MPAA lead man Dan Glickman had a "get me out of here" look on his face for most of Saturday afternoon's Brave New World: Entertainment and Social Change panel. And can you blame him? A sometime congressman and former Secretary of Agriculture, Glickman was nothing but humble upon his turn to speak. "I came here as the least qualified person to speak about movies," he admitted. "Here I am representing what I believe is the most powerful industry in
America ... [and] I have a lot to learn about this business." Cue poor agriculture metaphor in 3 ... 2 ... 1: "Indie film is the intellectual fertilizer of America," Glickman said. Presumably, this was his way of beslavering the assembled masses, but it hardly came off.
By that point in the panel, Glickman had already dug his own grave with an opening gaffe that pretty much stripped him of what little credibility he had as even a film fan, let alone as the enforcer o fpolitics over content. Earlier, moderator Pat Mitchell got the following all-in-fun jab in the ribs whilst introducing panelist/God of Sundance Robert Redford:
Mitchell: [Redford's] body of work includes, from the very begining ... films about so much
more than enjoying ourselves– they were about changing the world. The Candidate actually led to some people running for office –
Redford: Yeah – the wrong people.
About twenty minutes later, after his own introduction from Mitchell, Glickman tried to improv-riff on that little exchange, with the worst possible results.
Glickman mumbled, so I'm paraphrasing, but his opening statement went something like, "I may have been the wrong person to run for office, but I did it long before The Graduate." It's not just that Hollywood's most powerful government representative managed to accidentally insult the most important independent film advocate in (maybe) the world whilst enjoying said advocate's hospitality – he did it by referencing a film that then-pretty-boy Redford was famously up for the lead in, only to be passed over for Dustin Hoffman. The reaction? Darts from Redford's eyes, a murmur from the crowd, and an interruption from Mitchell: "The Graduate?"
Glickman is a convenient scapegoat in this crowd – probably everyone on the panel (which also included producer Jeff Eberts, founder of eBay and Participant Productions Jeff Skoll, and indie distribution master Bingham Ray) has had a ratings scuffle of some kind, and surely a good portion of the audience lives in fear of his determination to brutally prosecute any and all piracy that appears on his radar. But other than a few moments of minor humiliation for a guy who was probably asking for it by showing up in the first place, the panel was smoothly engaging, if not revelatory. The remainder of my notes follow, below the jump. I think, beyond Glickman, they really key stuff here comes from Jeff Skoll, who broke down exactly why his Participant Productions can justify putting out two potentially incediary George Clooney films in a single year without every worrying about using the star to turn a profit.
Redford on his "initial intentions with Sundance": '[I'm] on the side of content ... That's always where I'd prefer to be ...The mainstream was broader, in the 70s, but there were changes clearly on the horizon ... Indie film was pretty
much DOA at that time."
"One of the falings of American Life is to never look at both sides of technology - we know that there's an upside. [...] When globalization occured at same time as studios shifted gears so that they were more like clearing houses ... Where was it all going to go? And when I met Jeff Skoll - I could see that the studios not being what they were, someone was going to have to step up. [...] For me, social entreprenuership was a path I saw as the future – making money by
doing something good."
Skoll says he pursued businss with the idea that when he became rich, he could funnel his money into his true life-long dream: making socially conscious films. At first, he considered taking his eBay money and taking some time off to write a script. But then, "The lightblub went off - it was the message that was important," and writers could be hired to execute it. "Then," he said, "A second bulb went off - how do you get these stories to people?" Hence Participant, a company that looks for socially relevant projects to produce, and then works, after the film's release, to extend the audience's involvement beyond passive moviegoing and towards social action. It's a company, Skoll says, with "a double bottom line, where social good is part of the mission and the mandate."
They've released four films in the past year alone: Syriana , Good Night, and Good Luck, Murderball and North Country. And, according to Skoll, "With every film,we also have a social action campaign that goes along with
the movie." So, with Syriana, they partnered with the NRDC and Sierra Club. The idea is that, if the films are well executed and marketed to the right audience, people will go see a movie about oil consumption run amok, get inspired, and want to do something to change the world. Participant tries to make that move to activism easy.
Jake Eberts, "the don quixote of the movie business" - goes around world asking people to put money in do-gooder films. He's gungho on video as a medium available to the masses - his wife is doing a project teaching African mothers how to make movies. He says they get 2000 people watching the films on a sheet tied between 2 trees
Bingham says that films like Redford' s 'changed my life' in the early 70s. He speaks to the problem of the slump, but essentially says he's glad for it. "This year has been a resurgance of films that really are saying things to people that matter. The need is there, the desire is there..." It's just that the audience isn't".
Dan Glickman, meanwhile, went to CES this year. He was not impressed. "None of that [technology] makes any difference if there's not a story to put on that equipment - they're just empty screens."
Reford - "It's actually exciting to entertain and inform at the same time. ...No matter how we slice it you can't have arrogance or pretension outweigh the fact that we're in the entertainment business." He brushes off last year's slump as
cyle, but quality is cyclical, too. Everyone agrees that, whilst maybe there were no blockbusters in 2005, the market was/is full of good films.
Reford: "I will always be interested inissues that overwhlem our abilities to be individuals. Did All The President's Men really change journalism? ... There was a high point, and great glory ... And now look where we are. Did The Candidate
change anything? No, now its even worse. They may not make big opening weekends, but I have a feeling that big opening we are like cotton candy."
Skoll - "When bob called himself a cynical optimist, I thought, well, that's a realist. ... For Participant, the goal is social change - if a film doesn't have that impact, no matter how financially sucessful it is, we've failed."
He tells a story about launching a letterwriting campaign, simultaneous to the release of North Country, that might have helped get a domestic violence act renknewed by congress. Glickman breaks in: "The MPA screened that movie for Congress." The audience applauds.
Dan Glickman thinks that even though theatrical atttendance is down, thanks to technology, overall moviewatching is
up. Which is propbably true, but still, it's an unquestionably ironic statement coming from the mouth of the country's leading crusader against DVD piracy, or even duplication.
Jake did Ghandi, which was a "blockbuster message film." He had another last summer that acheived the balance between commerce and social change. He wanted to make a love story set in the Arctic, but with everything set up and ready to go, an actor dropped out and left him stuck. ... A guy called him after he had written off the polar-set narrative, and said, "I have 87 hours of footage of penguins."Jake watched about 14 hours of it and tried to buy the rest, to no avail. Then, at Sundance 2005, Eberts bought March of the Penguins for 1 million in the lobby of its premiere. It made $80 million, and they got their socially relevant love story after all.