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Search starts for MPAA chief Dan Glickman's replacement

Hollywood's top lobbyist announces that he will step down next September, opening up one of Washington's most high-profile and coveted posts.

October 20, 2009|Jim Puzzanghera and Claudia Eller

WASHINGTON AND LOS ANGELES — For all the rumblings in Hollywood that Dan Glickman was miscast as the industry's top Washington lobbyist, the next head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America could well be closer to his technocrat mold than to the suave celebrity of the man who made the job famous: Jack Valenti.

That's because, with Glickman disclosing Monday that he'll step down next September, the movie industry knows it has evolved since he took over in 2004 as MPAA's chairman and chief executive.

Preventing piracy of movies and TV shows dominates the trade association's lobbying agenda, and the desire for a glitzy face in the nation's capital has lessened as the major movie studios have become divisions in larger media conglomerates with sometimes competing agendas.

"In the old days, the moguls were celebrities in their own right. Now they tend to be down the pecking order within their own companies," said John Feehery, a Republican political consultant in Washington and former MPAA official. "In the same way, I think you can make the case the MPAA doesn't necessarily need someone who's as high-profile."

The industry needs more of a technocrat at the helm because of changing technology, Feehery said. More important, he said, the trade group needs someone who can unite the sometimes fractious MPAA members -- "and that's hard."

Glickman's departure was expected at some point, given Hollywood's behind-the-scenes discontent with him as a politician who struggled to understand the industry's insular world. It opens up one of Washington's most high-profile and coveted lobbying posts. His salary was $1.2 million in 2007, according to the group's Internal Revenue Service filing.

"I'm going to be 65 next month, and it just struck me this is a good time to really move on back into the world of either academia, public service or nonprofits," said Glickman, a former Agriculture secretary and congressman from Kansas.

As the movie industry has seen its profits fall and the recession take hold, the MPAA has been forced to scale back as well. The trade association cut its budget as much as 20% this year, laid off an unspecified number of employees and, last week, fired three members of its anti-piracy team.

Glickman said that staff cuts did not affect his decision to leave and that he was not forced out. He said he discussed his desire to move on last year in contract renewal talks with the MPAA. His original term was for five years, but the new one was much shorter -- December 2008 to Sept. 1, 2010.

"This is a very difficult job. From the outside world, this job has the perception of being very glamorous. People think Angelina Jolie goes home with me every night. It hasn't happened yet," Glickman said. "The industry is changing rapidly; the issues are becoming more complicated, particularly in the online world with all the new technology out there . . . It's just a good time to go."

Glickman has struggled to live up to the larger-than-life Valenti, who had his own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

"Given the size of Jack Valenti's shoes, there would have been complaints about the Dalai Lama succeeding him, but Dan has done a great job," said Preston Padden, Disney's executive vice president for worldwide government relations and an MPAA board member.

Glickman, for instance, led lobbying efforts that garnered more than $400 million in federal tax incentives for U.S. production companies late last year and pushed for a new law last year that created federal oversight of anti-piracy enforcement efforts.

But some in the industry criticized him for failing to secure an additional $246 million in tax breaks as part of the government's economic stimulus package passed in February. The measure was derided as a Hollywood bailout even though it would have given the industry the same depreciation break as other businesses.

The MPAA represents the six major movie studios -- Paramount, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Disney and Warner Bros. Its board is expected to meet in the next few weeks to officially begin looking for a replacement. The ideal candidate will understand the political climate and have access to key leaders in Washington, according to several top industry executives, who declined to be named. The person also must understand Hollywood's changing business models and the evolving digital technologies, as well as have relationships with media company heads.

According to insiders, candidates include Bob Pisano, a former head of the Screen Actors Guild who has been the MPAA's Los Angeles president and chief operating officer since 2005, and Harold Ford Jr., a former Tennessee congressman who chairs the moderate Democratic Leadership Council.

Valenti made the job one of Washington's most glamorous. He hosted screenings at the MPAA's private theater and shepherded studio chiefs and movie stars around town. Glickman has preferred to work in the background, mining the contacts he developed during his long tenure in Washington.

"This is a town where access determines whether you're successful or not," Glickman said. Still, he added, "We produce a product that people love, and you've got to have a person here who really loves the movies."

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jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

claudia.eller@latimes.com

Times staff writer Richard Verrier contributed to this report.

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