After finding success with 1998’s “Rush Hour,” a 29-year-old Brett Ratner was eager to give back, though he wasn’t initially sure how.
“I became successful at a young age,” the now 47-year-old RatPac chairman says, “but, in school, there are no classes on philanthropy. I learned how to give back from being in Hollywood.”
By 2002, Ratner became involved with Chrysalis, which helps the homeless get back on their feet through employment-preparation classes.
“Being homeless, they were alienated from their families because of the humiliation of it,” he says. “Chrysalis gave them their self-confidence and their dignity. When they started earning a paycheck, they reconnected with their family. That really moved me.”
At the time, the filmmaker didn’t realize just how close to home Chrysalis’ mission would hit. “The irony was that my dad ended up becoming homeless because of drug addiction,” he says. “He stayed away for some of the same reasons. It helped me forgive him and realize he was ashamed that he couldn’t take care of me and my mom.”
“Brett’s work with Chrysalis comes from a very personal place,” says the nonprofit’s CEO & president Mark Loranger. He adds Ratner’s “heartfelt and earnest desire to help” includes establishing the organization’s annual fundraising event in addition to volunteering with Chrysalis clients.
Ratner attributes his sense of compassion to his mother. “Growing up, there was always someone on my couch that needed a place to stay,” he says.
Ratner also works with Ghetto Film School, acknowledging that such mentors as Bogdanovich, Roman Polanski, Warren Beatty, Robert Evans, James Toback, and Lawrence Gordon were crucial to his success.
“I lived with Bob Evans in his house,” he says. “Every day I would go into his bedroom and lie on his bed and ask him questions.”
He says it also meant a lot when, as a New York University film student, directors would visit his classes. “It made it tangible,” Ratner says. He does recall, however, how one successful director refused to share tips and tricks with the then-aspiring filmmaker. “I got freaked out, like, ‘Are their secrets in film? Is there a secret society? I’m never going to be able to become a director.’ But the guys who are the most successful are the most giving and the most open.”
With this in mind, Ratner recently joined Ghetto Film School’s board, after having previously taught classes at its MacArthur Park location.
“He’s a great teacher,” says Joe Hall, the organization’s founder and president. “Students and alumni really respond to him.”
Ratner is also a longtime supporter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“Brett is a yeshiva boy that became a Hollywood personality,” says founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier. “He’s not just a name on the board of trustees. He cares deeply. He’s emotional about it.”
Ratner is a big fan of the organization’s Museum of Tolerance and its Academy Award-winning film division, Moriah Films, which focuses on educational documentaries. Ratner’s company distributes the center’s films. Its next project is scheduled for May, and focuses on the late Shimon Peres, who served as president of Israel as well as prime minister. George Clooney narrates.
“Making documentaries is my hobby,” Ratner says. “It gives me the most joy because they’re always hard movies to get made.”
Ratner also produced the 2014 Holocaust documentary “Night Will Fall,” an Emmy and Peabody recipient, as well as the 2016 climate change doc “Before the Flood” with Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I never dreamed I’d be making movies the size of ‘X-Men,’” Ratner insists. “I was a storyteller. I never dreamed of having this house, or nice things, or nice cars. It wasn’t as important to me”
In 2013, Ratner donated $1 million to the Academy Musem of Motion Pictures.
“Brett has a sincere love of movies and film history, and we are excited to welcome him to our group of supporters,” said Bill Kramer, the museum’s managing director of development, at the time.
He also never imagined he’d have such a solid support group. “I don’t know anybody who has gotten the generosity that I’ve received from people in this town,” he says. “That is why I have to pinch myself.”