Today we’d like to introduce you to Bob Beitcher, President and CEO at MPTF (Motion Picture & Television Fund).
Bob, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I landed in the entertainment industry in a somewhat random way. After spending three years in a Ph.D. program in Literature at Stanford and then two years in book publishing in New York, I decided to go for an MBA. At the end of the program at Columbia Business School, I accepted a job on the commercial bank side in lending. But two weeks prior to graduation, the CFO from Columbia Pictures reached out to the Placement officer looking for candidates to replace a business analyst. Along with a half dozen other candidates, I interviewed, accepted an offer, and reneged on the previous job offer.
First and last time I ever did that. Ironically, on the day I actually joined Columbia Pictures, it was sold to Coca-Cola and the CFO, my boss, left two months later to pursue other opportunities. I also left, four months later, to take a dream job at this small but booming company in the Bay area called Lucasfilm. Since then, I have been incredibly fortunate to work for some of the great visionaries – George Lucas, Jim Henson, Francis Coppola – and great brands – Technicolor, Panavision – in our industry, to participate in almost every aspect of the industry value chain (production, post-production, visual effects, lab, camera and lighting rental) and to be in the exciting middle of big technological and structural changes. In the course of all of this, I’ve also grown to appreciate the incredible unpredictability for many of working in entertainment, the stress and strain of employment in a highly dynamic labor environment.
For example, there were close to 5,000 workers in the lab sector 10-15 years ago., an industry that had developed the negative and manufactured the release prints for the films we all enjoyed for the 100 years of movies. Today, there are roughly 50. In this context, I was drawn to the work of MPTF and its mission of “taking care of our own.” My support started with my first Hollywood job, working at Paramount, and Payroll Pledge. It was very much part of the studio culture then that we should all contribute to demonstrate our caring for those in the workforce who needed help.
Much later, I began providing in-kind lab and post-production services, personally contributing, and making company donations for our customers during the holiday season in lieu of other gifts. Later, I joined the Next Generation board and then in 2007 was asked to join the Board of Directors. When, in 2010, we parted ways with our CEO, my fellow board members asked me to step into that role. And I did and it’s the best job I’ve ever had! Most days, I’m even reluctant to call it a job because I get so much joy from the time I spend with my incredible staff fulfilling our mission.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Well, my deeper involvement with MPTF, first as a Board member and then as CEO, began at a dark moment. After reviewing our financial situation post the 2008 market collapse and the continual drain on our reserves we were experiencing from operations, we announced the closure of our Long-Term care facility. The announcement was unclear in many respects (and as it turns out the decision by the board was based on some questionable assumptions) and the public perception was that we were closing down the Country Home property in Woodland Hills that had been the bedrock of support since 1941.
It shook up everyone; we had protests, we had negative social media, and we had a workforce that felt betrayed because it had not been part of any discussion about this issue prior to the announcement. As one of the 42 Board members who had voted in favor of the closure, I felt obligated to look into the decision more closely and what I was able to report back to my other Board members led us to reconsider the closure.
As CEO then, I worked with staff and the Board to look at less radical changes in the operation, including keeping Long-term care open but on a reduced scale. Without the support of an amazing Board, we couldn’t have turned this all around. It took several years to rebuild the culture and regain the trust of our staff. Beyond that, it is always a struggle to meet our annual fundraising goals as the needs of our industry population continue to increase.
We’d love to hear more about your organization.
MPTF is rounding the corner on its 100th anniversary of providing a broad range of programs and services to members of the entertainment industry, all of it based on the abiding philosophy that “we take care of our own.” It is really breathtaking that this amazing concept, first articulated by industry founders like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, is still at the core of MPTF’s work today. There are, last time I counted, 55 different programs and services. I can highlight a few. Our Daily Call Sheet program connects industry volunteers with members of our entertainment community who are at risk for social isolation and loneliness.
Our volunteers talk to their call recipients once or twice a week, more like “check-in” calls than anything else, and develop amazing relationships. In many cases, the recipient will say “you’re the only person I’ve spoken to this week.” Our Home Safe Home program provides home safety inspections by MPTF professionals who can determine areas of risk for falls and for disaster preparedness. We suggest modifications and in many cases do them on the spot. It makes “aging in place” a more viable option for those who don’t want to live on our campus. Our Palliative Care program offers a wrap-around service of a certified Palliative Care physician from UCLA Health, a nurse practitioner, a chaplain, a social worker, and any others who can provide comfort and meaning to the lives of those who have been diagnosed with serious illness.
We are the premier community-based palliative care program in the country and consult with many larger institutions on the success of our program. And finally, we have a world-class residential community in Woodland Hills, the Country Home on the Wasserman Campus, where roughly 250 of our industry lives with dignity and purpose. There and everywhere else, we have absolutely the best and most loving caregivers and the most professional and compassionate social workers and we are able to bring something special to the lives of our entertainment community in appreciation for everything they’ve done for us.
Where do you see the entertainment industry going over the next 5-10 years, and how will it affect MPTF? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
That’s a big question and I’m not sure I can give a sufficient and brief answer. What we see, big picture, is an aging workforce, with roughly 75,000 industry Baby Boomers likely to retire in the next ten years. Some will have pensions, some will have some retirement savings or home equity, but many will find over time that the cost of retirement exceeds their plans. MPTF will need to be there for them. Another demographic is being eased out of the business through industry consolidation. These are the workforce with more traditional roles in the business – in home and theatrical distribution for example – who are being made redundant either by new technologies or by overlap in roles with combined organizations.
Unfortunately, and we have seen this with other technological shifts, while a handful of these folks will successfully “reinvent” themselves or find work in other industries, most will either be chronically underemployed or unemployed for the rest of their working life. They will need to lean on MPTF for support along the way. Beyond that, the trends are very much demography driven: people are living longer, they are outliving their savings, they are becoming socially isolated and lonely and more at risk for serious illness.
Our industry was built by some very courageous and hard-working individuals, people who worked long hours in tough conditions, spent weeks and months on location away from home, who sometimes put work ahead of family to negative results, and we need to show our appreciation and be there for them. So we see an increased need for our services on the campus and will try to add some capacity in skilled nursing, memory care, and residential living, and more needs for our industry members who want to continue living at home and age in place.
- Address: MPTF/The Wasserman Campus
23388 Mulholland Drive
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
- Website: mptf.com
- Phone: Toll Free 855-760-MPTF (6783)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit for solo image of Bob: John Sciulli
All other photos courtesy Bob Beitcher and MPTF