INTERVIEW: Charles Rivkin, CEO, MPAA

What are some of your top priorities and projects as you begin your first full year at the helm of the MPAA?

My mission is to represent American film and television on the global stage. Every day, I tell the story of this iconic industry—and it’s a great story to tell. We support millions of jobs and hundreds of thousands of small businesses here at home. Outside the United States, films and television shows are some of our country’s greatest ambassadors and exports. They serve as a cultural force for good in the world. 

My immediate priorities include promoting a strong creative economy, encouraging the production of new movies and television shows to drive continued job creation, defending intellectual property, reducing piracy, and expanding access to markets around the world.

We began 2018 with cinemas in Saudi Arabia playing Hollywood films for the first time in over 35 years. What does this development represent for the film industry’s continuing efforts in global expansion?

Stories told on-screen promote free expression and encourage mutual understanding. They have the power to build bridges across borders and between cultures, in every corner of the world. 

Having traveled to Saudi Arabia while serving as assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, I saw firsthand a Saudi business community that was eager to embrace new opportunities that come with more openness. I firmly believe that the return of cinema is a positive step for the development of Saudi Arabia’s local creative economy, for audiences across the Middle East, and for our entire industry. We are stronger when we collaborate with storytellers and film enthusiasts around the world.

What sort of evolution and collaboration would you like to see between Hollywood and the constantly growing Chinese market? 

With their box office passing $8.6 billion last year, China is a vital market for our studios. The 2012 MoU agreement has helped our industries grow stronger together. But continued success will require greater and fairer access for American films and television shows. We are confident the current MoU renegotiations will bring further engagement and build on this solid foundation.

We are also working directly with our Chinese counterparts to improve dialogue and understanding between our two industries. Last year, we saw a new high of 40 U.S. films shown in China. Our industries collaborated on an historic 10 co-productions. And we continue to support emerging creators and filmmakers, championing exchange programs and workshops.

Black Panther has been an enormous box office success. What are you doing to advance diverse creators and inclusive storytelling? 

Films like Black Panther, Coco, Wonder Woman, and A Wrinkle in Time demonstrate that global audiences crave stories and characters that reflect the diversity of all communities. Inclusive stories are not only important to tell, they are good business as well. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend community screenings of both Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time. I sat with cast, crew, and local vendors who made these films come to life. The energy in those theaters and the passion of the creators is what this industry is all about.

The MPAA and our member studios are committed to building an inclusive talent pipeline and increasing diversity across our industry. Through our inclusion and outreach program, we work with and support more than 20 national civil rights organizations and multicultural groups on these issues.

In an age of rapid digital transformation, do you think audiences still go to the movies? 

Absolutely. The movie theater experience is unparalleled. Thanks to films including Black Panther, the U.S. box office is up nearly 13 percent in 2018. Even with all the competition from other screens, we are seeing audiences continue to show up in theaters. Part of that is because theaters are making the effort to improve the experience. But it’s also because there is no match for the excitement of seeing a great movie in a room full of strangers.

The MPAA will continue working closely with our partners across the industry to develop more ways for people to see the movies and television shows they love—in the theater, at home, and on their devices.

Piracy is an ongoing issue and concern. What is the best way to approach such a problem?

Piracy undermines the entire creative economy. It endangers millions of jobs and makes it harder to recoup the significant investments that go into the production of new movies and TV shows.

To protect creators and creativity, we cooperate with governments and law enforcement agencies to disrupt the criminal operations behind large-scale piracy websites. We support the growth of legally available creative content across hundreds of platforms and services. And we partner in voluntary initiatives with responsible parties across the internet ecosystem. 

Through initiatives like the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), we are also working with other content creators to reduce online piracy. Using the content-protection expertise and resources of the MPAA, ACE brings together 30 leading content creators committed to reducing online piracy and protecting the legal marketplace for creative content. 

This unprecedented collaboration in the fight against piracy has already delivered results, including a court ruling in February that stopped the extensive piracy activity of Tickbox—a distributor of piracy devices and apps. 

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges facing the film industry in the coming years?

The film and television industry is changing rapidly, thanks to new technology, innovations in storytelling, and many other factors. Creative companies are charting new strategies to develop the best content and deliver it how and when audiences want it.

Looking ahead, we must ensure creators can take advantage of these opportunities. Global piracy remains a significant threat, especially in the form of preloaded devices and infringing apps. We must continue to defend intellectual property and protect the rights of creators to produce their works. We need open markets so even more audiences can enjoy the great content being produced.

Importantly, these changes are an opportunity for the MPAA—and the entire industry—to have a forward-thinking dialogue that explores what the future looks like. Our mission could not be more important in this dynamic environment. 

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