President to kiss, make up to Hollywood

When President Obama heads west to Los Angeles on Wednesday for a fundraising junket, he will have a bit of smooth talking to do.

After all, Obama’s trip to the West Coast marks the first time he has been back in California since siding with Silicon Valley over Hollywood in the dispute between the state’s power centers over online piracy. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Obama’s decision to weigh in and side with Silicon Valley last month came at a key political moment, and Hollywood’s supporters on the issue ended up retreating. Now, with some in Tinseltown still reeling from the decision to support the anti-piracy legislation, Obama will be looking to mend some fences with one group and win even more support from the other.

In recent months, Hollywood has felt like a stepsister of sorts to Silicon Valley, a place where Obama — who has held Facebook and Twitter town halls — has spent time not only fundraising but seeking advice from techies. (Who can forget the famous photo released by the White House showing the president hobnobbing with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, the late Steve Jobs and other tech types?)

“There’s definitely been some resentment, especially among those at the studio level,” said Ted Johnson, managing editor of Variety, who writes the popular Wilshire and Washington blog. “When he had that big meeting in Silicon Valley [with Zuckerberg and Jobs] I think it crossed some moguls’ minds, like, ‘Why isn’t he having a similar meeting here?’ ”

In the wake of the divisive spat over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), some movie heads said they were disappointed in Obama’s decision to side with Silicon Valley, particularly at a time when they said he didn’t have to weigh in.  

Shortly after Obama intervened, backers of SOPA were forced to pull their bill from consideration after a massive protest by online sites including Google. 

One Hollywood mogul told Deadline.com last month that some in the industry “feel very let down by the administration … for not supporting us.”

“At least let him remain neutral and not go against it until we can get the legislation right,” the mogul said. “But Obama went against it. I’m personally not going to support him anymore and not give a dime anymore.”

Jim Gianopulos, the co-chairman/CEO at Fox and an early Obama supporter, told Variety that he can’t say he’s “very enthusiastic about providing support” to the president this time around.

“If you went to Detroit and said, ‘I think the Japanese build better cars,’ I don’t think you would feel a wellspring of support if, as a candidate for office, you went there for fundraisers the next week,” Gianopulos told Variety.

Obama campaign aides would not comment on what Obama might say at the fundraisers in California or whether the president would even mention the online-piracy fight. But campaign aides said events in both parts of the state have been oversold.

Obama hasn’t exactly been a stranger to Hollywood. Actress Eva Longoria — a frequent guest at the White House — is one of Obama’s bundlers. Beyoncé serenaded him at one of his inauguration balls. And Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stopped by the Oval Office recently for their own private powwow.

Even on Wednesday, as he lands in the City of Angels and swings by to collect checks, he’ll have actor Will Ferrell, a co-host of the event, at his side and the Foo Fighters performing for him. 

And sources say there’s an even bigger fundraiser for Obama in the works at the home of mega-watt film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg in April.

But Obama hasn’t captured the hearts of everyone in La-La Land. Actors Matt Damon and Samuel L. Jackson have joined a chorus of one-time believers who now have their doubts. “I just hoped he would do some of what he said he was gonna do,” Jackson told Ebony in an interview this month. “I know politicians say s--t; they lie because they want to get elected.”

Variety’s Johnson recalled that in 2008, “there was so much enthusiasm that he was going to be so different.”

And there was some expectation that an Obama presidency would resemble former President Bill Clinton’s, observers say. But he hasn’t been very Clinton-esque, either.

While Clinton would stay at record and film executive David Geffen’s home when he swept into town, Obama prefers hotels. If Obama is having celebrity sleepovers at the White House, like Clinton, word hasn’t leaked out.

“He’s kept an arm’s length from the business,” Johnson said.

But those in the business of celebrity say Obama won’t be punished for taking a stance on SOPA and that any ill will inevitably will be forgotten by Election Day.

“SOPA was a deeply flawed proposal, and while it generated vigorous debate, it’s unlikely that many who disagreed with the president’s position are likely to support his opponent because of it,” said Trevor Neilson, an L.A.-based philanthropic adviser who has consulted A-listers including Demi Moore, Ben Stiller and Madonna.

And if celebs were to carry a grudge, it wouldn’t be about the anti-piracy bills, Johnson said. Inarguably, the biggest gripe they have is about the utter gridlock Obama causes when he comes to the traffic-congested city.

“People are always saying, ‘Why does he always come right at rush hour?’ ” Johnson quipped.