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The Motion Picture and Television Fund’s 2nd Annual Reel Stories, Real Lives fundraiser at Milk Studios drew 260 people Saturday night to hear actors such as Anna Faris, Armie Hammer, Keanu Reeves, Jeremy Renner and Chris Pratt reading and performing stories about some of the residents and beneficiaries of the organization’s services.
Russell Brand was host of the evening — sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter — while honorary chairman Robert Downey Jr., who was MC of the first event last year, delivered a message by video from the set of the latest Iron Man movie, apologizing for not being able to attend in person. The event is designed to encourage young Hollywood to get involved with MPTF’s efforts.
Brand, an English comic and actor known for his outrageous over-the-top comments, was cheeky but for the most part took on the role of cheerleader for the MPTF. “The way our industry is going,” said Brand, “we’re going to need a place to help people out.”
The evening ended Saturday with a happy birthday serenade for comedienne and actress Connie Sawyer, who turns 100 in November and proudly declared she is the oldest working actress in Hollywood.
“I was crying, not from sadness, from joy,” said Sawyer at a post-event reception inside Milk Studios in Hollywood, adding that after nine years in residence at the MPTF home in Woodland Hills, “It’s a family. It’s a wonderful place to live. I think that’s why I lived to be a hundred, because I’m happy. We’ve got a great life out there. And they take care of their own.”
“Taking care of our own” is the slogan of the MPTF and it was a recurring theme throughout the evening.
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Afterward, Brand said he enjoyed being host, and visiting the MPTF facilities to make several videos that were shown during the evening, some with senior citizens and others with children playing on the grounds of the MPTF’s Samuel Goldwyn Foundation Children’s Center. “It’s nice because it’s a real emotional stitch up,” said Brand, adding, “it’s a very wonderful thing to be involved in. I think it’s important that we in entertainment don’t take life too seriously. I think it’s healthy for everyone to have a bit of a laugh.”
Brand provided laughs throughout, but the effect was more than comedy. As longtime activist Nancy Biederman put it after the program, “Russell Brand helped everyone in the audience and everyone in the industry to connect with the MPTF. That’s what it is all about – to connect and stay connected.”
The MPTF provides not just actors, but people in all phases of the entertainment industry with services and programs for seniors, as well as financial assistance to those in need and health services. While it seems everyone in Hollywood is rich, that isn’t the case.
“Anybody who has a healthy sense of what this life is as an actor knows there are ups and downs, and very often the downs outnumber the ups by a serious margin,” said Mad Men star Jon Hamm after the event. “I’ve certainly been a struggling actor a lot longer than I’ve been a successful one. The fact that there exists an organization that’s sole purpose is to help those in the community that need it is most impressive.”
Director and actor Jon Favreau said in his on-stage remarks that the MPTF and the evening showed “We are not just individuals. This truly is a community.”
Hawk Koch, who is a second generation movie producer, a member of the MPTF board and the recently elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, said that while helping out takes time and energy, it is well worth it. “One of the greatest feelings I can have is to give back,” said Koch. “I learned that from my father (the late producer Howard Koch).”
“I don’t know of another business where they take care of each other,” added Koch, “and it is so important.”
Koch singled out DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was in the audience, as an example of someone who has made giving back part of his life. Katzenberg is chairman of the MPTF Foundation and recently personally gave another $30 million to the charity, as did his former DWA partners Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. The donations were part of a $350 million campaign to increase the group’s endowment.
Koch noted Katzenberg will be honored by the movie Academy in December with the Jean Hersholt Award for his humanitarian work. The award is named after the late Danish born star who served as Academy president and headed the predecessor organization to the MPTF in the 1940s when land was secured in Woodland Hills for the current facilities. Others who helped found the group more than 90 years ago were Hollywood legends Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith.
As it did last year, the evening was sponsored by THR, along with the Swiss watch company IWC Schaffhausen, Audi and the Culver Studios. The admission price was a $200 donation.
The stories about residents and people who have been helped by the MPTF in Woodland Hills and through the health clinics they run all over Southern California were written by Will Beall, Greg Berlanti, Peter Craig, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Craig Mazin and Billy Ray. The event was produced by A. Scott Berg, Guymon Casady, Bill Gerber, Kevin McCormick, Karen Rosenfelt, Greg sills and Courtenay Valenti.
View red carpet footage of Russell Brand and Jon Hamm below.
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