Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic—and, for that matter, for 80-plus years prior—the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation has made a priority of assisting theater employees in need. That need has never been greater than over the past year. As such, in March 2020 the Will Rogers Pioneers Assistance Fund launched their Covid-19 Emergency Grant, through which they distributed $3.5 million in grants to furloughed or laid-off theater employees throughout 2020. Now, the Pioneers Assistance Fund has launched the “Big Screens Big Hearts” Campaign as a way to further assist at-need theater workers as the industry recovers.
The existence of the “Big Screens Big Hearts” campaign is reflective of the fact that, though the bulk of theaters in North America have reopened (if at limited capacity) and films are slowly making their way back to theaters, the negative impact of the pandemic and its resultant cinema closures on those in the theater industry remains. Per data provided by Will Rogers, 100,000-plus theater employees were affected by the pandemic and 55 percent of the cinemas that closed were community- or family-owned and operated. With the pandemic still ongoing, Will Rogers is unable to host their annual Pioneer of the Year Dinner, which traditionally serves as one of the non-profit’s key fundraising events.
With the “Big Screens Big Hearts” campaign, the Will Rogers Pioneers Assistance Fund hopes to fill that gap. By raising one million dollars to provide financial aid and supportive counseling to those who work in the exhibition arena—whether as an employee of a cinema, a theatrical distributor, or a vendor that works exclusively in the theatrical space. Donations are open here.
“The Pioneers Assistance Fund’s Big Screens Big Hearts campaign wants to raise $1 Million to support exhibitors and their employees who work tirelessly to make our moviegoing experience special,” says Todd Vradenburg, executive director of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation. “While movie theaters may be open, theater workers all over the country are struggling to rebuild their lives. We value the critical role these individuals play in the film industry. Supporting Big Screens Big Hearts will help our workforce get back on their feet.”
The Pioneers Assistance Fund is supported by the theatrical industry at large, with senior leadership from both the theatrical and distribution side of the business appearing on the group’s Board. One of those, Paramount Pictures’ President of Film Distribution and PAF Committee Chairman Chris Aronson, said of the “Big Screen Big Hearts” campaign: “The Will Rogers Pioneers Assistance Fund wants to help exhibitors bring back furloughed employees and retain their dynamic and skilled workforce. These hard-working individuals matter to providing audiences with a magical moviegoing experience. We are grateful for the motion picture industry’s support of our Covid emergency grant program which supplemented the federal relief package and helped workers weather the storm. Now that stimulus money is nearing an end, our Big Screens Big Hearts campaign will continue to support theater employees and their families as we embark on the road to recovery.”