Jack Valenti’s Successor Talks Piracy, Lawmaking,
Popcorn and More.
by Alma Freeman
He’s had the job for 38
years. He’s brilliant, he’s articulate, he’s
somewhat flamboyant,” marvels Dan Glickman. Jack Valenti,
he explains, is “a tough act to follow.”
Glickman, who spent 18 years
in Congress and another six as the Clinton administration’s agriculture secretary,
inherited on Sept. 1 Valenti’s role as president of
the Motion Picture Association of America, likely the highest-profile
lobbying gig on the planet.
In Focus caught up with Glickman
on Sept. 29, less than a month after the Kansas-bred former
trial attorney, lawmaker
and Cabinet member formally took his place as American filmed
entertainment’s voice in Washington.
How did you become interested in the MPAA position?
I’ve always loved the movies. We always went as kids;
we went with my parents. It’s always been a positive
I’ve told this story before, but many of my first moviehouse
experiences did not actually involve seeing a movie. My dad
loved movie popcorn. Almost every night after dinner we would
go down to the local theatre, the Crest theatre – it’s
now closed – and he’d send one of us three kids
in there, and we’d buy popcorn. We wouldn’t go
to the movies; we’d just buy popcorn and bring it home!
And you know, it’s funny, I’ve not run into very
many people who do this, who did this kind of thing. He loved
the smell, I think. They used to cook it in coconut oil or
palm oil. Not slimming. So the Crest was almost like a second
home, and of course we saw a lot of movies there as well.
When I got elected to Congress, my wife took
the kids to movies as their recreation, so they saw dozens
and dozens of movies. Two, three, four sometimes during the
For about 14 years, my wife was director of
the Congressional Arts Caucus, which exposed members of Congress
to the entertainment
and arts community. It was kind of a loose bipartisan association
of members of Congress. Most members of the Congress were
involved, and it brought movies, music, theatre, every kind
of art to the lawmakers.
I myself was on the Judiciary Committee in the House for
most of the time I was in Congress, and I was on the Copyright
Subcommittee part of that time – so I worked on a lot
of copyright issues.
And then, of course, my son [Jonathan Glickman]
is a film producer, the partner and president of this company
Entertainment. Obviously he got the bug somewhere along
Will your experience as agriculture secretary be helpful
at the MPAA?
I like to say, kind of facetiously, that the biggest part
of the word “agriculture” is “culture.” It
was a big department, with about 100,000 employees worldwide
and a $70 billion budget. It was a diverse department that
dealt with everything from managing the U.S. Forest Service
to running the food stamp program and the national school
lunch program, to all the food safety inspectors at meat
and poultry plants around the country, to federal farm programs,
to international agriculture. So it helped me in terms of
learning about running a large organization.
There was also a lot of international trade
discussion. Agriculture tended to be kind of the hot button,
the real blood-pressure
item, in international trade discussion. It still is; it’s
kind of the biggest issue with us and the Europeans now.
Intellectual property issues were always part of these discussions.
You’ve said in other interviews that you and your
wife see 50 to 100 movies a year, which certainly makes you
a “frequent moviegoer” according to MPAA definitions.
In your opinion, will the moviegoing experience prevail among
what Mr. Valenti once called “all this marketplace
hurly-burly” – video games, the Internet, home
projection systems and so on?
Yes, I think it will. And I think what Jack was talking about
is part of the reason it will prevail. There is very little
centralization of messenger entertainment left in this country.
Compare television from the days of three network affiliates
to now, with its several hundred channels. Newspapers have
a far diminished influence. You look at all the things that
people are exposed to, particularly younger people, and the
moviehouse, the theatrical experience, still remains as what
I call one of the great “organizing experiences” of
modern life in America. I think it’s going to last.
A lot of it will obviously depend on the industry producing
movies that people want to see, and also the experience remaining
safe, clean and comfortable. But given all those things,
I don’t see any real diminishment.
I think the greatest threat, to be honest
with you, is the piracy threat. If people can get movies
for free, and they’re
easy to get, and if they don’t believe it’s really
stealing, that it’s kind of quasi-stealing, that they’re
never going to get caught, then I think that’s a real
NATO and the MPAA joined forces in July to create an employee
cash-reward system to combat camcording in cinemas. As you
commence your post, how do you see the MPAA and exhibitors
working together, and individually, to combat piracy?
I think the partnership is terrific. I’m aware of this
rewards program. I’m hopeful we can make it as a big
and expansive as possible. Yesterday we had a briefing internally,
and our guy who handles domestic piracy talked about this
program and the successes it’s had. Theatre employees
have actually thwarted illegal camcording and brought in
law enforcement. This is a very important part of our efforts.
The House yesterday passed an anti-camcording
bill which would make it a federal crime to use a camcorder
circumstances, and I think that will be helpful when working
with the theatres. And we’ve created [anti-piracy]
But, listen, this is a problem that’s got to be dealt
with comprehensively. The biggest problem, of course, is
going to be Internet peer-to-peer file-sharing and movie
downloading. If technology has its way you’re going
to be able to download very, very quickly and with very good
Currently the District of Columbia, California and 17 other
states have specifically outlawed using camcorders to record
movies in cinemas. How effective have these state laws proven
in combating piracy? What effects will the adoption of similar
legislation on a federal level have on the industry?
First of all, as I said, the Congress is getting into the
act because, I think, making this a federal crime will highlight
the issue. In some states like, for example, New York, it’s
kind of like a traffic violation right now. It’s not
really even a misdemeanor.
I know that Vans Stevenson, who heads up our
state and local government efforts, is working with all the
states to get
comparable legislation passed, and trying to bring as much
severity to the penalties as reasonable.
And then it takes a conscious effort to have
continuous enforcement. Quite frankly, it’s tough when you’ve got competing
problems like terrorism and other kinds of things that take
resources away from us. That’s why these rewards programs
and self-help programs are really so important, because sometimes
it’s hard to get local law enforcement the resources
necessary. We need to continue to work on that.
What strides has the MPAA made in combating the profusion
of piracy overseas? How effective do you believe international
free trade agreements will be in aiding in these efforts?
The problem is very serious. There’s a massive amount
of unauthorized copying going on everywhere and it’s
an enormous problem for us. There’s just a very good
copying industry, an extraordinary copying industry, and
so it’s got to be dealt with continuously through direct
government-to-government contact. It’s got to be on
the agenda when discussing new trade agreements. We have
to ensure that intellectual property protection is included,
There are certain parts of the world that
are worse than others. Russia, of course, would like to become
of the WTO [World Trade Organization], but there is just
this huge amount of piracy in Russia, much of it physical
piracy. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about granting
the Russians WTO if they’re not complying with the
law on international copyright issues.
But let me bring this back home for a moment.
movie came out a week ago Friday …
“Mr. 3000.” Middle of last week, somebody brought me
a “Mr. 3000” DVD purchased right down the street
from the MPAA. You know how sometimes you can get mad at
things, but when it gets brought home it really makes you
mad? It’s a big problem here, not just in Europe and
How important is it today
to preserve filmmakers’ freedom
of expression, and how do you feel about the recent congressional
hearings regarding on-screen tobacco use? How much is too
much governmental intervention?
Well, fortunately, we don’t have a lot of governmental
intervention at all. The rating system is voluntary self-regulation.
It would be a real high priority for me to keep the government
out of the content business. Obviously with freedom comes
responsibility, so that’s why you do have the rating
With regard to the smoking issue, filmmakers
have been voluntarily working on ways to try to reduce the
amount of smoking in
movies, but I think that we have to ensure that we keep the
regulatory arm out of this business. The creative juices
are what makes the American film industry great.
This year we had at least two very controversial
Passion of the Christ” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Both
were strongly attacked by opponents and there was talk about
somehow restricting them, but it didn’t come from the
government per se, and that’s a great thing. Both films
were aired and we survived them, and I think we’re
better off because both films were shown.
How has the Janet Jackson
incident affected, if at all, the MPAA’s efforts
to administrate the rating system?
I don’t think it’s had much of an impact on movies.
I think it’s clearly had an impact on broadcasting.
Yesterday there was actually a hearing before Sen. [Sam]
Brownback’s [communications] subcommittee on this subject.
Of course, he’s from Kansas, and I know him quite well.
He seems to want to try to move towards a universal rating
system where the rating is the same in all areas, which is
tough to do because the media are so different. But I think
that Janet Jackson thing was not helpful. That’s the
way I’d put it.
What was best piece of advice Jack Valenti offered you?
To be honest with you, he told me to be myself.
Look, Jack’s a tough act to follow. He’s had
the job for 38 years. He’s brilliant, he’s articulate,
he’s somewhat flamboyant, although in a strange way
he’s also a very humble man. He carries a presence
with him certainly, and he’s got all these relationships.
So he said, “You’re not gonna be me, you don’t
wanna be me, just be yourself.”
My kids would like to see me dress more like
Jack. I tend to come from the more natural school of trend.
from Houston, he’s not necessarily from a small town,
but I carry that small-town Kansas perspective. The old expression “You
can’t take the country out the boy” applies,
even though I wasn’t a rural kid and my dad wasn’t
a farmer, he was in the scrap-iron business. But I do have
what I call “that red-state mentality” – you
know, the red and the blue states – and Kansas is a
pretty red state.
What upcoming movie are you most excited about seeing?
Well, of course, any movie my son’s been producing
is my favorite movie. The most recent one was “Mr.
3000,” with Bernie Mac. The greatest movie I’ve
ever seen! Until the next one comes out! [Laughs]
Actually, he’s had some movies that I’ve really
enjoyed. He was involved in four Jackie Chan movies, “Rush
Hour,” “Rush Hour 2,” “Shanghai Noon” and “Shanghai
Knights.” I thought those were all very good and entertaining
and clean. No excessive use of violence or language, even
with all the karate-type stuff. My son was also involved
with a movie called “Grosse Pointe Blank.” That
was a good movie. He was associate producer of a movie called “While
You Were Sleeping” with Sandra Bullock, which was his
first major movie. He did a movie two years ago I thought
was great, the remake of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” It
Now, I’m not saying those are the only good movies
I’ve seen. Recently I’ve seen a lot of these
more independent movies, “Maria Full of Grace,” “Napoleon
Dynamite,” “Garden State,” all very good
movies. We see all types. I took my wife to the “The
Bourne Supremacy,” and I liked it a lot. We both liked “Collateral” a
lot. I’m looking forward to “The Polar Express.”
Do you have an all-time favorite movie?
I don’t really have a favorite movie. I’ve said
I’ve seen “The Godfather,” I and II, a
hundred times, maybe more. It’s funny, when I came
into this office, Jack had several pictures around, and I
put up “The Wizard of Oz,” because it reflects
my Kansas background. But there’s not one favorite
What do you think of the megaplexes?
As long as there’s a nice big screen and comfortable
seats and the facility is convenient, safe and clean, I think
it’s fine. Those are the things people like. Then it’s
up to the industry to produce good movies, or movies people
want to see.
What item at the concession stand can’t
you live without?
I’d say popcorn. When I was ag secretary I had jurisdiction
over federal nutrition programs, so I was the guy who finally
signed off on the food-guide pyramid dietary guidelines – and
one of the things I tried to do was create more nutritional
balance by encouraging the expansion of concession menus.
But I still love the popcorn.