The backers of tonight's benefit premiere of "The Russia House," starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, hope it will be more than a glittering debut of a new movie. They want it to be the beginning of a turnaround for the Motion Picture and Television Fund that has seen contributions sharply decline in the face of rising costs.
"It's not a crisis situation," said Roger Davis, a top executive at the William Morris Agency and the current fund president. "But the problem is that we're starting to lose money and we depend heavily on voluntary contributions and bequests from the film industry's employees."
Best known for its Motion Picture and Television Country Home retirement facility in Woodland Hills, the fund also supports a full range of health-care services for film industry employees. It operates a 256-bed hospital, including an Alzheimer's disease wing and outpatient clinic at the Woodland Hills site, as well as an outpatient clinic in Hollywood.
More than 50,000 film industry employees are eligible for the fund's services and there are an estimated 25,000 patient visits to the two clinics annually.
This year, the cost of running the entire operation is estimated to be $34.3 million and a shortfall may be as much as $4 million, according to Frank Guarrera, the fund's chief financial officer. Since 1980, when operating expenses were $12.2 million and contributions were $1.7 million, operating costs have tripled while contributions have stayed about the same.
That's where tonight's fund-raiser comes in, according to Davis and his wife, Laura, who is chairing the premiere. The premiere will raise needed money, but they say their hope is that it will introduce "new Hollywood" to a fund that was established in 1921 by Mary Pickford and supported by some of Hollywood's greatest legends.
"The goal is trying to get this generation involved and to educate them so they will get involved," Laura Davis said.
"People say what's the motion picture fund? They think it's only a retirement home.
"As (the older employees) retired, the efforts fell by the wayside. It's nobody's fault, it's just a question of educating a new generation. Lawyers today automatically 'x' out that clause in the Screen Actors Guild contracts. The Mary Pickfords, the Charlie Chaplins and Douglas Fairbanks all made those donations."
In a sense, tonight's event with everything donated--the costs of the party by "Russia House" distributor MGM-Pathe Communications, and the theater complex by MCA Inc., a part owner of Cineplex Odeon Theaters--is a true demonstration of the fund's slogan: "We take care of our own."
"It's the first benefit movie premiere for the fund in more than two decades," said Laura Davis, who handled the arrangements for the more than 1,000 guests expected for tonight's screening at the Century City theaters and the Russian-themed dinner that will follow inside a temporary structure in the adjacent plaza.
Tickets are going for $300 and dinner tables for 10 are selling from $3,000 to $25,000--depending on the location.
Davis said that when the fund began realizing its fiscal problems, its directors activated a fund-raising task force that is chaired by Turner Entertainment president and chief operating officer Roger Mayer, and hired a professional fund-raising staff to work with the board of trustees in approaching the agencies, studios and guilds.
Out of the effort, they hope to begin a new payroll deductions campaign. "We realized a major Hollywood premiere was needed" as a focal point for the campaign," Davis said.
MOTION PICTURE AND TELEVISION FUND Operating expenses have soared in the last five years compared to contributions. Motion picture industry employee payroll deductions earmarked for the fund have been static compared to expenses.
In millions of dollars
Payroll Operating Year deductions expenses 1985 $1,840,000 $22,784,000 1986 1,667,000 22,159,000 1987 1,574,000 25,613,000 1988 1,405,000 29,476,000 1989 1,482,000 31,389,000 1990* 1,650,000 34,308,000
*Estimate Source: Motion Picture and Television Fund.