By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
On September 17, singer Michael Jackson announced his plans for a $50 million charity record that would benefit the victims of terrorist attacks on America.
The single, "What More Can I Give?," would be modeled on Jackson's hugely successful 1985 charity hit, "We Are the World," which has raised $65 million for African hunger relief. As before, Jackson would be calling on many stars in the recording industry to contribute to the song. USA Today reported that the "hymnlike piano ballad" would feature such stars as Destiny's Child, the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Britney Spears and Carlos Santana. "We are working around the clock," the record's executive producer, Marc Schaffel, told the newspaper. By October, the list of artists had grown to include Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias, Tom Petty and Luther Vandross. On October 26, Jackson's publicists announced that the final tracks, contributed by 'N Sync, had been completed, and the record's release was imminent.
Nearly a year later, after accounts emerged that Schaffel, new to the music world, was in over his head producing the project, the song and a planned video have never surfaced. Jackson's publicist at Epic Records didn't return phone calls about the project. And several people owed money are steamed as they wait in vain for word from Jackson's attorneys. Over the past few months, Jackson has entered into a feud with his record company, Sony Music Entertainment, blaming it a couple of weeks ago for blocking the release of "What More Can I Give?" and calling its chairman, Tommy Mottola, a racist. But while Jackson stood in New York with the Reverend Al Sharpton to lay the blame on Sony for that and for allegedly ruining sales of his comeback album, Invincible, he didn't let on that his choice of pal Schaffel to handle the project apparently had much to do with its failing to work out. The bottom line is what several people brought in to work on the project have long suspected: It's unlikely there will be a Michael Jackson charity single whose sales will benefit the victims of September 11.
Suddenly, an overweight man in a bright yellow shirt enters the frame from the right, shouting instructions. He has thinning hair and a prominent moustache. He is flustered and impatient, and appears to be the film's director. In a combination of English and hand gestures, he tries to make the standing man understand that while he's getting a blowjob he should put his hand anywhere--on the wall next to him, on the rafter above him, on the back of the other fellow's head--anywhere but on his hip. While yellow-shirt man is delivering these instructions, someone offscreen is shouting out a translation in Hungarian for the two naked actors, who grunt and nod. The moustachioed director then turns to the kneeling man and tells him that he can be a lot more demonstrative while he's going at it, and he begins bobbing his head to show the kind of action he's looking for. The director then steals back offscreen.
After viewing a copy of the video, Joe Becker, whose production company, ThinkFilm, shoots scenes for The West Wingas well as other television, documentary and music projects, says there's no doubt the man in the yellow shirt is the same man he met last October on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
For Becker, the videotape only adds to the mystery of what has happened since the night he was summoned to meet Marc Schaffel. Since then, he's been trying to recover money he spent in the ill-fated attempt to film a music video of "What More Can I Give?" at the monument. At the time, the project seemed as legitimate as could be: Schaffel told him Michael Jackson was paying all the video's expenses out of his pocket, and there would be no problems with costs. The Bush White House had even lent its help, trying to persuade the National Park Service to allow Schaffel to use the Lincoln Memorial for the shoot. Schaffel had in turn hired Becker's company to do the actual filming.
But after Becker spent $120,000 preparing for the video, which was never filmed, Schaffel suddenly wouldn't answer his phone calls. Since then, Becker has called and e-mailed a raft of attorneys, trying to find out whether he'll ever get his money back, all the while learning stranger and stranger things about Schaffel. Becker says he wishes he'd never had anything to do with the King of Pop.
"I don't think the video's going to be made. You can't get everyone together," says Schaffel's attorney, Thomas Byrne. The attorney says Marc Schaffel, the "What More Can I Give?" producer, and pornographer Fred Schaffel, who directs under the name Marc Fredrics, are the same person.
Indeed, Schaffel, who wouldn't be interviewed for this article, was quoted in a recently published report admitting his involvement in gay porn--which he said was a thing of the past--and claiming that he was scapegoated to justify suppressing Jackson's charity record. He maintained to the Los Angeles Times that the project would have been a huge success if the plug hadn't been pulled by forces wanting to thwart Jackson's career.