By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By the next day, ThinkFilm had submitted its bid to Neverland Valley Entertainment, the company Becker believed was a Jackson enterprise. (Jackson's Santa Barbara estate and mini-theme park are called Neverland Ranch, so it's not surprising that Becker assumed the company was Jackson's. In fact, it was owned by Schaffel, records in the county clerk's office confirm.) In the bid, ThinkFilm had asked for only half of its normal rates. The following day, Wednesday, Schaffel notified Becker that ThinkFilm had landed the job.
"We know the drill," Becker says, when he describes the complicated process of getting government permission to use settings like the Lincoln Memorial for filming locations. But in the weeks after the terrorist attacks, getting that permission had become much more difficult. Fortunately, Becker says, the Bush White House was on their side. David Kuo, an official in President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, assured the filmmakers that he would persuade the park service to let Michael Jackson use the monument.
Becker was spending plenty of money to line up the right people for the event. Forty grand, for example, went to Janusz Kaminsky, a two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer. Another $4,000 went to a director of photography and $6,000 for a production designer. In total, Becker laid out nearly $120,000 of his own money to have everything in place before Jackson came to town.
On Thursday night, Kaminsky flew to Washington. But that same evening, Schaffel called to let them know that the video wasn't going to happen. The logistical problems had been too great, Schaffel told them, and it was impossible to get all the stars in place at the right time. The project would be postponed, at least for a few weeks.
However, Becker still expected the first of three checks he was supposed to receive that week, based on the contract he had signed. When the check didn't arrive, he tried in vain to get through to Schaffel, who had arrived with Jackson for that weekend's concert.
The October 21 concert, "United We Stand: What More Can I Give?," was not only intended to raise cash by featuring dozens of big stars, it was also Jackson's chance to showcase his charity song for a large stadium crowd. But the scheduled nine-hour pageant turned into a 12-hour marathon beset with technical problems. By the time Jackson finally took the stage at midnight, three hours late and five hours after RFK Stadium vendors had run out of food, about a third of the crowd had gone home.
"United They Stood, for an Awfully Long Time," read one headline the next day. If the telethon put together by celebrities soon after the attacks had been marked by somber elegance and class, the Jackson concert was shot through with jarring juxtapositions of grieving and glaring self-promotion. "Maybe we should take it as a sign that things really are returning to normal," wrote the Washington Post. "After weeks of taking the high road, the egos have landed."
Jackson saved his charity record for the concert finale. "The new benefit song he introduced, "What More Can I Give?,' became a shambles as his stageful of guests missed their cues or couldn't be heard," wrote the New York Times.
It was an inauspicious debut for the song. But then, this particular tune had already been mangled in the past. "What More Can I Give?" turned out to be a Jackson retread.
In April 1999, Jackson had promised to raise millions of dollars to benefit Albanian children in Kosovo with proceeds from "What More Can I Give?" But at two concerts held in Seoul and Munich that year, Jackson didn't perform the number, even though, like the D.C. concert last October, each show had been named after the song. His promise to record the tune and forward proceeds to Kosovo never happened.
After several press releases by Jackson's publicists announcing the imminent release of "What More Can I Give?" in October, suddenly there was no news about the project. Becker spent weeks in increasingly heated conversations with an attorney who worked for Neverland Valley (Schaffel's company, not Jackson's) who questioned the validity of Becker's contract, argued over what he was really owed and told him he'd get nothing if he didn't ask for substantially less, Becker says. He grew tired verbally sparring with the attorney, and in late November he turned to the White House's Kuo.
"Kuo said, 'Let me make some calls.' And then, within 20 minutes, Michael Jackson's attorney Karen Langford called me," Becker says.
Langford was helpful and courteous. But in her conversations with him, Becker says, and in e-mails she sent that Becker turned over to the Observer, she indicated that the relationship between Schaffel and Jackson had soured. (Langford did not return calls for this article.)
In his telephone conversations with Langford, Becker says, she suggested that Schaffel and Jackson's partnership had taken place outside of the "normal channels" that governed the singer's business relationships. A letter obtained from one of Jackson's attorneys claims that Jackson had ended his relationship with Schaffel after learning only last November of Schaffel's background: "As a result of that information, Mr. Jackson...terminates the business relationship with Mr. Schaffel."