Mariah Lives! Enemies Vanquished

Mariah Carey | National Board of Review

Mariah Lives! Enemies Vanquished

Yesterday was a big day for songbird Mariah Carey. She managed to kill two birds with one stone.

In her first triumph, she got EMI/Virgin Records to issue a statement that she was still recording for them, and that she hadn't been bought out of her contract for $50 million.

Her second triumph was her appearance on Ally McBeal. Albeit brief, Mariah's cameo was cute and the kind of thing she should have done first before trying to star in a feature film. Oh well. The show also used her song "Lead the Way" as a closer, although it didn't help that both Nell Carter and series regular Vonda Shepard had already sung their hearts out before Mariah got her chance. No matter. You can't mistake Carey's voice for someone else's, that's for sure.

What next for Mariah? She's off to the Sundance Film Festival this weekend to debut her new movie, Wise Girls. It co-stars Mira Sorvino, and they'll both be at the fest. As for the EMI announcement, I think it's interesting that a rumor with no basis in fact was printed and then circulated until it seemed true. Who'd start such a terrible rumor? I can only imagine. But it didn't work, and Mariah lives to see another day. Brava!

Is It Money Well Spent on Film Group?

Last night, 600 people — some members, some not — converged on New York's Tavern on the Green for the annual National Board of Review dinner. They paid $400 per person for the privilege of rubbing shoulders with movie stars and directors.

NBR events are glitzy affairs, complete with press lines and paparazzi. Critics, however, have slammed the group, charging they give out as many awards as possible in an effort to ensure maximum celebrity attendance.

And given that members of NBR — a registered non-profit that enjoys tax-free status — also pay a $350 membership fee to watch movies and meet the stars, you might wonder what they're getting for the money.

The NBR describes itself in its IRS filing as an organization to "assist the development of motion pictures as an entertainment art and art form, provide a forum for the review, critique and public opinion of motion pictures, recognize achievman [sic] in film making, sponsor films as education & community service."

But whose development are they assisting? Where is the forum for review? And what films are they sponsoring?

The group claimed total revenue of $41,985 for 1998, according to its most recent IRS Form 990, filed in 1999. Total expenses were listed as $24,825, with $22,000 of that going to the cost of their private screenings. Assets at the end of the year were listed as $17,160.

On another part of the form, the group alternately claimed a single amount of roughly $16,250 as both the total "gross receipts from admissions" and the "net gain" from an unnamed special event.

If gross receipts in were only $16,250, and the price per person at the dinner was $350, it would mean the 1998 dinner accommodated a mere 46 people. But the NBR event at Tavern on the Green was sold out that year, as it was all other years.

Leon Friedman, NBR president and a noted New York attorney, said the $16,520 represented the net profit on the 1998 dinner, even though it was also listed under gross receipts. "I give the accountant the numbers and he puts them in. Those are net numbers, what's left after everything's been spent," he said.

Apparently the dinner — and the shiny ad-laced money-generating program that accompanies it — had been in decline, according to the same IRS filing. The amount received in 1995 is listed as $50,188. The following year — 1996 — it's $31,522. Gross receipts for 1997 dipped down to an alarming $8,000. In 1998 the trend reversed itself, and rose to $16,250.

But the dinner and the program aren't the NBR's only income. Membership fees are key to its budget. There are approximately 165 members according to several sources inside the NBR, including 90 or so "judges."

Though the NBR charges the $350-per-person fee for annual membership, they claimed on their 1998 filing they had received a mere $19,585 in gifts, grants and contributions. Elsewhere on the same form, they claim "membership dues" of $26,985.

But that second amount may be payments from movie studios, since the NBR lists it under amounts excluded by sections 512, 513, 514 — which pertain to corporate sponsorships if the tickets that movie studios buy for the dinner are considered to be an underwriting of the event. On another line on the very same filing, there is no number at all for membership fees.

"No studio is underwriting or sponsoring anything" for the group, Friedman said. He added that he did not know why an amount was listed under the corporate sponsorship exclusion on the group's Form 990.

"We fulfill the conditions of a charitable organization. We don't have to give money away," he said. "We do sponsor panels. We had one on censored films and one on design in films. We also have given grants to moviemakers."

Friedman declined to say how much Tavern on the Green charged the NBR per person. The Russian Tea Room — which has the same owners as Tavern — charges less than $50 per person for a similar event. Tavern on the Green does not supply numbers, but it can't hurt that Robert Policastro, a newer NBR board member, is the former banquet manager there.

The NBR filing also excludes any reference to salaries paid to board members and group leaders Lois Ballon, Carol Rapaport or Policastro. Form 990 only requires a listing of employees who make more than $50,000 a year, although it does also ask for a total amount on salaries. That line is empty on the NBR filing.

Friedman insisted no one at the NBR receives a salary. But the NBR does have consultants who are paid "to run the programs and get the information out when screenings are held," he said. "They don't have set hours and they don't report to one place."

Friedman declined to say who the consultants were or what they were paid. "That isn't public information," he said.

Ballon, the nominal head of the group, reaffirmed her group's insistence on remaining close-mouthed. "We're a not-for-profit group," she said, before concluding, "I'm not going to talk to you about this."