Jackson Jive

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Contrary to Schaffel and his attorney's implication that he had put the porn business behind him, it appears he's never left the industry. Records in the Los Angeles County Clerk's Office show that, in 1998, he filed the business names "Marc Fredrics" and "Fred Schaffel Productions." Indeed, his Big as They Get was released 13 months ago. And Loeb says that just a few months ago, Schaffel wrote him a check for $600 to order new packaging for his movie Every Last Inch.

Joe Becker says he got the call on Monday, October 15. Just six days later Michael Jackson was scheduled to stage a massive charity concert in RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and Schaffel needed someone to shoot a video the night before on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It didn't surprise Becker when Schaffel called and said that the National Park Service, which oversees the memorial, had recommended him. Becker and ThinkFilm are experienced at handling the complex permits needed for such a project and work regularly with the park service, he says.

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.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega