Bush Aide, Hollywood Execs Discuss War Effort

By | November 13, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Top showbiz execs pledged Sunday to step up their contribution to the war effort after a meeting with White House senior advisor Karl Rove.

Details of Hollywood’s multifront initiative will be forged over the next few weeks, but industry moguls made clear their desire to pitch in. The campaign will include helping the Bush Administration spread its message regarding the war on terrorism both at home and abroad, support for U.S. troops and buttressing resolve among the American public.

“All of us in the industry have an incredible urge to do something,” said Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing.

One concrete plan to come from the session was to send DVDs and videocassettes of firstrun films to U.S. servicemen, particularly Navy officers stationed at sea. That outreach, spurred by an e-mailed request from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, could begin in a few days, one studio source said.

The other specific item on Sunday’s agenda was public service announcements Hollywood could help produce for both domestic and overseas markets.

Both sides of Sunday’s discussion said that blatantly propagandistic films, TV shows or songs are not the goal.

“Content was off the table today,” said Jack Valenti, president-CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. “Directors, writers, producers and studios will determine the kind of pictures they choose to make and the compelling stories they want to tell.”

Nearly all major film studios and TV networks were represented among the 40-plus attendees at the 90-minute Peninsula Hotel session in Beverly Hills, as were the film and TV academies, the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America. Warner Bros. and Miramax, while still firmly committed to participating, were unable to send any execs Sunday.

Attention now turns to Washington, where Hollywood lobbyists have been invited to the White House on Friday to discuss the war effort, Daily Variety has learned. Top-level Bush Administration officials will conduct the debriefing.

Those invited to the session include Walt Disney Co.’s Preston Padden, Viacom’s Carol Melton, Universal’s Matthew Gerson and Fox’s Michael Regan. In the days and weeks to come, Valenti and the rest of the Washington crew are likely to play go-between, keeping the lines of communication open.

Rove invoked the industry’s role in the patriotic ardor of World War II, alluding to early war pictures such as “Confessions of a Nazi Spy.” He said any war-related material coming from Hollywood this time around will aim to express seven main themes:

The war is against terrorism, not Islam;

Industryites have an opportunity to issue Americans a call for service;

Americans should support U.S. troops and their families;

The Sept. 11 attack was a global attack requiring a global response;

The war is a war against evil;

Children and families need to be reassured;

Propaganda will not be initiated;

Capitol Hill also is reaching out to the entertainment biz for help in shaping an effective message. On Wednesday, producer-writer John Romano will testify before the House International Relations Committee.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chair of the key committee, is concerned that the U.S. has fallen behind in recent years in terms of public diplomacy, and wants to tap creatives for effective story-telling ideas.

That nexus between creative and corporate minds is at the heart of the Hollywood-Washington balancing act, an already delicate feat given one participant’s estimate that 90% of those in the room were registered Democrats. Several of those in the room indicated that it would take directors, actors, writers and producers – not solely CEOs and studio or network chiefs – to make Hollywood a factor in the war effort.

A similar meeting several weeks ago, in fact, involved creative players to a much larger degree than Sunday’s Rove-ordered event. The earlier brainstorming session with lower-level government officials spawned ideas such as producing documentaries on the anthrax threat and fostering better understanding of the U.S. overseas.

Lansing said about 150 people from the creative community, whom she declined to identify, had volunteered their talents.

The budding bond between President Bush and Hollywood is politically advantageous for showbiz. While the White House gets to tap the creative know-how of the business, Hollywood gets to put some political capital in the bank.

The music biz also was included in Sunday’s sit-down, with Recording Industry Assn. of America president-CEO Hilary Rosen flying from Washington to L.A. to attend. Her appearance signaled that the White House also wants to forge a working relationship with the major recording labels.

The tete-a-tete would have been unimaginable at this time last year, when Valenti and the studios were being ripped apart by some in Washington for marketing violent, R-rated pictures to kids.

Later this month, the Federal Trade Commission will issue a report grading Hollywood on how well the biz reined in its marketing practices. Congressional insiders say they don’t expect Capital Hill to jump on the report as a means of criticizing Hollywood, as some key pols did last year when the FTC released its initial report.

Various parties involved stressed that Sunday’s event was both non-partisan and the beginning of a process that is likely to take weeks and months.

“It’s the first time the White House has put out a hand, and it’s the first time we’ve put out a hand,” one studio exec said. “There are many big-picture causes and issues that when the entertainment biz gets beyond you, you can create change and awareness.”

Valenti has stressed repeatedly that the meeting was the “beginning of the beginning.”

One person attending the meeting said the “cooperative spirit was just terrific” and that it was clear the industry wants to take the initiative, rather than be directed by the government to develop a specific project, whether it be a picture or a TV show. “Now everybody will go back and caucus with their own creative teams,” the insider said.

Rove is overseeing the White House’s propaganda effort, which also involves how the war is portrayed in the domestic and international press. Network news execs, like Hollywood studio chieftains, have been willing to accommodate various requests by Washington, saying they don’t want to jeopardize military strategy or U.S. troops.

In the coming days, so as to avoid duplicated effort or confusion, reps from each studio, network or organization will be gathered into one committee likely spearheaded by the MPAA.

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