Can $5 truly make a difference? The answer is a resounding yes, according to the Motion Picture Television Fund, which is kicking off a grassroots fundraising campaign titled “We All Play Our Part” — urging everyone in the industry to contribute a small weekly amount from their paychecks to fund the charity’s efforts.
To help kickstart the program, Paramount Studios held a series of events on its lot last week, capped with a screening of George Clooney’s new film “Suburbicon.” The actor fondly recounted his own visits to the facility in Woodland Hills that’s both a home and a care facility for retired and ailing industry veterans.
“It’s amazing when you go out there, because the one thing you realize is that we are actually a family,” Clooney told Variety ahead of the screening. “It isn’t just actors. It’s crew members. It’s family members. It feels like an old vaudeville show. There are all of these people telling stories — it’s so fun and alive.”
In addition to the facility itself, MPTF also provides a range of much-needed services to those in need in the entertainment community — from emergency financial assistance, counseling, and palliative care. But providing those services has created a budget shortfall of $7 million a year.
“We All Play Our Part” aims to boost donations from all levels of the entertainment industry with a “payroll pledge” — asking employees to commit to a small, regular contribution from their paychecks. The hope is this initiative will help bridge that gap. It’s a revival of an idea that fueled the fund in its earliest days, but since diminished considerably in favor of big giving. “In the heyday of payroll pledge, we raised, in 2016 dollars, about $10 million a year. In 2016, we raised $450,000,” reports Bob Beitcher, MPTF’s president/CEO, who recalled signing his own pledge back when he first started in the industry 27 years ago. “There was a time where the culture throughout the industry was a moral imperative to give back to others if you’re lucky enough to be working. That’s what we want to get back to.”
Clooney’s own commitment to the cause was sparked after he shot the TV show “Unscripted” at the home in 2003. After spending what he calls “real time” there, “I just felt like I wanted to participate more,” he says. “And if you give any signal like you want to help out, [MPTF board chairman] Jeffrey [Katzenberg] will make it your life’s work. He really hounded me to get more involved than I was because that’s what he does really well.”
The actor now calls his experience working with MPTF a “joy.” “I’m always proud to be a part of it,” he says. “I feel like everyone that’s involved is only involved for the right reasons. How many times do you get to say that?”
The MTPF is also calling on industry leaders for support in getting the word out. Paramount launched the campaign, thanks to the support of Jim Gianopulos, who serves on the board of directors. Other studios are set to follow suit, including Warner Bros. next month.
“We thought that going back to that payroll pledge was both a way to engage people in the fund’s activities but also to provide a steady flow of money,” says Gianopulos. “It’s not going to close the financial gap in and of itself but it does make people feel connected, and resurrect that tradition of taking care of our own and playing our part.”
The organization’s supporters are confident they can reach their goals — especially given that during the heyday of payroll pledge, the employment pool was not only much smaller and there was far less production. “It’s not just the five bucks out of your paycheck,” says Clooney. “That’s helpful and that will make a difference. What it does do is remind us that we’re all in this together. You’re going to see a real sense of pride in people feeling that they’re all participating.”
The MPTF also offers other ways to contribute beyond just financially, such as volunteering to make calls to those who may be suffering social isolation. (“I just call Jim,” jokes Clooney.)
Rising health care costs — as we’ve seen given the ongoing debate in Washington — have only exacerbated the situation. “We are looking at this year over 2,000 industry workers and their families who, given where things seem to be headed, they’re going to lose their health coverage,” says Katzenberg. “And many of them are going to turn to us to be that safety net. We need to and should be there for them. Nobody ever knows who is going to come up with the short straw in this.”
The response so far has been overwhelming, but the MPTF is focusing on the long-term. “This is not a one-week or one-month campaign,” says Beitcher. “It’s going to be a marathon, but we’ve got a great group of people who are willing to go out there and support it. We have great confidence that we’re going to build a baseline of givers that we can count on year after year, and start getting that payroll pledge number to where it once was.”
Katzenberg recalls a conversation he once had with Kirk Douglas, which he calls “the most important words that anybody in my life ever said to me.” Douglas told him: “Jeffrey, you haven’t learned how to live until you’ve learned how to give.” That’s what’s driven his own passion for philanthropy. Simply put, he says, “Giving is a gift.”
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