SCENE ONE: In a limousine on the way to the Senate Subcommittee on Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks at the Dirksen Building. Elliot Silverstein, film director and chairman of the President's Committee of the Directors Guild, is talking.
"George, you go first. You make the broad moral statement." He is talking to George Lucas, the director of "American Graffiti" and the driving force behind the "Star Wars" films. "Yeah, I'll go first," Lucas says, smiling just slightly. "I'll take the bullet in the shoulder."
Steven Spielberg, the director "E.T.," "Jaws" and "Empire of the Sun," is squashed in across from him. "I just hope that when we leave Washington the man in the street will be well enough informed about moral rights to say, 'Does that mean they're gonna stop putting color on black-and-white movies?' "
Call it Close Encounters of the Congressional Kind. Or Misters Spielberg and Lucas Go to Washington.
Yesterday, an impassioned group of filmmakers, producers, writers and assorted legal support jammed themselves into a couple of limousines and made their way to Capitol Hill for a day of serious politicking to plead for support for the moral rights of artists.
What they were urging is that the United States join the 76 other nations that support the Berne Treaty, which guarantees artists the right to claim authorship of their work and to object to defacement of it. For these movie people, that defacement takes such forms as colorization and editing or subtracting frames to fit a film into a TV time slot. They are opposed by the studios, the Motion Picture Association of America and others who want the copyright owner, rather than the creative artist, to retain control.
So, here, as the Capitol dome comes into view, last-minute strategizing continues in the back seat.
"The practical issue is colorization," Lucas says, "but the thing that brought me out is larger than that. I don't think that people can really care that deeply about colorization, but if they think that all art is in danger of being destroyed, then maybe they'll see that something must be done."
"If we just deal with colorization, we're trivializing the issue," Spielberg says. "Colorization is just symbolic of what this issue really involves, which is the basis of all art."
"What I don't want to see," says Lucas, "is 'Star Wars' with a rock score and a nude Princess Leia."
"I just hope that they don't turn the boulder in 'Raiders' into a snowball," Spielberg says.
SCENE TWO: In a hallway inside the Dirksen Building, a long line of young Spielberg and Lucas fans is hoping to mix stargazing with their civics lesson.
"Why are you here?" one group of girls is asked.
"To see Steven!" they answer, in unison.
SCENE THREE: In the committee room, as another group of witnesses testifies, the movie group waits its turn. At a pause in the proceedings, a concerned staff member asks if Spielberg and Lucas want to take a break before it's their turn.
"Nah," says Spielberg. "We don't need to take breaks. We've worked in Tunisia. We're camels."
SCENE FOUR: Committee room. From right to left, Lucas, screen writer Bo Goldman, Spielberg and Silverstein -- all dressed in dark suits -- face the committee. Sitting behind the green-felt-topped table, with the television lights beating down on them, they look smallish and a bit out of place. And the ardor in their voices and the sense of mission they convey make them seem like anything but powerful Hollywood types. In fact, the roles for Lucas and Spielberg are less those of the two most successful filmmakers in movie history than of humble supplicants begging favors.
"In this case, we're like David," Spielberg says. "And Goliath is, well, you know who they are. And we have one stone, one shot, and we want to aim straight and make it count. I never have really been in the role. Neither has George. I mean, in own own lives we're not. But we're representing a lot of directors who don't have our power and can't fend for themselves."
The filmmakers begin reading their statements and, as planned, Lucas weighs in with the heavy guns.
"Creative expression and imagination are human qualities," he tells the committee. "They are part of the very essence of what it is to be human. People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society."
Goldman, who wrote the screenplays for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Shoot the Moon," strikes a more subtle note in talking about the preservation of an artist's work.
"Art," he says, "is neither a patent, a copyright nor a trademark. Art is the soul of a nation ... It is like quicksilver; it can't be shaped or hammered into some form to serve one generation and then dismembered to serve another. It is like taking a baby and saying this arm's no longer any good, it's not the kind of arm that's in fashion now."
Then it is Spielberg's turn. "In the interest of fair play and honor among civilized nations of the world, we ask the Senate to stand up and perform an act of political courage: to resist the economic powers which insist that you serve them only and not us; to recognize the moral principle involved here as of greater importance to our national self-esteem than another buck on the bottom line; to grant that Berne requires moral rights in American law that do not now exist."
Though the committee seems receptive, there is little sign of movement. "If I were to write a screenplay of what's happened today," Goldman tells the committee members, "I'd call it 'Berne Now, Moral Rights, the 5th of Never.' "
At this, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is prompted to quote from a punning note written by one of his aides. "The directors have come to defend against the Raiders of the Lost Art. And I hope they don't find themselves in the Temple of Doom."
SCENE FIVE: Rayburn House Office Building. Spielberg is behind closed doors in the office of Oklahoma Democrat Mike Synar. In the outer office, a staffer is clearly impressed by the visitors.
"He's the most famous person ever to come in this office," says Elizabeth Ames, a legislative assistant.
"Mostly we get country and western stars," chimes in Kim Koontz, another assistant.
So, they are asked, who's the second most famous person?
Koontz answers quickly, "The Fonz." And then thinks a moment, and adds, "Spielberg's more famous than the Fonz, isn't he?"
SCENE SIX: Office of AFL-CIO President Lane Kirland. Spielberg and his party have moved to another part of town, while Lucas and company continue to work the Hill. By now, though, Spielberg has received a crash political education. And it seems to have captivated him. So much so, in fact, that during the drive over, he's even tried out his Reagan impersonation.
"I've had a lot of experiences in my life," he says, "but I've never had an experience like this. I mean, just to see this process in operation. I know it sounds corny, but it makes me proud to be an American."