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Did producer's porn past stall Jacko charity song?

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Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson: Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press/Newscom

One of Michael Jackson’s recent accusations in his war against Sony, his record label, is that the label sat on ”What More Can I Give,” the Sept. 11 charity single that Jackson and an all-star group of singers recorded last fall but was never released. But with the revelation in Friday’s Los Angeles Times that F. Marc Schaffel, the producer of the song and the accompanying video, has had an extensive career as a director and producer of gay porn films, questions of who’s to blame for shelving the single — is it Sony, Jackson, or potential marketing partner McDonald’s? — have only gotten murkier.

Jackson had said last fall that ”What More Can I Give,” which he composed, would raise $50 million for post-Sept. 11 relief efforts. In late September, he called upon such names as ‘N Sync, Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Carlos Santana, Celine Dion, Tom Petty, Julio Iglesias, and Reba McEntire to join him on the single and the accompanying video. Both were produced by Schaffel, who told the Times he was a longtime friend of Jackson’s who met the singer through a Beverly Hills dermatologist. (Insert your own joke here.)

If anything, Schaffel’s experience shooting dozens of adult films — which, he claims to MTV News, include heterosexual and bisexual as well as gay content and are mostly softcore ”Spice Channel stuff” — helped him get the project done rapidly and inexpensively, for just $3 million. ”We did the entire thing very quickly and very cheaply — the way that things are done in the adult film business,” Schaffel tells the Times. ”We didn’t waste money the way they do in the music business.”

Schaffel never kept his porn past a secret, he tells the Times, though when asked if Jackson was aware of it, he says, ”You’ll have to ask Michael that question.” In any case, by November, Jackson’s advisers were apparently aware of it and sent Schaffel a letter saying that the singer wanted to sever his contract with Schaffel, according to reports by both the Times and MTV News. At the same time, the advisers lobbied Sony — without Jackson’s knowledge, the Times reports — to withhold the single by refusing to grant legal clearances for its stars (like Martin and Dion) to appear on the song, at least until Jackson’s team had gotten the rights to the single back from Schaffel. Sony has so far declined to comment to queries from various news outlets about the matter.

Schaffel tells MTV News that Sony held the single in order not to sap the sales of the simultaneous release of Jackson’s album ”Invincible,” which did not contain ”What More.” ”Sony didn’t want the single to take away from the record,” Schaffel tells MTV. ”So they wanted to make sure it didn’t come out at the same time. After that, they had other excuses. I don’t think the porn was a legit excuse. But let’s say that it is. No one picketed, and I still get hundreds of e-mails from fans wanting to know what the problem is. No one cares what I did before.”

Indeed, having a porn background is not necessarily a handicap to a producer or the artists he works with. After all, video director Gregory Dark’s porn-directing past has hurt neither his mainstream career nor the images of squeaky-clean clients like Britney Spears and Mandy Moore.

But Jackson was already tainted with the pedophilia accusation from a decade ago; although he was never charged with a crime, he settled out of court with his accuser’s family with a multmillion-dollar payout. The singer cut ties with Schaffel ”the minute he found out about this guy’s background,” Jackson spokesman Dan Klores told Reuters.

The initial Times report suggested that past allegations about Jackson may have been why McDonald’s pulled out of a proposed arrangement to spend $20 million marketing the single and sell it at the burger chain’s thousands of outlets. In a subsequent report, Schaffel told the Times that McDonald’s was deluged with complaints in October, after word of the potential deal broke, over Jackson’s allegedly family-unfriendly past.

But a McDonald’s spokesperson told the Times and Reuters that the deal was a tentative one that fell apart for ordinary business reasons. ”We looked at it from a strict business perspective and decided to take a pass on it based on timing, distribution, and cost issues,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Lisa Howard told Reuters. That was the explanation the chain offered Schaffel as well, he says. ”They told us the factor that killed it was the tight time window for delivering the product,” Schaffel tells the Times.

Who currently owns the rights is still a matter of contention. According to MTV, Jackson’s spokespeople dispute Schaffel’s contention that he owns the rights to the song and video but acknowledge that he still possesses the master recordings and video footage.

Whoever’s to blame, it seems that the single will never see the light of day or raise any of the charitable contributions it was intended to raise. ”I believe this charity single could still generate lots of money to help those in need,” Schaffel told the Times. ”Why shouldn’t it come out? Because of something I did in the past? I mean, this is an industry in which rock stars date porno queens. Adult film doesn’t have the same stigma it used to. So really, what’s their excuse?”

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