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Sony just says no to cancer charity donation

September 29, 2008 |  3:30 pm


As the producer of the highly profitable "Spider-Man" franchise, Laura Ziskin has helped make Sony Pictures zillions over the last six years from the three superhero movies that amassed $2.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales, not to mention tens of millions more in DVD, merchandising and television proceeds.Ziskin

But when Ziskin asked Sony to contribute money to her Stand Up to Cancer fundraiser, her home studio turned down her pitch. If Major League Baseball could pitch in $10 million, surely Sony along with the other Hollywood studios could collectively match that, figured Ziskin, herself a breast cancer survivor.

"We hoped that because we were an entertainment industry endeavor that the studios would have made a big financial donation, but they didn't," says Ziskin, who worked for more than a year with a group of women that included CBS News anchor Katie Couric and former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing to pull off a star-studded one-hour prime-time telethon with Meryl Streep, Jack Black, James Taylor, Lance Armstrong and other celebs that was simultaneously broadcast Sept. 5 by ABC, NBC and CBS.

In the show's early planning stages, Ziskin met with Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton and movie boss Amy Pascal to ask if the studio could provide her with technical support and manpower. No problema, they said. But, when it came to her request for Sony to write a check to the charity -- problema.

Lynton "The studio chose not to give money, but we tried to be as helpful as we could by giving Laura office space and all the technical support she needed to make the event successful," Lynton said when asked about the incident.

So, let's get this straight. The studio that just announced that it hopes to make two more "Spider-Man" sequels, which will easily cost more than $500 million in production costs, can't spare a cool couple million for a worthy cause?

Though disappointed, Ziskin says she was very grateful that Sony "supported me totally in the endeavor," giving her not only offices, camera equipment and other in-kind contributions including support in helping build the charity's website, but also time off from making movies for a year to put the show together. "That was no small thing," she says.

News Corp. declined her request for the Fox broadcast network to donate an hour of commercial-free time along with ABC, NBC and CBS for the simultaneous telecasts. Fox felt it had already done more than its fundraising bit by producing its own TV event "Idol Gives Back," which raised money for six charities. Fox did wind up airing PSAs and producing a "Simpsons" short for Ziskin's show that featured Homer getting a colonoscopy. Ctlogo   

Nonetheless, Ziskin outed News Corp. President Peter Chernin in front of a packed house at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre moments before her event was televised. On stage, she thanked Chernin for sending her flowers before the show began but said that she would still love "a very large donation from News Corp.!"

News Corp.'s movie studio 20th Century Fox did make a $20,000 contribution in the name of Sydney Pollack, as did Paramount ($500) after the family of the late director, who died this year of cancer, requested that, in lieu of flowers, people make a charitable donation in his memory.

In his own name, billionaire Sidney Kimmel, who made his fortune in the garment industry but whose movies have frequently missed at the box office, pledged $25 million.

Stand Up to Cancer has raised more than $100 million, but Ziskin doesn't intend to stop asking Hollywood for money just yet.

"It's never too late," says the producer.

-- Claudia Eller

Photos: Ziskin (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times); Lynton (Sony Pictures Entertainment); Spider-man (Columbia Pictures)