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Hollywood Meets White House at War Summit

12 Nov, 2001 By: Staff Reporter

In the parlance of the entertainment industry, key figures from Hollywood and Washington held a "meet-and-greet" Sunday morning at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, where Bush administration senior adviser Karl Rove outlined a seven-point White House message that he'd like Hollywood to broadcast worldwide, and Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA, promised "to contribute Hollywood's creative imagination and personal skills to the war effort."

The summit -- which ran just over an hour and 45 minutes and was co-hosted by Sherry Lansing, chairman of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group, and Jonathan Dolgen, chairman, Viacom entertainment group, and attended by their boss, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone -- ended without recommending any specific action.

There was some discussion about Hollywood creating public service announcements and entertaining the troops, but both sides emphasized that there was no discussion of the White House dictating the story lines of movies or TV shows.

"I will say it up front: There was no mention of content," said Valenti. "That was not the subject. Content was off the table."

Attempting to set the historical record straight, Rove added that even during World War II, Washington did not issue Hollywood marching orders. "The industry will decide what it will do, and when it will do it," he said.

"There was a great deal of enthusiasm, because the war against terrorism crosses party lines," said Lansing. "It's not about being a Democrat or a Republican, it's about being an American. All of us in the industry have this incredible need and urge to do something."

The historic meeting did represent the beginning of a rapprochement between Hollywood and the current administration. During the Clinton years, many prominent industry execs had regular access to the White House, but since the Bush team took over there has been little informal contact between Hollywood and D.C.

Following the meeting, at a press conference that took on the trappings of a road company version of "The West Wing," Rove outlined the administration's seven talking points:
oThe war is directed against terrorism, not Islam.
oAmericans must be called to service.
oSupport for the troops is needed.
oThe terrorist attack was a global attack, which requires a global response.
o"This is a war against evil."
oWe have a responsibility to reassure our children.
oInstead of propaganda, the war effort requires "concrete information told with honesty and specificity."

Rove did pass along one recommendation, an e-mail he read from the captain of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt requesting new, first-run movies for his ship, since its current film library is old and stale from repeated viewings. But, Rove added, "I did not come with a wish list ... just a few suggestions."

No future meetings have been set, but the Hollywood execs present expect to set up an ongoing structure, with reps from each company, while the White House will establish a regular contact to interact with Hollywood.

"Now, we're going to talk among ourselves about some concrete forms and plan of action," said Lansing.

Industry figures present at the press conference also included Melissa Gilbert and Robert Pisano of the Screen Actors Guild, Jack Shea and Jay Roth of the Directors Guild of America, Victoria Riskin of the Writers Guild of America, the TV Academy's Bryce Zabel, Robert Iger of the Walt Disney Co., Sony's John Calley and Amy Pascal, MGM's Alex Yemenidjian, Paramount's John Goldwyn, Fox's Tom Rothman, Gerald Parsky of Aurora Capital, and producer-director Lionel Chetwynd.

Others in attendance at the meeting, which included 42 participants, included CBS' Les Moonves, DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, Universal's Stacey Snider, Fox's Sandy Grushow, Showtime's Jerry Offsay, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Frank Pearson and attorney Bruce Ramer, among others.

Although Sunday's summit followed a smaller, exploratory meeting in October, the impetus for the latest confab grew out of a conversation Lansing had with Parsky at a recent University of California board of regents meeting. Parsky, in turn, opened up a line of communication to the White House, expressing Lansing's interest in joining the war effort.

The meeting included a briefing on the war from Rove. "Everyone was incredibly impressed," said one participant. "I learned things I didn't know. And from that, there was an incredible percolation of ideas."

--Gregg Kilday for The Hollywood Reporter

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