Critics’ Choice: Joey Berlin from BFCA
In 1995, Joey Berlin and Rod Lurie, two entertainment reporters and film critics who had written for rival publications, joined forces to create the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.
While Lurie would go on to carve out a successful Hollywood career as a screenwriter and director with such films as “The Contender” and “The Last Castle,” Berlin hasn’t faired too badly, either, as the president of the BFCA.
Starting with 44 members the first year, the BFCA’s voting membership today hovers between 285 and 290 and the organization bills itself as the largest film critics group in the U.S. and Canada.
At the same time, the BFCA created the Critics’ Choice Awards, a glitzy tux-and-gown gala now televised on the CW Network that features red carpet celebrity arrivals, drawing worldwide media attention and plenty of Oscar buzz since the show coincides with the run-up to the Academy Awards.
But as the show has catapulted the broadcast critics into the Oscar conversation each movies awards season, tax records show that the nonprofit group Berlin leads has paid his privately-owned company, Berlin Entertainment, Inc., hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for production services.
IRS Form 990 filings list Berlin Entertainment, Inc., receiving a combined $992,270 from the nonprofit between fiscal 2009 and 2011.
Berlin notes that his members seem to be satisfied with the job he’s doing since he has been repeatedly re-elected president every two years.
The tax files show that Berlin’s base compensation and benefits were a combined $1,297,133 for the three-year period spanning fiscal 2009 to 2011. But his compensation is listed as coming from “related organizations” and not directly from the BFCA, according to the Form 990 documents, which all nonprofits are required to file with the IRS to qualify for tax-exempt status.
When asked about his sizeable compensation, Berlin told HollywoodNews.com in a recent telephone interview: “I did this for five years for zero compensation, but this is what I do all day, every day. I’m really proud of what we’ve built and accomplished….
“My compensation has grown with the growth of the show,” he adds without apology. “The television show is an incredible benefit to the members.” He notes that these benefits include such things as access and awards screeners. “That seems a comfortable arrangement for everybody.”
One plus for maintaining membership in the BFCA is that—much like the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and its Golden Globe Awards—the broadcast critics’ choices for best picture and other categories can have an influence on the Oscar race if only by alerting Academy Awards voters to which films and performances the broadcast critics deem most worthy during awards season.
That’s why this year’s Critics’ Choice Awards, which was held at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, drew a bevy of Oscar hopefuls like Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey and Julia Roberts.
Berlin has claimed in the past that the Critics’ Choice Awards are a pretty good barometer of who’ll win the Academy Awards.
“Ninety-nine times out of 100 through the years, if they have a substantial lead in our voting, they’re going to win the Oscar,” he told the website Studio System News.
Indeed, the broadcast critics’ winners this year included “12 Years a Slave” as best picture, Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) as best actress, McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) as best actor, Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) as best supporting actress and Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) as best supporting actor. All went on to win the Oscar.
Last year, the broadcast critics bestowed best picture honors on “Argo,” which also won the Oscar.
Producing any TV gala can be expensive. To that end, the BFCA paid Berlin Entertainment $376,270 in fiscal 2011; $324,000 in fiscal 2010; and, $292,000 in fiscal 2009, according to the group’s tax filings.
The nonprofit also paid Bain Entertainment in Santa Monica $186,765 in fiscal 2011 for production services, according to the Form 990 filings.
Meanwhile, another company, UPP in Burbank, received $100,141. Berlin said UPP was paid for its services in regard to the show’s after party.
Berlin insists that his nonprofit is faithful to its stated mission.
“I think we’re very successful in what our purpose is…,” he says.
In recent years, the BFCA has given out charitable grants to various groups, including small film festivals and for student scholarships. Yet, not all the grants are film related.
For instance, in fiscal 2011, the BFCA gave $25,000 to Water.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing people around the world with access to safe water and sanitation. It also gave another $5,000 to Heifer International, which donates livestock to the poor.
In fiscal 2010, the BFCA gave $22,065 to Network for Good, an online giving platform that offers a suite of services that helps nonprofits raise money and reach more donors online. It gave another $20,000 grant to Heifer International.
And, in fiscal 2009, the BFCA gave $20,000 to Heifer International.
Asked why the broadcast critics provide grants to non-film related causes, Berlin explains that it often has to do with the celebrities they honor at the Critics’ Choice Awards. He notes, for instance, that actor Matt Damon supports Water.org, while actress Susan Sarandon is a big supporter of Heifer International.
“We also make (charitable giving) part of the pitch to sell tables at the show,” Berlin explains. “Portions of the proceeds go to charity.”
Tax filings show that the association’s charitable grants totaled $195,232 from fiscal 2009 to 2011.
Spotlight on portions of the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s tax returns:
Total revenues: $1,511,566
Total expenses: $1,695,533
Net assets: $391,127
*$8,643—Meals & Entertainment
*$376,270—Berlin Entertainment, Inc., for production services. Berlin Entertainment, Inc., is 100% owned by Joey Berlin.
*$186,765—Bob Bain Productions, Inc, for production services
*$100,141—UPP, for production services
*$225,000—Reportable compensation from related organizations.
*$230,230—Estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations.
Grants or assistance benefitting interested persons:
*$2,000—Jim Ferguson, BFCA director.
Grant recipients include:
*$25,000 to Water.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing people around the world with access to safe water and sanitation.
*$10,500 to five recipients to shoot pilots for new movie review shows.
*$5,000 to Heifer International, which donates livestock to the poor.
*$1,500 for two recipients of student scholarships.
Total revenues: $845,458
Total expenses: $1,166,425
Net assets: $575,094
*$6,056—Meals & Entertainment
*$5,416—All other expenses
*$324,000—Berlin Entertainment, Inc., for production services. Berlin Entertainment is 100% owned by Joey Berlin.
Joey Berlin’s compensation
*$225,000—Reportable compensation from related organizations
*$204,649—Estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations.
*$22,065—Network for Good, an online giving platform that offers a suite of services that helps nonprofits raise money and reach more donors online.
*$16,000—Eight recipients to shoot pilots for new movie review shows.
Total revenue: $1,097,183
Total expenses: $1,099,351
Net assets: $896,061
*$9,285—All other expenses
*$292,000—Berlin Entertainment, Inc., for production services. Berlin Entertainment, Inc., is 100% owned by Joey Berlin.
*$225,000—Reportable compensation from related organizations
*$187,254—Estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations
*5,000—City of Hope, L.A.
*$5,000—International Campaign for Tibet, Washington, D.C.
*$2,500—Westport Youth Film Festival, Westport, CT.
*$2,500—Real to Reel Film Festival, Boiling Springs, N.C.
*$2,500—Gaspirilla International Film Festival, Tampa, Fla.
*$2,500—Plaza Classic Film Festival, El Paso, Tx.
*$2,500—A film festival sponsorship for Felipe Solis.
*$1,500—WGWG Radio, Boiling Springs, N.C.
*$1,500—University of Arizona Foundation, Tucson.
*$1,500—Scholarship to one recipient.
*$250—El Paso Community Foundation.
*$150—Publicists Guild, L.A.
According to the BFCA website, the organization set up a film festival committee in 2007 “to provide a means of easy accreditation for our membership to their chosen festivals,” and “to offer our esteemed members as festival panelists, judges and speakers” as well as providing “some financial support to festivals that feature significant member participation.”
The Gaspirilla International Film Festival, for example, lists BFCA member Holley Sinn of WTSP, a CBS affiliate in the Tampa Bay area, on its advisory board.
The BFCA states on its website that the scholarship was “founded and funded in 2004 to provide an opportunity for college students interest in becoming film critics to receive financial help and the possible guidance of a BFCA member in writing and recording reviews intended to be aired on their college or university station.”
The BFCA has expanded its reach in recent years by venturing into television awards. Its third annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards was held last June. The ceremony was televised on Ustream.
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