HFPA Set to Name Ex-MPAA Counsel as Chief Operating Officer (Exclusive)

HFPA Logo - H 2012

HFPA Logo - H 2012

Gregory Goeckner will become the organization's long-sought professional leader.

After a long search, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has chosen Gregory Goeckner as its permanent professional leader.

Goeckner, a former general counsel of the Motion Picture Association of America, will have the title of chief operating officer/general counsel at the HFPA, the organization best known for putting on the annual Golden Globe Awards. His appointment is expected to be announced as soon as Monday and he is expected to start the job immediately.

Aida Takla-O’Reilly, president of the HFPA, told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday why Goeckner was chosen after what she said had been a 10-year search for the right professional leader.

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“He met all of the requirements,” said Takla-O’Reilly. “He gave an excellent presentation when we met with him. He had a full understanding of what we're doing and what is needed.”

Takla-O’Reilly described Goeckner as being “understated, modest and very brilliant.”

Two years ago, the organization ran an ad for a professional leader for the group of about 90 international journalists, seeking an “executive director.”

The ad said this person would be responsible for supervising contracts with vendors, overseeing finances and audits, advising in the grant-making process, devising brand enhancing strategies, and increasing alliances within the industry while identifying and pursuing opportunities within the industry.

The ad stated that this person would attend every board and membership meeting, follow up on administrative issues, and preserve the institutional memory.

The ad said the qualifications were a legal and business background, contacts in the entertainment industry and “superior interpersonal, verbal and writing skills.”

Those interpersonal skills are likely to be necessary to deal with a group known for frequent disputes among members and meetings that often include emotional eruptions.

Goeckner, a former litigator, will also have to work with the HFPA’s outside lawyers, including Daniel Petrocelli, as they pursue an appeal to the April 2012 verdict in a legal battle with producer Dick Clark Productions over control of the rights to the Golden Globe Awards. (Dick Clark Productions was acquired last year by Guggenheim Partners, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.)

The HFPA sued DCP, longtime producer of the Globes, after it cut a secret deal with NBC to renew the awards show without consultation with the group. The HFPA wanted to dump DCP as the show’s producer but due to the court case loss has continued to work with it. 

Around the time of the trial, the search for a professional leader was suspended; but after the verdict the search resumed.

While the HFPA has worked hard to clean up its reputation in recent years -- including making generous philanthropic donations annually -- it has an image that still requires a lot more polishing. In past years there were accusations that members Globe votes were impacted by generous gifts from companies and individuals pushing certain stars, movies and TV shows.

The HFPA has also been criticized for being too limited in who it admits as members. While in theory it is open to all members of the media working for radio, TV and print outside the U.S. It only admits as new members a couple people each year at most. Critics say that is to limit the number of people who cover Hollywood for different countries around the world and to ensure that their own perks – which include trips to film festivals and junkets – will not be endangered.

In Goeckner, the HFPA gets an experienced lawyer who worked at the MPAA from 1994 until 2007. He was the MPAA’s general counsel from 2007 through 2009.

He oversaw anti-piracy efforts worldwide, and helped coordinate legal cases involving the member companies, including the 2005 landmark victory over Grokster, which established that web sites which make copyrighted movies and TV shows available are violating the law.

Goeckner, who had a team of nine other lawyers reporting to him, also oversaw the movie ratings approval process, which includes assigning ratings to each movie and to movie advertising.

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Goeckner was fired from the MPAA in October 2009 along with two others, reportedly because of dissatisfaction by the member companies (the six biggest Hollywood studios) over his oversight of anti-piracy efforts.

Goeckner is a 1980 graduate of the Yale Law School. He clerked for U.S. District Judge Robert Kelleher in Los Angeles and was at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers from 1981 until 1994, when he joined the MPAA.

Goeckner told the National Law Journal in 2007: "I got into this business in 1984, when I was assigned to a case being handled by the MPAA legal department for the studios," he said. "It was a theatrical antitrust case involving clearances between theaters here in Los Angeles. That case lasted three or four years. After that, I worked for all of the studios. In late '93, I was called out of the blue by a lawyer I had worked with who told me the MPAA was looking for an industry litigator handling anti-piracy matters. I came over here in early '94."