Can Movies Save the Day?

05/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dan Glickman Former Congressman and Secretary of Agriculture and a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Institute

Spring is here. That means one thing for movie fans--summer blockbuster season is upon us. Thoughts turn to Star Trek, Harry Potter, Transformers and other big action films. Spoiler alert: In the end, good prevails over evil, the world--in fact--does not come to an end and all is right in the universe (at least until the sequel).

...If only truth could imitate fiction.

This morning in our nation's capital, MPAA is bringing together the film community and the Washington policy community to talk about "the business of show business." At the start of each new Congress, we pull back the curtain on a unique and creative American industry and shine a spotlight on how movies contribute not just to our culture, but our economy.

As part of this event, we release a biannual economic impact report on the contributions of the film and television industry to the U.S. economy. Among the highlights:

· More than 2.5 million American jobs are supported by film and television--actors and writers, yes, but also truck drivers, architects, accountants, make-up artists, ticket takers, set builders, costumers, animators, digital effects folks, stuntmen and more. Overwhelmingly these are middle-class folks who earn a living wage.

· Our industry contributes $80 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

· We employ over 115,000 businesses in every state in our union.

· And, with American movies embraced around the world, we contribute $13.6 billion to the U.S. balance of trade.

Our report includes case studies that bring this creative community to life. Take the film Marley & Me. In addition to Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, 2,000 folks in Florida and 500 in Pennsylvania helped make that movie (along with the 22 dogs who played Marley).

Whether it's Clint Eastwood filming Gran Torino in Michigan, Brad Pitt playing Benjamin Button in Louisiana or Terminator: Salvation recreating the cyborg wars in the New Mexico desert, innovative policies are fueling what is fast-becoming a truly national industry. State-of-the-art production facilities are cropping up across the country. One in Pontiac, Michigan is creating 6,000 jobs 30 miles outside Detroit. What a powerful symbol of the opportunities creative industries can help deliver throughout America.

And, the benefits continue long after production wraps. Tourism can increase up to 75% after a popular film's release. In fact, 20 years after Field of Dreams won us over at the movies, 65,000 people still travel each year to Dyersville, Iowa to visit that cornfield.

Of course, one side effect of making something people love is that we follow the box office almost as fervently as we follow baseball scores. Both are favorite American pastimes.

The story at the cinema is quite positive right now. That's a good thing. It means jobs and economic opportunities. But the movie theater is just one aspect of the business. Home video and television face serious and well-documented challenges. So there remain real questions about how we keep the jobs, growth and great films coming.

In this environment, the right policies matter. We care a lot, for example, about free and fair trade. We want to make sure that American films can be seen around the globe. We also devote substantial time and resources to rallying the world to the cause of intellectual property rights and protecting the value of creative works. We just had a significant victory in the Swedish courts. But we also know that we need to innovate ourselves. We need the flexibility to respond to consumers and give them new ways to enjoy the legitimate, genuine article in flexible and fair ways--at the movies, online or anywhere they choose.

I'm proud of the starring role that movies play bringing joy and inspiration to people around the globe. But the real-world role we play at the heart of our modern, creative economy is too often overlooked.

This summer it may be Decepticons versus Autobots. But with the right policies and a focus on the value of creative industries, next summer's big hit might just be America: The Sequel. What a comeback story it could be. As they say at the movies, a brighter day awaits.