H'wood do-gooders are making lasting impressions
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From its environmentally conscious message to the studio-supplied bicycles for cast and crew, Universal's "Evan Almighty" made quite a splash in the press last month for being an ecologically correct production. A carbon-neutral film set might be news, but the green consciousness that's sweeping the entertainment industry, along with much of the country, is only part of the story. Companies around Hollywood are more aware than ever of their responsibility to make the world a better place.
"As long as I can remember, people have been tangentially involved (with nonprofits), but they're starting to feel passionate," says William Morris director of corporate communications Christian Muirhead. "People are over being cynical, and with the war going on, you see people in the entertainment industry engaged more than ever before. This is a tough business. People are a little wounded and they need something positive in their lives. The philanthropic elements these companies have put things back into perspective for employees and help us realize how lucky we are."
While charity events have long been a fixture on the social landscape, the industry is putting more than money where its mouth is these days. It's investing sweat equity. Over the past several years, more and more companies have been organizing opportunities for employees to volunteer, and they're even sending people out during the workweek on the company dime. Volunteer ops run the gamut from joining a Revlon Run/Walk team in support of breast cancer research to painting a community center to mentoring at-risk kids. A lot of companies have been supporting arts education in schools to help compensate for cutbacks in public funding. Arts educators and the entertainment industry are natural allies, and their joint ventures have helped agencies, studios and networks send out tendrils into their surrounding communities.
These days, executives themselves are as likely to be found rolling up their sleeves for charity as they are posing for paparazzi at posh dinners. Indeed, the people at the top can be a nonprofit's best friend. Not only do entertainment industry players know some of the most influential people in mass media: celebrities -- they can probably even call in a favor or two. We might have had to put up with 24-hour coverage of Paris Hilton's recent prison drama, but there's a useful side to the public's obsession with stars. After all, if Brad Pitt is doing a commercial soliciting support for stem-cell research in California, guess who's listening?
Hollywood leaders help set the tone for their companies as well as for the industry at large. If studios, networks and agencies around town are letting employees mentor kids while they're still on the clock, credit their largesse to some good old-fashioned peer pressure. In 2007, supporting philanthropy isn't just the right thing to do, it's the cool thing to do. On the pages that follow are examples of Hollywood at its best -- individuals and companies at the top of their game who do more than lend their names to causes -- they walk the walk.
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