How 'A Star Is Born' Scribe's Family Was Rescued From a Health Crisis by MPTF
Screenwriter Will Fetters and his wife found themselves without medical insurance amid a challenging pregnancy — and found help from the entertainment-focused organization, which hosts its annual Reel Stories, Real Lives benefit Nov. 8.
A Star Is Born screenwriter Will Fetters and his wife, Amanda, had some complications when their first child was born after months of fertility procedures. They thought the experience might have toughened them for their next child, but their second pregnancy was fraught with issues like placenta previa, in which the placenta blocks the birth canal, and the fact that the umbilical cord was attached in a place that might have been damaged during contractions, potentially terminating the pregnancy.
Right around the time they learned of these complications, Fetters also became aware that his WGA health insurance had lapsed. "I missed the quarterly dependent premium," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We actually had mail theft in our neighborhood and we never got the notice. And I was rewriting and going into preproduction on A Star Is Born. It was a pretty intense time. My wife was pregnant and already dealing with a 3-year-old."
Facing potentially life-destroying medical bankruptcy, Fetters and his attorney put together an appeal and called the Writers' Guild-Industry Health Fund on a regular basis. He was making little headway until a woman there finally suggested he try the MPTF (Motion Picture & Television Fund).
Fetters was struck dumb by the suggestion because he had worked with the organization six years earlier, writing a piece for its annual Reel Stories, Real Lives benefit. Usually written by industry players like Seth Grahame-Smith, Dan Fogelman and Billy Ray, stories of MPTF's efforts on behalf of industry members in need are read aloud at the event by famous performers, such as Robert Downey, Jr. This year's event will be hosted Thursday evening by Keegan-Michael Key.
The MPTF was founded in 1921, when Mary Pickford put out a bucket for donations on her film set, and United Artists principals Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Pickford's husband, Douglas Fairbanks, quickly came aboard. Today, at its Woodland Hills campus, it services 250 full-time residents in facilities like the Jodie Foster Aquatic Center, the John Ford Chapel, and the Saban Center for Health and Wellness. But it also reaches off campus to thousands of entertainment pros of all ages, with services ranging from daycare to financial support.
"I stared at the MPTF app for like two months to write my story six years ago for that event. And when this happened in my life, I didn't even think to call," says Fetters. "It's there for anyone who works in the entertainment business. Just call." When he finally did, he reached a woman named Jennifer Loiselle, who helped him access health coverage and assisted with his appeal.
The plan they came up with wouldn't go into effect until April 1, 2017, which should have been fine since Amanda had a mid-April due date. But the baby was born April 6. "We were covered that day. It was by the skin of our teeth," says Fetter, who was under great financial and emotional strain at the time.
Fetter first broke into the business with the 2010 Robert Pattinson vehicle Remember Me and followed with two Nicholas Sparks adaptations, The Lucky One and The Best of Me.
"A Star Is Born was going to get made, but it hadn't been made. I hadn't had a movie made in a long time," he recalls. "When you're writing for Bradley Cooper, I was blessed and privileged and honored to be a part of it — but I hadn't made a lot of money in the year prior." If he hadn't found a health insurance solution, he says, "I think we probably wouldn't have lost the house, but it would have taken a big chunk out of our life."
Last August, the couple had their third child. The first arrived after 18 months of struggling with infertility, the second came with insurance and medical complications, and the third was a simple and accidental pregnancy after a little too much wine. A year ago, at MPTF's Real Stories, Real Lives benefit, Fetters wrote and delivered his own story.
"When we first couldn't get pregnant, it almost broke our marriage. And we've been through a lot of stuff together, but we have this family. This is the most important thing in my life. It's a very cool feeling. It's certainly a cooler feeling than having a movie that people don't like," Fetters jokes, then recalls that A Star Is Born is a movie that people like very much, one with Academy Award potential. "It's a very cool feeling to have a movie that touched people and obviously is good for my career, I guess," says Fetters, who recently completed a screenplay, The More They Believe, about the Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald. "But I don't think about it much. I think about my kids and how I can be the dad they deserve."