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THE BIG PICTURE PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Hollywood deals with piracy, a wary eye on CDs

September 09, 2003|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

In the last few weeks, David Goldstein has been getting the kind of stares and sidelong looks usually reserved for stars. He's signed autographs for two wide-eyed women at Dodger Stadium, been recognized seeing a band at the Troubadour and been given celebrity treatment by the owner of a sandwich shop in Palm Desert.

It's pretty heady stuff for a 49-year-old Hollywood set painter who's toiled on the back lots for years, working on a host of feature films from "Antwone Fisher" and "Charlie's Angels" to "The Natural" and "The Big Chill."

Goldstein (no relation to this columnist) owes his 15 minutes of fame to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which recently launched a sweeping campaign to build consumer awareness about the threat of digital piracy. The campaign's most visible component is a series of 60-second public-service trailers now running in 5,000 theaters across the country. The first trailer, which debuted July 25, stars Goldstein, who was interviewed in his paint shop on the lot at 20th Century Fox, the studio that produced the spots.

Goldstein isn't Hollywood's new anti-piracy poster boy because of his suave manner or sex appeal. In fact, it's his very ordinariness that makes him a good spokesman; he's a blue-collar craftsman, not a celebrity. The movie business doesn't want to end up like the record industry, which has suffered a dramatic downturn while being portrayed by many fans as a profit-obsessed business with little respect for its customers or its craftsmen.

In the trailer, Goldstein says his livelihood could be ruined by rampant piracy. The piracy issue, he says, "does affect the producers, but it's minuscule to the way it affects me [or] the guy working on construction, the lighting guy, the sound guy, because we're not million-dollar employees.... All I want to do is work." The ad concludes with an on-screen message: "Movies. They're worth it."

Goldstein says he's gotten an overwhelmingly positive response. "I haven't had one negative comment," he says. "People realize it was heartfelt. Over and over, they've said that seeing the spot made them think twice about piracy."

Fox left little to chance, testing the spots before a recruited audience in Las Vegas. Goldstein's spot hit close to home -- his 16-year-old son is a bass player who'd been downloading music from outlaw file-sharing services. "But we had a long talk about it after I did this," says Goldstein. "And I think he sees things a lot differently now."

Illegal file-sharing

Goldstein's son isn't the only one who may be looking at downloading in a new light these days. The MPAA's educational offensive comes at a critical time for the movie industry. Although virtually every studio is turning a profit, thanks to an unprecedented boom in the DVD business, they only have to look at their record industry cousins to see how quickly a boom can turn to a bust.

Until recently, the music industry enjoyed a similar bull market in CD sales. But during the last four years, CD sales have recorded catastrophic drops. According to new figures released last week by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, CD shipments suffered a 16% decline in the first six months of 2003. Thousands of record company employees have been fired in the last year, with more layoffs rumored to be on the way. Even skeptics like myself, who have bashed the music business for dragging its feet in making a wide spectrum of music available on a reasonably priced legal downloading service, would acknowledge that most of the lost business is due to illegal file-sharing. Could the movie industry be the next victim, its windfall DVD profits wiped out by a new generation of high-speed downloading technology?

"This is simply the most important issue facing the industry," says Fox Group chairman Peter Chernin, who spearheaded the new ad campaign, which began July 24 with a simultaneous airing of an anti-piracy TV spot on 35 network and cable outlets. "There's no such thing as solving piracy. We're never going to wake up and say, 'OK, we licked that problem.' We're going to be working on it for the rest of our careers."

In recent months, Chernin and his industry peers have been studying kids the way studio marketers size up awareness numbers on a new teen comedy; a gaggle of top industry executives recently assembled to eyeball a focus group involving 20 college students. "There's obviously a tremendous antipathy for the record business -- the kids felt very hostile about the music quality and its pricing," says Chernin. "On the other hand, even if they're not coming up and hugging me on the street, they seem to have a real affection for the movie business."

Taking action

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