Official: Chris Dodd to Lead MPAA

Former Senetor Chris Dodd-Holy Trinity Catholic Church Washington DC-2011
Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images

The former Senator says he's ready to tackle intellectual "looting."

On the day his appointment as the new chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Motion Picture Association of America was announced, former Senator Christopher Dodd said the defining issues in front of him go beyond the movie and TV industry.

"The digital threat is not just a limited issue for the film industry," Hollywood's new chief lobbyist said Tuesday. "It is one that cuts across intellectual property."

The other big issue is "market access," said Dodd, meaning making sure that in countries like China and those in the Middle East, the flow of American products is not impeded for political reasons.

"You know if you walk down main street people would arrest you if you walk into a retail store and stole items," Dodd said. "It's called looting in some cases. That's exactly what is happening with intellectual property. It's being looted and that needs to stop."

Of course, those efforts are all in Dodd's future. On his first day in the MPAA office in Washington, D.C., he was enjoying the nearly unanimous praise for his appointment throughout Washington and the entertainment industry.

"There is nothing worse than someone who an hour into the offer and acceptance starts pontificating about exactly what has to be done across the board," Dodd said.

After more than a year searching for a new leader for the MPAA, which has a budget of close to $100 million a year, there was a rare sense of unanimity among the top studio heads. Unlike the mixed and often tepid reaction when it looked as if Sen. Bob Kerrey would get the job, there was real enthusiasm expressed for Dodd.

"I think this is a major coup frankly," said Barry Meyer, chairman of Warner Bros, adding that they had interviewed and considered many candidates, and that he and other studio heads had a series of conversations with Dodd.

"He had a lot of choices," Meyer said. "I think he saw our business for what it is – a great American export industry that really needs somebody of his presence and stature to represent it around the world."

"Senator Dodd is a battle-tested leader whose reputation as a strong leader on major issues facing this country has prepared him to serve as the ambassador for the movie business," said Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Jim Giannopoulos. "I, along with my colleagues, agree that he was worth the wait."

"We conducted a thorough search to identify the very best individual to lead the MPAA," said Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael Lynton. "We're convinced we have found that person in Chris Dodd."

Dodd spent weeks making his decision about whether to take the MPAA job or other opportunities that might have paid more. As it is, Dodd is reportedly being paid $1.5 million a year as his base salary, which is up from the $1.2 million his predecessor Dan Glickman received during his five years on the job.

A native of Connecticut, Dodd's dad Thomas was a senator before him. He served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic before attending the University of Louisville law school. He served in the U.S. Army and practiced law in New London, Connecticut before being elected to Congress in 1974 as part of a group of Democrats swept in after the Watergate scandal. He was re-elected to the House of Representatives twice.

Dodd was first elected to the Senate in 1980 and then re-elected four times. Committees he served on included rules and administration and banking, housing and urban affairs. He was co-author last year of the Dodd-Frank bill which revamped the credit markets and banking in the U.S. after the 2008 recession. It was also the bill that killed the effort to create a movie futures market, which was strongly opposed by most of Hollywood.

Dodd ran for President in the 2008 election cycle but dropped out in the first primaries when he failed to gain traction.

Dodd's presidential bid was supported by a number of show business figures including Alec Baldwin, Barbra Streisand, Sony's Howard Stringer and Time Warner's Jeffrey Bewkes.

In July 2009, Dodd announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was operated on and reported the surgery was successful and that he was once again in good health.

Meyer said that during the conversations with Dodd about the MPAA job his health was never an issue. "The bridge he had to cross," said Meyer, "was whether this was something he really wanted to do at this point in time. ... He's full of energy, drive and determination."

While he has been known as the senator from Connecticut and for his work in the banking industry, and for work in international relations from India to Latin America, Dodd also has cultivated many friends in show business over the years.

"He has always had an affinity for the entertainment business," said HBO co-president Richard Plepler, who worked for Dodd as a Senate aide in 1981-82. "He has strong relations in our industry. I remember when I was a kid working for him at the very beginning of my career how connected he was to Los Angeles where he would often go for politics and fundraisers. He has known many of the leaders of the industry."

Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live and many other shows, has been friends with Dodd for almost 30 years. "He's very smart, very witty," Michaels said. "Secretly very funny. It would be hard for me to maintain friendship with anybody who didn't have a sense of humor."
Michaels said that while Dodd is a Democrat, he has always been a "bridge builder," adding: "People like and trust him. That's a huge part of getting things accomplished."

"One of the greatest testimonies to Chris's ability to get things done is that in 30 years in the Senate, whether you were Democrat or Republican, people came to Chris to work out deals and bills and legislation," said Plepler, "because they knew he was a person who could bring people together."

Those are skills he will need. The MPAA is no longer the organization Jack Valenti ran, with a common purpose. Today there are members in broadcasting, consumer electronics, cable TV and other areas which often compete with other member's interests. That is one reason it has been so hard to fill Valenti's oversized shoes. Dodd is convinced he can handle the task.

"The one thing I heard over and over in my conversations with the leader of these businesses is how determined they are, while they've got differences," said Dodd, "to come together as a team on these big issues they face."

Meyer said the process of finding the new MPAA leader was an opportunity to work in common. He called it "a kind of crucible to reinforce the focus and position of the organization."

As he contemplated taking the MPAA job, Dodd turned to some of those show biz friends for advice, including actor Warren Beatty. "I had long chats with Warren about this job privately," Dodd said. "As with everybody, I asked what are the pros and cons about all this?"

Dodd also discussed it with daughter, who celebrated her sixth birthday on Tuesday. "She said are you ever going to be a Senator again?" Dodd recalled. "I said what would you like me to do? She said I'd like either to have you run the zoo or open a candy shop. I've just taken the perfect job. I'm going to be able to do both. I'm going to run a zoo and a candy shop called the MPAA."