EXCLUSIVE: Today is Giving Day at the Motion Picture & Television Fund – a day on which it celebrates the 101st anniversary of its first donation. But on this Giving Day, the MPTF is sending out an urgent call so that it can continue to help industry professionals in need.
By the end of this year, MPTF’s Covid-related expenses will have topped $9 million since the start of the pandemic, pushing its cash reserves into “the critical zone.” So it’s asking the industry to “step up,” either through donations or by volunteering.
“We’d love to see the average industry worker commit a little bit of money every month to making sure that this place is around when they need us in the future, or when the people who work on the set with them need us in the future,” MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher told Deadline. “People shouldn’t just assume that this place is going to be here forever because it’s only here thanks to the generosity of industry members, and it can’t be just a few super generous people. It has to come from everyone.”
MPTF Chief Development Officer Courteney Bailey told Deadline: “Giving Day is about celebrating the past 101 years, which is truly remarkable, and it’s about our vision of the future. I want everyone to know that this is a place that is like their alma mater. There’s a lot going on in this world and there’s a lot of instability in life, but this is the most incredible industry on the planet. So we want to thank them for the work that they do, and we want them to be there for us as well. So Giving Day is truly just a show of gratitude to this industry for taking care of us, because the only way that we can continue to be around in this beautiful circle of life is if people continue to support us so that we can continue to support them. And that’s really what it’s all about.”
Beitcher said: “Giving Day is the recognition of the start of our charitable organization and an opportunity to remind the entertainment industry of that and to try to get everyone to participate in some fashion in giving to support the organization. Our goal is always to get 100% of the industry to participate in some fashion. We don’t have a specific financial goal as much as a participation goal.”
With Covid, he said, the need has expanded greatly. “Through the end of this year, we will have spent $9 million internally on different Covid needs: PPE, isolation units, staff for isolation units that we had to bring in from outside, testing – we’ve done 60,000 or 70,000 tests for our residents and staff – and on and on. But it’s cost us $9 million that we obviously didn’t budget for and had to dip into our reserves in part to pay. So on this Giving Day we’re focusing on Covid relief, trying to make up for some of those extraordinary costs.”
The MPTF would have been even more stressed financially if it hadn’t received a $7.38 million Payroll Protection Program loan at the start of the pandemic, which was forgiven in June 2021.
“The requests for services have grown exponentially, especially since Covid,” Bailey said, noting that in 2021, the largest share of needs at intake – 33% – were for supportive counseling. “Many people come in for supportive counseling, and then we find that they need financial assistance or other services, as well,” she said. Combined, 61% of needs at intake are for supportive counseling and financial assistance.
Direct financial assistance accounted for 28% of needs at intake. In 2021, the MPTF gave out more than $3.5 million in financial assistance. Of the 4,644 people served by the charity’s community and campus services last year, more than half were members of IATSE or SAG-AFTRA.
Financial assistance, Beitcher said, “grew dramatically in 2020 and the first half of 2021. That leveled off in 2022, and we’re back to 2019 levels. And with the volume of production going on, a lot of our under-65 production workers are working and have less need for financial assistance, but they’re still there.”
Even so, he said, the MPTF’s reserves “are less than healthy.”
Currently, there are 220 residents who live at the MPTF’s retirement village in Woodland Hills, CA. Six died of Covid in the early days of the pandemic; three more died last year, and one died three months ago. “It was more lethal for everyone” in those early days, Beitcher said. “We didn’t have testing and we didn’t have vaccines, so we had a lot of silent spreaders, and people who were medically compromised were getting Covid and not being able to overcome it.” Today, he said, “we have a bunch of open beds that we can’t fill because we can’t find nursing staff to support the units.”
Asked how long the waiting list is to become a resident, he said: “It really depends, because we do independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care. Right now, in skilled nursing and memory care we have 80 beds, and my guess is that if we had another 40 beds, we could fill them in a month or two. But we don’t. We can barely staff the beds that we have right now. This is part of the nationwide critical nursing shortage.”
The campus is currently Covid-free, he said. “Today, we are what’s known as ‘all green.’ We have no residents with Covid and no staff who have interactions with residents who have tested positive for Covid. So people are free to move around, we’re doing communal dining, our theater has reopened, the residents are using the pool and the gym, they’re having social activities. So it’s pretty much back to normal. We’re still encouraging them to wear masks when they leave the campus and go to large indoor spaces, and they’re still wearing masks in our theater.”
But Covid-related expenses are still piling up. “Even if Covid is less on people’s minds and we think we’re getting back to normal, we’ll spend $2 million this year,” he said. “On a campus like ours, when one person gets sick, you have to open an isolation unit, you have to bring in new staff, you have to start wearing PPE, and you have to start testing twice a week. It triggers a whole set of activities that are expensive.”
On October 8, MPTF will hold its first open house on campus since the start of the pandemic.
“Before Covid, we had a pretty successful, pretty large open house,” Beitcher said. “People toured the campus, and we had a big crowd in our theater. So this is a much-reduced version of that. It’s what we can do now and we’re going to be happy to see some folks on campus — and keep our fingers crossed for 2023.”
Asked what the future looks like for MPTF, he said: “I wish I could answer that. Obviously, the world is a lot more changeable than we thought it was a few years ago. We have the Baby Boomer generation of entertainment industry workers retiring in large numbers, so we expect to see a lot of need for them in terms of financial aid to support their continuing to age in place at home; to their need or desire to move on to campus, as well as financial assistance for care-giving and other things that help people stay in place. So the need isn’t going away. Hopefully the Covid need will be going away, but the need for our industry members for support from a charity like MPTF will be there and only grow over time.”
About 20% of needs at intake last year were for those interested in living on campus or those who need help with aging at home. Another 10% was for case management. “Our small but mighty team of social workers are continually helping people,” Bailey said. “And it’s not just a one-time call or a one-time financial distribution. It’s about making sure that everyone is taken care of properly.” Another 9% were from those struggling with mental health issues, social isolation, safety and memory loss.
Bailey stressed that making donations is not the only way industry professionals can give to the MPFT. “We talk about donate, advocate and volunteering,” she said. “Beyond making donations, we also want people to know about us and to talk about us and to spread the mission because we need as much peer support as possible. As you can imagine, when it comes from the organization, it’s impactful, but when it comes from your friend, your boss or your employee, it’s almost even more impactful.”
In terms of volunteering, Bailey said: “There is everything from making a phone call by being a part of our daily call sheet to combat social isolation to our incredible program that our director of community engagement, Fredda Johnson, runs called Angel Cards. Our residents weren’t receiving any kind of mail on their birthdays, and it just started out as simple as that. We’ve had organizations, companies and guilds creating their own birthday cards. And they don’t just sign a card; they write heartfelt notes. And now residents’ mailboxes are overflowing with love through birthday cards. And we encourage companies to do days of service on campus. Of course, campus at times is restricted – one week is different from the next. But companies like Paramount – ViacomCBS – they do Via Community Day, and they come on campus and do a wealth of volunteering, from interacting with residents, to meals to art classes to improve cleaning up, decorating and bringing wheelchairs. Just bringing joy to campus.
“And when it’s restricted and you can’t come to campus, there are ways to get on the phone or write a note, and there are various ways to volunteer in the community: food delivery for people who are dealing with food insecurity issues. We also have a Next Gen group who help provide gifts to our residents and gifts to people in the community, and they have networking mixers. And it’s important because we really need the next generation of Hollywood to know who we are. Beyond that, we’ve got mentorship programs, where we’re working with various partners, and it’s very much based on inter-generational connections; getting wisdom from your elders, and vice versa. And those are incredibly meaningful.”
Those interested in volunteering, Bailey said, can go on the website, MPTF.com/volunteering. “That’s the easiest way, or just give us a call. If you call our intake line, we will take you to the right place.”
“The more people that we make aware of our services – the good side is that we’re able to help more, and they’re calling us more,” she said. “And the flip side of that is that it’s also putting pressure on our fundraising capacity to support those needs. We’re serving nearly 5,000 people in our community and campus social services. We were up to 10,000 in 2020 in terms of requests. In the past two years, our needs and requests for services have gone up tremendously. And there’s not much slowing. In 2019, it was about 4,000. It’s not quite as much now as in 2020, because people were not working at all then, but the needs are still increasing beyond that peak we saw in 2020. And when you look at who we are serving, and it really speaks to our mission, 35% are IATSE members. So it really is those below-the-line workers who take care of us and bring so many people success, and we are doing our part to take care of them.”
Beitcher’s ties to MPTF date back to 1990, when he got his first job in the industry – when MPTF’s Payroll Pledge program was still going strong. “Studio workers, writers, directors, actors – they put into their contracts that they were committing to give anywhere from a half a percent to 2% of their pay to MPTF in the form of a payroll pledge,” Beitcher recalled. “I did it when I went to work at Paramount in 1990. It just came out of your paycheck to the MPTF. Back in the day, in 2021 dollars, we were getting $10 million a year in Payroll Pledge. In 2021, we got $450,000.”
In real dollars, that’s an annual shortfall greater than all of MPTF’s Covid-related expenses since the start of the pandemic. So where has Payroll Pledge gone?
“The industry changed,” he said. “It no longer, for whatever reason – corporate ownership – it just stopped being part of the HR on-boarding process. Part of it was that most people who worked for the studios – in camera departments and lighting departments, all those crafts departments – those departments were shut down; they all became freelance, and so they’re on seven payrolls in a year. And it’s hard to do Payroll Pledge and track them every time they move to a different production. So it got gutted for a bunch of reasons. It stopped being the culture of the industry. When I joined Paramount in 1990 and went around the first few weeks to meet people working at the studio, one of the questions people asked me was, ‘Are you giving to Payroll Pledge?’ Because that was part of the culture, and it was important to them. It said something about you if you answered ‘yes’ to that question. But that culture has gone away, for whatever reasons, and we’re trying to bring it back.”
The best way to donate, he said, is “to go to our website and sign up for monthly credit card deductions. Giving us a credit card number and pledging $10 a month or $100 a month is the easiest thing for people to do. We have Payroll Pledge at MPTF, but obviously that’s just us supporting ourselves.”
The pandemic also cost the MPTF in terms of revenue when its big events – like its Night Before the Oscars and its Evening Before the Emmys – had to go virtual.
“An organization like ours, it’s hard to buffer $9 million in additional costs out of your reserves when you’ve got other needs that haven’t gone away, and in some cases have only gotten bigger,” Beitcher said. “So we need to rebuild these reserves after three years of these Covid costs. And not only Covid costs, but we went from these big Night Before and Evening Before events to these virtual events that were very successful – probably some of the biggest or the biggest virtual events in the industry – but they raised a lot less money than our in-person events.”
Giving Day, Bailey said, “is really about talking about our mission, sharing the needs that the organization is facing – the many requests for services – and to get as many people engaged as possible. We want to grow our constituent base, and this is about grassroots fundraising. It’s about 100% participation. It’s quite a lofty goal, and many organizations talk about that. But this is about everyone in our industry coming together to support each other and to strengthen the fibers of the safety net – or we like to call it a ‘trampoline’ now, because we don’t want to just catch people; we went to get them back on their feet. So this is about reaching a wide audience, about thanking them for the work they do, and about asking them for their support.
“We’re there for them, and we need you to be there for us,” she added. “So this year, we’re trying to reach as many people as possible, have everyone participate in any way they can. And then something special that we haven’t been able to do in a couple of years, is anyone who makes a gift of $25 or more, we’re going to invite groups to come onto our campus and to re-engage with us and to get to know us a little bit better or just to come to the campus so that we can thank them properly, because we’ve really been missing that in-person connection.
“We have a ton of services; we have a great structure, and we just need to help people,” she said. “They need financial support; they need these counseling services. That’s why we have to do as much as we possibly can – everything from this Giving Day, to reinvigorating what our former chairman of the board, Jeffrey Katzenberg, started with a Country Home fund. And now our CEO is carrying on the tradition of asking leaders of the industry to match his giving. And our CEO is personally committed, as well as professionally committed, to helping MPTF, and we’re going to be launching a fundraising campaign that’s a little bit higher-level, asking people to make pledges, in honor of the 100th anniversary, of $100,000 over a period of time, to support us. We need support in every area, and we’re really working on getting the message out there so we can continue to help as many people as possible.”
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