The Motion Picture & Television Fund may be best known for its star-studded “Evening Before” and “Night Before” events, held annually before the Emmy Awards and the Oscars to raise money for its charitable efforts.
But the fund also hosts smaller events for its members, such as the upcoming “Day at the Races,” now in its sixth year. The event, a day-long family picnic scheduled for October 22 at Santa Anita, is the brainchild of dooner, associate executive director for the Art Directors Guild and a member of IATSE local 800, who first got involved with MPTF seven years ago.
“I recognized the value of what MPTF does for the workers of this industry and in this town,” he says. “Truly they’re the first go-to source for help. As a result, I decided I wanted to dedicate my time and efforts to ensuring that they remain a vibrant source for those workers and that they were going to be around for some time to come.”
That’s how he came up with the idea for the family event at the racetrack. dooner jokes that he made the mistake of saying, “Hey, what if we did…” “That’s all it took before I was told, ‘That’s a good idea’,” he says.
He wanted to be able to have an event that was affordable to the average worker: “Not everybody can buy a $500 ticket to a dinner,” he says. Over the course of six years, it’s blossomed — doubling attendance and funds raised every year. Last year, the event — which raised $150,000 — moved to a larger space on the track’s infield to accommodate the burgeoning crowd.
“Now we have room for a bigger focus on the family aspects,” says dooner, who says there are games for kids, crafts, photo booths, and more. “Maybe you’re a fan of horse racing and that’s what drives you to it. Or maybe you’re just coming out for the chance to get together with other industry workers.”
One of his favorite parts of the event, he says, is seeing the residents from the retirement home in Woodland Hills enjoy the day out, thanks to MPTF president/CEO Bob Beitcher, who sponsors a group every year.
“Seeing them have fun out in that atmosphere, seeing the smiles on their faces, as they’re joking around, figuring out which horse is going to win is truly joyful to watch,” says dooner.
In his position atop the guild, he’s seen firsthand the benefits MPTF can offer. “I’ve had members who come to us in great need — they’ve lost work or they’re having a hard time due to financial concerns or they’ve taken ill,” he says. “We’ve had several members who have had an unfortunate cancer diagnosis. And MPTF has been there both financially and psychologically with services to help guide them through their treatment and recovery. And that means a lot to me and to the guild. That drives my continued involvement.”
He’s benefitted as well from MPTF’s programs — a former smoker, he quit 13 years ago thanks to the fund’s smoking cessation program. “Workers don’t take the time to think of what is the impact of that cigarette and where can they turn to for help,” he says. “It’s not as easy as putting that box in the garbage can.” Now, he says, “I can breathe quite well, thank you.”
For dooner, the message from the MPTF that all industry workers need to hear is that “You’re not alone.”
“When there’s a need, they’re there,” he says. “When that shoe drops and there’s nowhere else to turn, MPTF is there. They’re there now and they have been for over 95 years. And they’re going to keep being there. That’s why we do things like holding events, to make sure they have the resources to continue their hard work.”
For more information on the event, visit mptf.com/datr.