Q&A: Meet New MPAA Chief Chris Dodd

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The former Senator introduces himself to Hollywood, talks piracy and reveals how Warren Beatty helped him decide to take the job

Christopher Dodd was named the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America on Tuesday, making him the new voice and face of American movies and TV shows worldwide. After nearly four decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, this is a significant transition for Dodd, 66, a Democrat who has long prided himself on being able to work both sides of the aisle. Shortly after the announcement, Dodd spoke by phone from the Washington, D.C. offices of the MPAA with Hollywood Reporter Senior Editor Alex Ben Block. An edited transcript follows:
The Hollywood Reporter: Go ahead and introduce yourself to Hollywood.
Christopher Dodd: I've known a lot of the folks I'll be working with for some time and I'm really very enthusiastic. I think the experiences I've had up here for the last 36 years putting together major pieces of legislation, running a major Senate office, as well as the Democratic national committee years ago, is experience that will be of value. I served in the Peace Corps, chaired the committee dealing with Latin America for the last 30 years, so I have a strong interest in Latin America. I was the chairman of the U.S.-India caucus. I was in Mumbai not long ago and met the leadership of Bollywood at the time, but had no idea I'd be doing this.
THR: You had a lot of other job offers, some of which might have paid you more. Why did you choose to take on this job?
Dodd: I talked to a lot colleagues before I left, asking their advice. Someone said something to me very smart. They said there are jobs that have great "issues." And in other [jobs] the issues won't be great but the people will be great. This is one where actually you get both. The issues are great and the people... I must tell you -- and this is not blowing smoke -- If I didn't think these were good people I wouldn't have taken the job. I'm really impressed with (Warner Bros') Barry Meyer, (Disney's) Bob Iger, who I didn't really know that well; (Universal's) Ron Meyer and I have been friends for 30 years. And (Fox's) Jim Gianopulos I didn't know terribly well, (Sony's) Michael Lynton. These are very good people. (Paramount's) Brad Grey I've known. (SNL producer) Lorne Michaels and I have been friends for 35 years. (HBO's) Richard Plepler worked for me 30 years ago. He was on my staff. I was on the first board of the Sundance Institute. Bob Redford and Warren Beatty are good friends. I had long chats with Warren about this job privately. As with everybody else, I asked, What do you think the pros and cons were about all of this? I like the people. I love the issues. I think the digital threat issue is not just a limited issue for the film industry. It is one that cuts across intellectual property. We've got to deal with it. I think market access is going to be a huge issue and challenging. So to be involved in a great set of issues with great people, involved in a great industry, it doesn't get any better than that. Jack Valenti and my dad were great friends and he became a great friend of mine. And of course Dan Glickman and I served together and I have great fondness for Dan Glickman as well.
THR: You have young children and this job requires a lot of travel. Are you ready?

Dodd: Yes. My five year old who turned six today said, "Are you ever going to be a Senator again?" I said "What would you like me to do?" She said "I'd either like 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.
THR: Many believe the MPAA has lost some of its influence since Jack Valenti died. What will you do differently?

Dodd: Well, look, let me feel my way along here first. There is nothing worse than someone who is an hour into the offer and acceptance who starts pontificating about exactly what has to be done across the board. I mentioned the two big issues. I know there are others. But the digital theft issue and market access are ones we've got to deal with. These are ones that cannot go on the way they are. Obviously that's going to require a lot of cooperation. The one thing I heard over and over in my conversations with the leaders of these businesses is how determined they are, while they've got differences, to come together as a team on these issues that they face. I find that tremendously exciting. That's a major, major step in my view, to have the industry itself recognize the importance of coalescing around a set of issues we can all work on together.

THR: The studios are all part of media conglomerates with different agendas. Is reaching a consensus even possible any more?

Dodd: That's not going to change. But there are a great common set of issues as well. I've mentioned two of them. There are others as well. For the two that really require attention, I think I bring experience internationally, I understand the issues and I'm determined to bring a passion to them, to educate the American public, to educate opinion leaders in this country about how important it is. If you walk down Main St., people would arrest you if you walked into a retail store and stole items. 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. We need figure out a way to carry that message and develop a means and technique to put a stop to it.
THR: Will interim head Bob Pisano be staying on now?

Dodd: Bob and I talked today. Let me just get settled. I haven't walked into this building in probably two or three years. So one thing at a time.