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Hollywood agents generally maintain a healthy cynicism about the industry they work in, and WME partner Ari Greenburg was no different.
“I told my wife, ‘Lower your expectations about L.A. and you won’t be disappointed,’” the Philly native and co-head of WME’s TV department tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It can be a pretty cold town.”
But Greenburg has been proven wrong. For the past decade, he and his family have been raising money for Autism Speaks in honor of his 12-year-old son, Tyler, who was diagnosed at age two. Team Greenbean — a childhood nickname that has been passed down from Greenburg to Tyler — has raised more than $3.4 million to date, far and away the organization’s top fundraiser nationwide. As Greenburg’s family and friends prepare to participate in Walk Now for Autism Speaks at the Rose Bowl tomorrow, they have raised more than $720,000 this year alone — a new high for Team Greenbean.
Greenburg is proud to point out that all of the giving comes from individual donations — about 2,000 this year. Many supporters have their own personal connections to autism. 20th Century Fox TV svp drama development Lisa Katz was already on Team Greenbean’s mailing list when her son Sam was diagnosed in 2008. Not knowing who else to turn to, she called Greenburg, whom she had only known through business, for advice. They met for breakfast the next morning, and the families soon struck up a close friendship. Now Katz is Autism Speaks’ top individual fundraiser in the country, with $84,190 (and counting) this year. And Twentieth Century Fox’s philanthropic arm, FoxGives, matches every employee’s donation to Autism Speaks.
“Obviously raising money is important, but the other gratifying thing is that people now put me in touch with other families who get an [autism] diagnosis,” Katz tells THR, “and I can become what Ari was for me. I feel a deep sense of loyalty to Team Greenbean.”
Many of Greenburg’s WME clients and colleagues, including McG, Jonathan Nolan and TV lit agent Cori Wellins, also are members of Team Greenbean, and it’s no surprise that such a personal cause has united people from all over the industry, including Brookside manager Emily Gerson Saines, Fox TV exec Andy Bourne and UTA Independent Film Group’s Alex Brunner.
“What’s amazing is pretty much everybody I deal with has a relative or friend with somebody on the spectrum,” Greenburg says. “It’s scary, but people in the entertainment business are luckier than most because they have the means to deal with it.”
Greenburg never set out to run the country’s largest autism fundraising group — Team Greenbean’s mailing list now reaches about 10,000 people. He first learned about Autism Speak’s annual event through his sister, Meredith, who signed up to walk in 2006 as a way of supporting and connecting with her young nephew. Greenburg went online one morning to chip in $200, then clicked on an option to share the donation page with his department. Two and a half hours later, he got to his office to find that he had inadvertently solicited his entire contacts list — and generated $15,000.
Team Greenbean’s efforts still revolve around the annual Walk Now event, but the group also has begun holding smaller fundraisers — spinning at Cycle House, shopping at Gucci — throughout the year. The Greenburgs also host an afterparty at their home in Westwood that includes an auction – this year’s items include tickets to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at the Hollywood Bowl as well as a three-night stay at the Four Seasons in Maui.
Greenburg briefly considered starting his own foundation — his father, the late Palm Springs film festival chairman Earl Greenburg, was active in AIDS philanthropy — but ultimately has decided that supporting Autism Speaks, founded in 2005 by then-NBCUniversal chairman Bob Wright, is still the most effective way to help for now. Autism Speaks primarily serves to promote awareness — “which seems like an intangible, but people need to understand the disorder and how prevalent it is,” Greenburg says — and to advocate for better policy at all levels of government.
“Until the genetic research hits a certain level and scientists really understand how to prevent autism and create better treatment, it makes sense to funnel money to the organization with the biggest impact,” Greenburg says. “That’s how real movement happens. There’s power in numbers.”
To donate to Team Greenbean, visit here.
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