would "do anything and everything... to protect the vitality of the internet." Yet, it was under his watch, and via direct MPAA suggestion and later pressure, that both SOPA and PIPA included DNS blocking which would have undermined the internet in a big, bad way. In fact, from what we've heard, even when Congress talked about dropping DNS blocking early on, it was Dodd's MPAA who was adamant that it had to stay in. Later, he also claimed that SOPA and PIPA were dead and that they needed a completely different approach. When asked directly afterwards, he insisted that he didn't think there would be any more legislation... but, of course, he left out the international trade forums that the MPAA has its fingers deeply in. Things like ACTA and TPP are heavily influenced by the MPAA, and while ACTA is on life support, the TPP is still very much alive, and may be significantly worse. So, don't think for a second that the MPAA isn't still pushing legislative and regulatory "solutions" to its perceived problem.

All in all, there was nothing too surprising, but it all highlights, yet again, how Chris Dodd is absolutely the wrong person for the job. There was no visionary talk. There was no recognition of a truly new approach. There was no recognition of the public's concerns. There was no realization that the talk needs to be with the public, not with top execs from a few big tech companies. In other words, he's still doing business as usual, when what the MPAA really needs is a visionary who will actually recognize that the path forward is learning to embrace, not fear, innovation, and working with the public to understand what they want and to try to fulfill that. The MPAA needs a visionary right now, and that's not Chris Dodd.

Filed Under: chris dodd, hollywood, silicon valley
Companies: mpaa

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 4 Oct 2012 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re: The Hurt Locker

    I'm a movie nerd so I was aware of it myself, but a lot of people around me didn't know about it till it started getting Oscar buzz.

    Conventional logic seems to be that they couldn't work out how to market it. It's not a film that fits into any of the usual slots, and any attempt to frame it as an action film was rather misleading - leading to some poor word of mouth. Seriously, do a GIS on the posters. They range from promise of a balls-out action movie, to images of bombs and wiring that tell you very little about the movie itself. At the time, the main characters were virtual unknowns although there were cameos from better known actors. But, Jeremy Renner's face wasn't going to sell a movie in 2008 (although they could easily sell it now - maybe explaining the decent home revenue which is only going to increase) so they had to be creative - and their level of creativity didn't sell the movie.

    Most other films set in and around the Iraq conflict in the same period also flopped, suggesting that despite their best intentions people just weren't interested in the subject matter. Its widest release was 535 theatres across the US, and it was released in the summer, competing against not only blockbusters but better marketed independent films. In other words, not only did they not spend much on marketing, but even if they did lots of people had no access to it - unless they pirated it of course... Another example of why format windowing is a problem.

    Long-term, it's done fairly well. But, as ever, there's a hell of a lot of other problems ranging from marketing to release schedule to mere subject matter that can explain some of the losses. There were almost certainly very good reasons for the decisions made, but by focussing purely on "piracy" as the reasons for the losses Dodd is simplifying the situation beyond fantasy and making a dangerous mistake. the other problems are easily remedied without changing laws or running to courts.

    The fact is that some movies - even some very good movies - don't do so well at the box office and take time to recoup their money (the long tail, remember?). Unless he's going to try claiming that films like Harry Potter 6 and Transformers 2 (movies that did very well that summer) weren't pirated as much as The Hurt Locker was, then there's reasons why piracy wasn't at fault for all the supposed losses. As usual, the industry needs to try the business solutions first, then run whining for help if they fail, not do the latter as their first resort.

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