In the Office with Chris Dodd
by kelly dinardo
The chairman has settled into his seat as head of the MpAA.
Photos document Dodd’s former career as a Connecticut senator
Wooden replicas of theMayflower and HMS Victory on display in Dodd’s DC office.
Memorabilia, such as a golf ball from President Clinton and family photos, personalize the space.
Chris Dodd, the former Connecticut senator, readily admits to having no background in the film business. But he’s counting on his understanding of power and how the game is played to serve him well as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a position he has held for a year. “I spent 36 years dealing with disparate interests, and I loved the puzzle of it,” says Dodd. “How do you try to package an issue or bill and move it forward? That experience can be helpful when dealing with studios, foreign governments, and others. You find the common denominator.”
The Senate may have provided useful training, but Dodd knows it will be a mighty tough act to follow the iconic Jack Valenti, the MPAA director so influential he survived in the politically charged position for four decades, an almost unheard of tenure for anyone dealing with Tinseltown. Valenti also established the motion picture rating system still in use today. “I’m not sure Jack Valenti could have followed Jack Valenti,” Dodd says of the former director, who was once an aide to LBJ and accompanied him on that fateful 1963 trip to Dallas, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. (Dan Glickman served as chairman for five years between Valenti and Dodd.)
Tucked into the ground floor of a stone building just two blocks from the White House, Dodd’s office looks as if it was plucked from a movie set—The Candidate, perhaps, which seems only appropriate considering Dodd’s former job. Along the walls are signed bills he helped usher into law. Shelves are filled with books and wooden replicas of sailboats, including a pull boat his parents once used. In the corner, facing into the center of the room, is the desk, a grand piece of furniture showcasing a polished marquetry design, that both Dodd and his father, who was also a Connecticut senator, used during their time in office.
Last year, when Dodd retired from his Senate post, law firms, academic institutions, and foundations came calling. But it was friends from Hollywood, including Lorne Michaels, the Saturday Night Live producer, who piqued Dodd’s interest in the MPAA. After meeting with a number of industry honchos—including directors, studio chiefs, producers, and actors—Dodd signed on for the job. He became the association’s chairman on St. Patrick’s Day 2011.
In his first year, Dodd restructured the association to better reflect how studios create content across entertainment genres today. The move was simply to address modern media proliferation: When the MPAA was first founded, studios produced only movies, but now behemoths like Warner Bros. and News Corporation develop content across platforms.
“The first year has been a little chaotic,” says Dodd. “There’s been a steep learning curve. I bought into the notion that this was a redcarpet, Oscar-night kind of business. Over 2.2 million Americans are employed by the industry. Most of them are in blue-collar jobs, involving the people who drive the trucks and set up the lights. I didn’t know that when I started.”
Dodd is also learning just how far-flung the job can be. Beyond traveling to Hollywood every four to five weeks, he has already been to the Pacific Rim and Europe several times. But a good part of his day, regardless of where he is, involves tackling the two largest issues facing the MPAA now—content protection and market access. And while he waxed eloquently on these topics during our interview, it was his final, vivid anecdote that remained front of mind.
It’s not just the names on the marquee, but the rank-and-file workers who are impacted by intellectual property infringements, says Dodd. “People think nothing of stealing from Charlie Sheen,” he explains, “but they might care if they realized they were stealing from someone who drives a truck.”
photography by stephen voss
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.