Glickman's had tough Hill to climb

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WASHINGTON -- When Academy Award nominee Will Smith gives his keynote speech opening the Business of Show Business conference this morning, the MPAA hopes to kick off a serious discussion with policymakers about what it sees as the wide-ranging economic power of the entertainment industry.

The daylong event in the American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery's auditorium has everything one could want.

It has glitz, as it is bookended by Oscar nominees Smith in the morning and Clint Eastwood at night.

It has corporate muscle, with CEOs Michael Lynton of Sony Pictures Entertainment and Barry Meyer of Warner Bros. Entertainment speaking.

It has political power, with such lawmakers as House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also are scheduled to speak.

It has numbers, as the MPAA plans to release an economic impact study that claims the industry generates more than $30 billion in wages for more than 1.3 million U.S. workers.

But as the conference seeks to generate reams of statistics and talking points that paint Hollywood as a powerful nationwide economic engine, it also might mute the questions being raised inside the Beltway about Dan Glickman, the venerable organization's chairman and CEO, and his vision for the MPAA's future.

Since taking over for Jack Valenti 2 1/2 years ago, questions have been raised about whether Glickman is up to the task. While everyone knew that following a legend like Valenti would be tough, entertainment industry executives here have been wondering if they got the right guy.

While they won't speak for the record, many top executives in town privately criticize Glickman. They contend that he has been too dazzled by the star power of his new position, is unwilling to do the heavy lifting required for the job and effectively has marginalized the MPAA's presence here by ceding too much power to Los Angeles and Bob Pisano, whom Glickman hired as COO in September 2005.

"What has he done?" asked one critic. "He's too busy giving screenings for his friends instead of being up on the Hill doing what he's been hired to do."

Glickman takes the sniping in stride. He points out that the 109th Congress accomplished very little in general, and while he argues that the entertainment industry's issues cut across party lines, he admits that it has Democratic leanings.

"I'm a big boy. This is a very high-profile job. You have supporters and detractors. That's the way of the world. I understand that," Glickman said in an interview. "But from the standpoint of this business, the film and entertainment business, the MPAA now is in as good or better position than we've ever been."

While the last Congress yielded little in the way of accomplishments, Glickman said he wasn't just sitting around. The MPAA and other copyright industries were saved from a legislative donnybrook by the U.S. Supreme Court's favorable decision in the Grokster case, but that didn't mean the organization didn't spend time and energy preparing for the worst, he said.

"In the post-Grokster world, the court did a lot of favors for us," Glickman said. "Had we lost that case, we'd been heavy, very heavy, in the legislative arena."

With the 2006 elections, today's Business of Show Business conference assumes a more urgent character. While the idea for such a conference was seriously broached by Hollywood lobbyists more than a year ago, it now comes after the Democrats have seized congressional power, albeit by a razor-thin margin. The two events combine to put pressure on Glickman and the MPAA to chalk up some the legislative success in the 110th Congress that went lacking in the 109th.

In addition to the studios' fight for favorable copyright legislation, the MPAA wants to change a section of the tax code that prevents the studios from separately calculating their profit on overseas theatrical releases, DVD sales and foreign TV. In 2004, Viacom, the Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner fought to keep the separate line of business provision in the tax code but lost. Some estimate that allowing the studios to treat each product as a separate line of business could save the industry as much as $5 billion over 10 years.

"There's no question our industry took a hit in the last Congress on tax issues," Glickman said. "Quite frankly, we didn't have the closest of allies and friends on the tax committees. It's much, much better this year."

Since the beginning of the year, Glickman said he has met with more than two dozen members of Congress, including Rangel and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Any tax legislation will first have to go through Rangel's committee and then the one chaired by Baucus. Glickman calls both men friends.

"They don't promise anything, of course, but they are sympathetic to our tax issues," Glickman said. "I'm not saying that this Congress is going to be heaven on Earth, but it makes it easier for me to breathe in the new atmosphere with my relationships there."

That's one of the reasons for today's conference, Glickman said.

"We've got to lay the groundwork, and that's what we're doing," he said. "Jack did this marvelously, and that's what we haven't done in the past couple of years."

While the complaints from outside the organization are to be expected, there also has been griping from the inside. Some old and new MPAA hands think that Glickman takes too long to make a decision, too often looking to the West Coast for guidance, and that he has made working for the great American dream factory like working for just any other factory.

Glickman attempted to put questions about control at rest.

"I set policy, and I make the ultimate decisions on all policy issues including personnel decisions," he said. "It is true we operate in a more decentralized way than we have before."

Hiring Pisano helped Glickman get a handle on the same things he wants lawmakers and their staff to take away from the conference.

"I brought Bob Pisano on. He's got a lot of experience in the industry," he said. "Look back at the MPAA. We had nobody who had worked in the industry for any extended period of time at all. Learning this business took a while. I'm a fast study, but I needed somebody who knew how this business operates out there. He had the combination of having practiced law and working in the studios and the guilds. I brought him on as the COO, and that's what he's done."

As for fun, the days of the free-wheeling MPAA are probably over as the organization has had to change with the times.

"The truth of the matter is we've adopted a fair amount of necessary and modernizing business practices," he said. "There are business systems that make us run more efficiently and that our member companies demanded. After all, we spend an awful lot of their money. A lot of these business practices are necessary. Yeah, they probably reflect change, and change is tough. That's the way it is. I'm not going to apologize for it. I will say, however, I hope we never remove the human quality from this place."
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