Depending on who you ask, it’s either the director or the producer who took the lead on making that eight-figure Hollywood hit with their own blood, sweat and tears. Though directors sometimes get the greater share of fame, producers spend months and even years getting a movie off the ground. While the average studio producer typically made about $750,000 per film in 2017, according to the Hollywood Reporter, others make much more.
Hollywood producers, along with actors, directors, studio executives and writers, are all part of what we’ve often called Glitzy Givers, and major fortunes have emerged from that arena in recent decades. Their philanthropic impact is driven by unprecedented and stratospheric earnings across entertainment and sports. Not all of these figures give in the same way. Actors, for instance, don’t just come to the table with philanthropic cash, but also with stardom. They can and often do use their celebrity to rally the masses behind a cause or galvanize giving.
As for producers, celebrity influence isn’t as big a factor with them as it is with actors, singers and the like. But many top Hollywood producers are working with quite a bit of cash, and some give through established foundations. Here’s a quick rundown of some of these figures and what they’re into.
J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath
With an estimated $300 million net worth, J.J. Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath do their grantmaking through the Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, which gave away around $8.4 million in a recent year. The foundation supports education, policy, human services, the arts and more. Abrams often supports his alma mater Sarah Lawrence College. In 2020, the couple pledged $10 million over five years through their foundation and Abrams’s production company Bad Robot, funding organizations and efforts committed to anti-racist agendas that seek to close gaps, lift the poor and build a just America.
The couple has also been involved with the Children’s Defense Fund, where McGrath is an emerita board member. Abrams and McGrath have supported CDF Freedom Schools, “child-centered summer enrichment programs that boost student capacity and motivation to read, and connect the needs of children and families to resources in their communities.”
Abrams is still just 54 and boasts a huge array of Hollywood projects, meaning that the giving going on right now could pale in comparison to the funding he could mobilize when the foundation and its handful of staff really kicks off. As long as things don’t end in the nebulous way that “Lost” did, we’ll be good.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Vanessa Vidal
Miranda was once again buzzing this weekend with the release of “In the Heights,” a film version of the Broadway musical that released on HBO Max on Friday. The 41-year old Wesleyan alum soared to the top of the theater circuit with “Hamilton,” whose tickets are still not exactly easy to come by, and it was only a matter of time before he started making inroads in Hollywood as well.
On the philanthropic front, Lin-Manuel Miranda teamed up with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to donate $300,000 to Puerto Rico relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Miranda and his wife Vanessa do not appear to have a formal family foundation. In 2020, Miranda made a $1 million commitment to provide scholarships for theater students of color at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute. In 2016, he also matched a $25,000 grant from the Time Warner Foundation to jumpstart the Sol Project, a six-year, $3.8 million initiative whose goal is to “usher Latino artists into the mainstream of American theater.”
Carsey is behind such television hits as “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “That ‘70s Show” and “The Cosby Show,” all of which she produced alongside Tom Werner at their Carsey-Werner Company. Some estimates place the veteran producer’s wealth at a half-billion. The Carsey Family Foundation was established by Marcy Carsey and her late husband, comedy writer and war veteran John Jay Carsey.
Carsey has a major interest in public policy issues and the media. In 2013, she gave a $20 million gift to create the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy. Carsey is also a strong supporter of the University of Santa Barbara, where her two children graduated. UCSB is the site of the Carsey-Wolf Center, which hosts research, instruction and programming about media. Carsey chairs the board of directors of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, which she supports through her foundation, including with one $20 million grant. She has a passion for the arts and is interested in supporting the Southern California art scene.
After Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s suggestion that viewers should discount any other media besides Fox News, MacFarlane tweeted criticism. He followed up his words with a $2 million donation to NPR and $500,000 to Los Angeles’ NPR member station, KPCC, the top news distributor for NPR content in Southern California. The funnyman producer is just starting to develop his philanthropy with support for journalism and media integrity, but as one of the most powerful showrunners in Hollywood, he’ll most likely be capable of greater giving in the coming years.
Some estimates put this prolific Hollywood producer-writer’s net worth at $130 million. She has climbed the ranks from writer to showrunner and producer, and she may eventually rise even higher, joining the ranks of Oprah as a leading entertainment executive. Rhimes established the Rhimes Family Foundation in 2016 to support arts, education and activism with a focus on cultural inclusion, fighting for equality and standing up against bigotry.
Rhimes and her family have made at least $10 million in grants to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. After spearheading a set of groundbreaking diverse casts on television, Rhimes is now becoming increasingly outspoken about equity and inclusion, which could indicate even more philanthropy to come in that area.
The nonagenarian billionaire founded apparel company Jones Group more than four decades ago, which owned brands including Nine West. He’s also a film producer, behind such films as “The Kite Runner” and “Lars and the Real Girl,” objectively the most endearing film of all time (no joke). Sidney Kimmel began his grantmaking in the 1990s when he established the Sidney Kimmel Foundation and its subsidiary, the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research. Since this time, Kimmel has committed some $850 million, with around $550 million supporting cancer research alone. In 2014, Kimmel donated $110 million to Thomas Jefferson University.
Lorre’s big break came in 1991 when he became a supervising producer on the ABC/Carsey-Werner hit comedy “Roseanne.” He has since had a prolific writing and producing career, with the long-running hits “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory.” Speaking of the science-y sitcom, the Lorre-funded Big Bang Theory Scholarships at UCLA provide financial support for students in STEM subjects. Cast and crew of “The Big Bang Theory” have supported the program, ramping up the endowment to more than $4 million.
As Lorre puts it, “We have all been given a gift with ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ a show that’s not only based in the scientific community, but also enthusiastically supported by that same community. This is our opportunity to give back.”
Overall, the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation (CLFF) funds innovative and compassionate organizations in education, health and the arts.
The Toronto native moved to Los Angeles to write for “The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show” and “Laugh-In.” In 1975, NBC hired Michaels to create the immensely popular and successful “Saturday Night Live.” Michaels has also been executive producer of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “Portlandia,” “30 Rock,” and other award-winning television shows and films.
Michaels and his wife Alice do their grantmaking through the Michaels Family Foundation, which has given under $500,000 annually to a handful of outfits. The couple supports education, health and more. Grantmaking tends to be focused on New York City and the greater Northeast.
In 1991, Milchan founded New Regency Productions and has since become a major Hollywood producer, with such films as “Fight Club,” “Pretty Woman” and “Little Women” (2019) to his credit. The former Israel soccer star is worth $3.7 billion as of this writing. Last decade, Milchan pledged $100 million to open a new university in Galilee, Israel, though the project stalled and its current status is unclear. Milchan also gave $1 million to the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, for which he also served as chairman. He was a board member of The Silver Lining Foundation, which supports cancer treatment for children, and is a top Hollywood art collector.
Richard Rosenthal Jr. helped launch Sean Penn’s career when he cast the then-unknown actor in the 1983 film “Bad Boys.” He’s also worked on the Emmy-winning ABC series “Life Goes On,” as well as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Smallville.” In recent years, Rosenthal has turned to the independent film world. The Rosenthal Family Foundation was originally established in the late 1940s by Rick Rosenthal’s parents, Richard Sr. and Hinda, who were strong patrons of the arts. The Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction (with a $10,000 prize) has been awarded annually since 1957 to a young novelist. The Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Painting (also of $10,000), meanwhile, has been awarded annually since 1960 to a young painter of distinction. Grantmaking also touches health and environmental causes and wife Nancy has been an active political fundraiser in Los Angeles for progressive Democrats. You may remember Nancy as Nurse Marion Chambers in John Carpenter’s horror classic “Halloween.”
Another billionaire on our list, Tisch is part of the wealthy Tisch family whose name adorns NYU. This Tisch is a film producer and New York Giants chairman. Steve Tisch recently gave $10 million to Tel Aviv University to elevate its film school, now known as the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Steve Tisch does his grantmaking through a family foundation, and a smaller organization called the Steve Tisch Foundation. Tisch’s philanthropy involves education, supporting K-12 as well as colleges and universities like his alma mater Tufts. Tisch also supports the arts and media. In health, Tisch prioritizes cancer and HIV/AIDS. Additionally, Tisch supports Jewish causes.