MPTF faces “imminent death” and the prospect of going out of business by the end of the year – a deadline

The more than 100-year-old Motion Picture & Television Fund, hit by the “perfect storm” of rising costs and falling revenue, is facing its “imminent demise” and the very real prospect of closing its doors and going out of business at the end of 2022. unless it receives a dramatic infusion of cash donations.

“Our mission has never faced challenges this dire,” MPTF President and CEO Bob Becher said in an urgent appeal to about 600 industry leaders. “To put it bluntly, the MPTF’s legacy and mission—our ability to exist—is in real jeopardy. Our ability to continue to support the thousands of industry members on our campus and in the community who depend on the MPTF for food, shelter, charitable assistance, medical care and socialization literally hangs in the balance. Without some dramatic infusion of funds, we won’t be able to take care of our own for a long time.”

“After more than a decade as MPTF CEO, I’m writing a letter I hoped I’d never have to write: one that says we desperately and urgent i need your help,” he wrote. “Going through the pandemic, every member of the MPTF trust team has been forced to take a hard look at our financial circumstances; and things are not looking good right now.

“Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, MPTF has experienced a staggering operating deficit as a result of a devastating combination of Covid-related costs for residents and staff at our Woodland Hills campus, nursing shortages and lower staffing levels, as and lost revenue from our major events during the pandemic, all costing us more than $20 million. Note the recent decline in our investment portfolio! Never underfunded, the MPTF has always survived year after year and deficit after deficit. We are now operating in dangerous territory, rapidly depleting our cash reserves.

See his full letter to industry leaders here.

The impact of the pandemic on MPTF finances is profound. According to the MPTF, the 101-year-old charity lost about $22 million from 2020 to the end of this year due to the pandemic, including more than $9 million in direct Covid costs, more than $7 million in lost revenue and nearly $7 million in event shortfalls for fundraisers affected by Covid. The losses would have been even greater if not for $1,296,108 in federal funding to assist providers.

Beitcher told Deadline that “Covid costs of more than $20 million over the past three years, a decline in our investment portfolio and weaker fundraising have combined to create a perfect storm to put the MPTF up against the wall in terms of ability him to meet compliance of his bank line and continuation of current operations. So we wanted to release this now and give the industry a chance to step up and be held accountable before it’s too late.

“If we don’t raise $10 million-$12 million by the end of the year in cash, we run the risk of breaching our bank covenant. What the bank does after that is really unclear. The bank has many options, but in theory it could bankrupt us.

“We borrowed over $20 million – this was before my time – in the early 2000s. Part of it was to finish construction on the Stark Villas, and part of it was to do other construction work around campus. We’ve been paying it back regularly since then, but we have about $13 million outstanding on that loan. We have the ability to continue paying it off at the rate we’re paying it, but the bank line requires us to maintain a certain cash balance that exceeds the outstanding loan, and that’s what we risk falling below.

Asked if it was possible MPTF would soon go out of business, he said: “That’s one possibility for sure.”

As for the 250 retirees who live at MPTF’s Woodland Hills campus, Beitcher said, “It’s inconceivable to me that our industry couldn’t find the generosity to support MPTF, but you can imagine that over 250 residents, many of whom are the most fragile and vulnerable in our community, to be forced out, to live out their final years in much worse conditions because we couldn’t find the philanthropy to sustain this venture.

“We know how our industry reacted 13 years ago when we considered closing our skilled nursing facility. It was ugly and rightfully so. People said, “Why didn’t you tell us he was in trouble?” Now we are, and we’re giving everyone the opportunity to step up and support with sustaining gifts. But the bottom line is that somehow – don’t ask me how this happens or when it happens – that we’re not going to be able to pay staff and we’re going to have to work with our residents to find housing elsewhere. And the people we give charity help to in the community, we’re going to have to tell them that our help with their rent, our help with their carers, our help with everything else that we’ve done to support them is going to go away. It’s unthinkable, but that’s what we’re looking at.”

In his letter to industry leaders, Bechter notes that many have left the MPTF in their wills, but stresses that it won’t do much good if the charity goes out of business before they die. “In recent years,” he wrote, “we have received a number of extremely generous pledges to be paid at a future date, after the death of the donors; but honestly, at this point it’s pointless to fund our future if we can’t survive in the present. We need your help now! As an industry leader, you can make a difference in the lives of those who have worked to sustain our industry by fulfilling my personal donation pledge of at least $20,000 per year for five years. And you can help further by introducing us to new potential donors.”

“Your pledge and those of others will make the difference between the MPTF’s existence for generations to come and its impending demise,” he wrote. “I know we can resolve this because we must if the MPTF is to survive this financial crisis and continue to provide services to our community.”

Becher, who has made such a promise himself, told Deadline that “I’m not asking people to do anything more than what I’m doing.”

The MPTF will also personally reach out to about 50 top industry leaders who can make “much larger gifts,” he said. “Everything is available. There are giants in our industry – companies and individuals – who have done extremely well financially for themselves in the entertainment industry over the years. But I don’t think we should be blind to the fact that thousands of workers in the film and television industry every day who have done the hard work to help these people and companies make their fortunes, and these are the people who MPTF serves. So it’s time for some of these giants to step up and do the right thing.

“Let’s be clear,” he told Deadline, “there are a lot of people and companies in the industry that have been generous to us over the years — some of them in years past, but not recently — so we’re going to speak to those people as and to many of those who have given recently, and I want to make it clear that we are very grateful. But there are a lot of people who have done well in this industry and haven’t seen the need to support the fund, and I think it’s time for everyone to get behind the idea that the MPTF is going to be around forever; that it is well funded and to get rid of the mentality that others will support it and that it is not necessary and to really understand what is going on. Because we’re either going to raise a lot of money by the end of the year, or we’re going to face a broken bank line and having to close the doors.”

He’s also asking rank-and-file industry members to dig a little deeper. “It’s a similar message, but obviously we’re not going to ask them for $20,000 a year for five years. It will be at a level that they can give because it is there for them. Most of our residents are not tycoons – they are people of industry, and if these people want the campus and community philanthropy to be there for them or their colleagues and their colleagues, then they should give us periodic monthly gifts – maybe is $10 a month, but they have to get on the list and support this organization.”

Founded in 1921 by Mary Pickford, the MPTF, notes Beitcher, “has been around for 101 years. It’s a charity that makes the entertainment industry unique in terms of self-care. We exist because of the philanthropy of our industry members and their generosity. That’s how we get from one year to the next. If that philanthropy dries up or diminishes at a time when the need is greatest, with all these costs of Covid and all, then we will not last. It’s this perfect storm of more than 60,000 Covid tests, lab setup, PPE, isolation wards when we have residents who are infected, rising costs everywhere, unfilled beds because we can’t find enough nursing staff to fill the beds – that’s lost revenue for us. And three years of either virtual fundraising events or live events where people were worried about coming or sponsors were worried about supporting because their business was down — just that — the events part cost us $9 million over the last three years . We just didn’t have a big enough bank account in this crisis to come out of it as a viable organization.”

Beitcher, however, said he remains confident the MPTF will weather the “perfect storm” once the industry realizes the gravity of the situation. “What keeps me going to sleep at night and waking up ready for a new day,” he said, “is my deep conviction that our industry simply will not allow this incredible charity — one that has created a safety net for the workforce more than a hundred years; one that served 10,000 industry workers with over $7 million in charitable aid during the pandemic and made 30,000 sign-up calls—just go. I understand that this is a difficult time in the industry; that poor economic conditions have affected investment portfolios. But I also know that there are hundreds of industry leaders who can rise above all this with solid financial support for the MPTF. I will work day and night as before, and I am confident that we will get through this.”

However, he said: “I don’t want to scare our residents and I don’t want to lose staff who may start running for the doors looking for new jobs. That’s the balance I’m trying to find.”

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