EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood has answered the call and rallied to the rescue of the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which late last year was facing its “imminent demise” and the very real prospect of closing its doors and going out of business. Since MPTF sounded the alarm in October, emergency fundraising efforts have raised nearly $12 million and saved the 101-year-old charity from the brink of disaster caused by a “perfect storm” of rising expenses and declining revenue during the Covid pandemic.
And while the immediate crisis has passed and MPTF’s financial condition has stabilized, it’s still in urgent need of donations in order to continue operating as a safety net for thousands of film and TV industry workers, and as a retirement home for hundreds of industry veterans.
“We’ve stepped back from the brink,” MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher told Deadline. “We squeaked through our ‘whew moment,’ but the need is still there; it’s still urgent. It’s definitely not the time for the industry to think MPTF is fine, that others have solved the problem and that they don’t have to step up themselves. There are still many large companies and industry leaders who can and should join in supporting us.”
At the start of the pandemic, MPTF had over $40 million in reserves, which fell to just $16 million by the end of 2022 – a decline attributed to the cost of keeping residents and staff safe during the pandemic; lost revenues from vacant beds and a moratorium on new admissions during the pandemic; lost funding from its big annual events such as the Night Before the Oscars and the Evening Before the Primetime Emmys; a decline in its stock portfolio, and the general uncertainty in the economy and the industry, neither of which is inducive to fundraising.
“With debt obligations and year-end bank covenant compliance staring us in the face, at the end of September we were barely 20% toward our total fundraising goal for the year and could only see trouble on the horizon,” Beitcher told family members shortly before Christmas. “So, the hopeful news I can share with you today is that our call to action in October lit the fire under a lot of industry members who care about MPTF today and its future but weren’t paying attention to their need to provide basic financial support. While we may not hit 100% of the 2022 goal by year end, we’ll get close enough, and will make some adjustments in our bank loan, and MPTF will continue to be in position to provide our campus residents and community-based industry members with the same high quality of compassionate care in 2023 and beyond.”
“I’m always reluctant to predict the future,” he told Deadline on Friday, “but we now have financial stability for the next few years, at least, and if we can continue to raise money at the level that we approximated in 2022, then we should be around for a long time. But this wasn’t a three-month sprint. It’s a hundred-plus-year marathon, and the finish line is building an investment reserve that’s large enough that the income from it, along with the annual fundraising and our events, can be an essential element of our long-term sustainability, and we’re a long way from that right now.”
In October, Beitcher said that MPTF needed to raise $10 million-12 million by the end of the year to stay in business. “We’re still doing that final tallying,” he said on Friday, “but it looks like we’ll get pretty close to the $12 million, and we have a couple of generous long-term pledge-holders who agreed to accelerate their 2023 pledge into 2022. So, we had the cash on hand at the end of the year to meet our liquidity covenant with the bank. In fact, at the end of the year, we paid down half of the debt and renegotiated the loan and reduced the covenant and put ourselves in a good position for 2023 and going forward.”
The bank, he said, “understood where we needed to be and they were flexible in meeting our needs. The outstanding loan was approximately $14 million, and we paid down $7 million.” MPTF’s financial picture will again be improved at the end of 2023 when it will finalize the sale of an 18-acre parcel to the south of the campus in North Hollywood that will be turned into a privately owned luxury senior community.
Asked how all this uncertainty has impacted MPTF’s 250 residents and those who may be planning or hoping to become residents, Beitcher said that he’s told current residents and their families “that things are stable and that they shouldn’t be concerned about us not being around – that we are stable and that they shouldn’t be concerned either about moving onto the campus, or if they’re on campus, needing to find alternative options.
“Our message to them is we got through the year and the financial situation is stable and that whatever concerns they had in 2022, they can make a New Year’s resolution to forget. But having said that, like any other not-for-profit, it’s always a year-to-year enterprise. But if we can continue raising money at the pace of $12 million a year, plus our annual fund raising and our events, then we are on solid and stable ground.”
Beitcher also said he wants to thank the many individuals, unions and companies that stepped up over the last few months to save the charity. “Among other things that this three months will be noted for was a passing-of-the-baton moment in terms of MPTF fundraising, with industry leaders on the creative side taking a big role. People like Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Rian Johnson, Susan and Robert Downey Jr., John Wells, Peter Rice, the Russo brothers, Vin Diesel, Jane Semel and Sherry Lansing – folks who were not only large contributors in 2022 – and many of them first-time large contributors – but who also are strong advocates and were people who were on the phone calling their networks to help raise money, and in many cases, very successfully, and have committed to doing that in 2023 and beyond.”
Among the lessons MPTF has learned is that it can no longer depend primarily on just one generous supporter to lead its fundraising efforts, as it once had with Lew Wasserman and then with Jeffrey Katzenberg. “So, we’ve moved from this one-person model – it was Lew and then it was Jeffrey,” he said. “People asked, ‘Who’s going to be the next Jeffrey?’ And we’ve been saying for years that there’s not going to be another Jeffrey; it’s going to be a different model. And I think we have landed on that model of fundraisers, and it turned out to be creatives, producers and that whole network of the next generation of industry leadership.
“And it was also a moment for the guilds and unions to step up. We got significant year-end gifts from the DGA, the WGA, IATSE, Prop Local 44, IATSE Local 728, and SAG-AFTRA, which is always an outstanding donor and stepped up their giving in 2022 and for 2023 and beyond.”
He noted, however, that with a few exceptions, the big conglomerates that own the studios and networks have yet to do their part. “NBCUniversal is a substantial and very loyal donor,” he said. “Disney gave us a nice gift in 2022; the Redstone Foundation has been a longtime donor for us, and Amazon Studios is stepping up in 2023 with a multi-year pledge as well. And then, to be honest, it drops off. So that’s obviously something we’re focused on in 2023 and beyond.”
In December, the MPTF also got a big boost from KTLA, which hosted the charity’s first-ever telethon that raised over $876,000. “We’re really super grateful to KTLA,” Beitcher said, noting that the station “has asked us back for 2023, and hopefully it’s going to be an annual event.”
Courteney Bailey, MPTF’s chief development officer, told Deadline that the telethon “was a brand-new experience and a great opportunity for us. And because it came in the storm of our call to action, it was an even more powerful tool than we could have imagined. We were flooded with grassroots and smaller donations, which is beautiful because we’re trying to build up our donor pyramid and our support at every single level.
“Working with the KTLA team was tremendous, and we are hoping to make this an annual event moving forward with no end date. So, we’re chatting with the KTLA team about what 2023 is going to look like.” She said she’ll be meeting with KTLA general manager Janene Drafs on Saturday.
In the wake of the telethon, she said, “We’re trying to tell our story more, and that’s what’s going to get MPTF support. We had a ton of non-industry members support us financially and reach out to say, ‘Wow, I had no idea there was an organization like this. I wish other industries had a safety net like you provide, but also thank you for taking care of the people who bring us so much joy through film and television.’ So, we were thrilled and really grateful, and it was probably the highlight of our entire year, coming together in that way during that very challenging time.”
Preparations, she said, are also underway for the MPTF’s Night Before the Academy Awards fundraiser in March, which will be held in-person.
With regards to MPTF’s future, she said: “It’s something we think about often: the short term and the long term. When it comes to fundraising, we are definitely in marathon mode, while being very well aware that there is a sense of urgency. We got over such a hill last year, but we are by no means done with it. The good news is that at the end of September, we were less than 20% to our additional annual target of the $12 million, events aside and other fundraising. And by the end of the year, we closed that gap and paid off half of our loan covenant, so it gave us a really good sense of optimism for the future. And what we’re looking to do is to continue this. We cannot send out an urgent call to action every year. But what we can do is continue to cultivate the people who did step up and who did reach out, and to not only have them consistently give to us, but be involved in meaningful ways so they really get to know the organization better and to use their voice. That’s what been so beautiful. We’ve had advocates say ‘Not only am I going to make a donation, but I’m going to talk to others on your behalf.’ I cannot express how valuable that is to MPTF.
“So in the short term, we are looking to make the Night Before and the events this year special; the telethon raise as much money as possible, and then we are developing plans with our board, as well as our internal team, about strengthening our 100% participation goal and the donor pyramid at all levels. We believe in the mission so much. I’ve never spoken to anyone inside or outside our industry who doesn’t say, ‘Wow. What an incredible organization and the work that the staff does’ – our social workers, our nurses. The product is good. It’s just that we have to tell our story better. We’ve been saying that for a while, but we’ve found that the key is that peer-to-peer storytelling. And I think we’re well on our way.”
“Everyone who knew us a bit or heard from someone, they heard our call,” she said. “They stepped up. They got it, and it clicked. So now I feel that our responsibility is to keep grinding, to keep going out there and to keep telling our story, because I truly believe that people are seeing this next century of service and they want in, and they want to make sure that this place doesn’t go away.”