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Mr. Smith goes to Washington

Celebrities and studio executives press lawmakers for stronger copyright protection and piracy enforcement.

February 07, 2007|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Actor Will Smith may be an A-list star and Oscar nominee, but, as he tells it, he's just another face here in a city filled with political celebrities.

On his way to deliver his first-ever Washington speech at an entertainment symposium Tuesday, Smith joked that he ran into a couple on the street who offered him encouragement.

"Oh my goodness, we love you so much," Smith said they told him. "We're going to vote for you. We love you, Barack."

On Tuesday, Hollywood poured on the self-deprecating humor and flattery to convince policymakers that movies constituted unique American magic whose economic contributions were under siege from piracy.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 10, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Entertainment symposium: An article in Business on Wednesday about a Motion Picture Assn. of America symposium on Hollywood for Washington policymakers said director Taylor Hackford showed a montage of legendary movie clips. The clips preceded a speech by Directors Guild of America President Michael Apted and were not shown by Hackford.

"We write movies about the American dream, you make that dream a reality," Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, told the gathering of about 300 people. "And when it comes to policies and legislation that have a big impact on our industry, we are like other businesses and everyday citizens -- we need your help."

Many of the lawmakers and other officials attending already are sympathetic to Hollywood's press for stronger copyright protection and piracy enforcement. Symposium speakers, including Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), were lauded as great friends of the industry.

Much of the audience was people who work for or with the industry in Washington. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for example, sent a delegation, but it wasn't the agents who pursue DVD pirates. It was the ones who help with movies featuring the FBI, such as Universal Pictures' upcoming thriller "Breach."

Motion Picture Assn. of America Chief Executive Dan Glickman said Tuesday's event was just the start of an ongoing conversation with Washington. He and top studio executives buttressed their case with private visits to policymakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md). and U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab.

"This is an opening of the door," Glickman said. "We're trying to build goodwill and understanding."

Although Hollywood is concerned that many in Washington believe the industry is more about glitz than gross domestic product, they know celebrity helps open doors and draw crowds. So the MPAA sprinkled some stardust over its symposium.

Smith delivered the keynote, getting serious after his joke about being mistaken for presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Smith inserted new MPAA economic statistics about the industry into his 12-minute speech as seamlessly as product placements are woven into a feature film.

Director Taylor Hackford showed an eight-minute montage of legendary movie clips at the symposium luncheon, in which the MPAA had a waiting list for cancellations. And later Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood received the MPAA's first Jack Valenti Humanitarian Award at a glitzy dinner attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and more than three dozen members of Congress.

"Motion pictures are exported around the world and they're very, very popular around the world, and believe me, we could use some popularity right now," Eastwood said.

Despite the star presence, Glickman said the goal was to lift "the veil of make-believe," with speakers using enough references to magic to fill a Harry Potter movie. Piracy played the villain's role, decried as a cancer eating away at one of America's economic growth engines.

One of the symposium panelists, John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, urged the industry to ditch the pirate lingo, which he said conjured cool images of Johnny Depp. He wants to call it "movie theft," and said Hollywood should go on the offensive.

"Heck yes, we should be suing people," he said of those who illegally download movies or make unauthorized copies. "We should be suing them all."

The tone was optimistic about the power of movies but also foreboding about their future without government help on copyright enforcement. Still, Smith, echoing Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope," told the audience that U.S. movies must be protected because they help spread hope around the world.

"The poor, tired and huddled masses came here in hopes of their Hollywood ending," he said. "The Hollywood ending is a direct descendant of the American dream."

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jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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