News Release

Church Honours former Head of Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox International 

Movie star's irate call leads Scott Neeson to commit life to service

When Australian, Scott Neeson, was standing on a festering garbage dump in Cambodia in 2003, he was at the pinnacle of his career, employed as the international head of Sony Pictures.  This and his former role as head of 20th Century Fox International were about as far removed from the huge dump as one could get.

But what Scott saw shocked him so severely that he began the establishment of an extensive humanitarian program, aiding the people of the poor South-East Asian nation.  

It was a later phone call from an irate movie star that moved him to entirely forsake the worldly trappings of the entertainment industry.

On Sunday 26th October, Mr Neeson was awarded the Church’s ‘Standing for Something Award’ at a fireside in Villawood, NSW, recognising the powerful contribution that he has made to those in need. Some of this effort has involved joint projects with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

Mr Neeson was back in Australia for a few days in October attending fund-raising dinners for The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF), which he had founded, when he took time out to receive the award at the fireside.  The evening was attended by over 1,000 Young Single Adults members (aged 18 to 30) of the Church.

Stephen Webster, the Church’s National Director of Public Affairs in Australia, introduced Mr Neeson by describing the importance of the ‘Standing for Something Award’.  

“Every nation is proud of its heroes”, he said.   Mr Webster gave a history of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the man who saved countless wounded Allied servicemen by transporting them on a donkey down 'Shrapnel Valley' at Gallipoli.  It is Simpson's image which sits atop the award.

“Simpson and his donkey became a legend”, he said, "the symbol of all that was pure, selfless and heroic at Gallipoli.... The Australian Public Affairs Department of the Church has chosen John Simpson and his donkey as the recognition award for those who ‘stand for something’.”

“Our recipient this evening is Scott Neeson," he continued. "Scott is a perfect example of someone who gives his time, resources, means, service and dedication to those who are abandoned, desperate and totally disadvantaged and whose lives are continually threatened.”

Mr Neeson, who was born in Scotland and emigrated with his family to South Australia at age five, stood at the podium and talked about his 26-year career in the film industry, including tenure as president of 20th Century Fox International.  There, he oversaw the release and marketing of several blockbuster films.

In 2003, he left Fox for Sony Pictures but, before starting his new role, he took a mini-sabbatical through Asia. A trip to “cleanse his soul”, he said. While visiting Phnom Penh he made a visit to Steung Meanchey, Phnom Penh’s notoriously toxic 100-acre garbage dump.  

Steung Meanchey was home and workplace for several thousand of the region’s most impoverished and neglected children, who made their living by sifting through mountains of burning, hazardous waste for plastic and metal to sell to recycling centres.

Unable to walk away, Scott set upon finding a path for a better life for these children. He spent the remainder of his 2003 trip to South-East Asia laying the foundation for the Cambodian Children’s Fund.

He returned home to the USA, started in his new role at Sony Pictures and made monthly trips to Cambodia. In 2004, he had what he calls one of those defining moments in life.

At the pinnacle of his career, he was standing on the infested garbage dump one day, with small children under the age of eight dying of typhoid and trying to figure out a way to help them.

“At that very moment” he said, “my cell phone rang. My office had patched one of the leading movie stars of the day and his agent through to me.  We had put the wrong amenities on a Gulfstream IV private jet for them.  The actor said to me, ‘My life wasn’t meant to be this difficult’.  

“At that moment, it all became clear.  If I ever needed validation I was doing the right thing, that was it.

“I flew back to Los Angeles and resigned my position”, he continued.  “We now have responsibility for 2,200 children.  We did it piece-by-piece.  It will be ten years in November since I moved (to Cambodia).”

Quoting writer, Joseph Campbell, he said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one we have waiting for us.”

Scott ended up selling his home, cars and yacht in Los Angeles, ploughing the funds derived from the sale into his humanitarian work.  Now, he maintains four residential homes in Cambodia for more than 500 deprived children and is building another.  He also operates after-school vocational and day care centre programs. 

His charity provides some 500 children with three meals a day.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provided baking equipment to help Scott establish his bakery, where the people of Steung Meachy are learning a marketable trade and providing nutrient-rich bread to those in need.  The Church has also donated sewing machines to the effort.

The theme of the Church's Villawood fireside was service and missionary work and it also featured the efforts of two young people who shared what they had learned on their Mormon missions.

Joanne Tautuiaki a returned missionary from Brisbane, talked about love being an action word.  She shared the scripture I John 4:20. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he who loveth not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God, who he hath not seen?”  

She closed by sharing a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson, “The more we serve our fellow beings in appropriate ways, the more there is of each of us to find.”

Dan Balbin talked about his mission to the Phillipines.  He shared how service is more than a physical process, but “an uplifting, emotional and spiritual thing.  It is the joy we feel when we do something really good for someone, when we help someone else along life’s journey that gives us that spark to keep serving.”

Elder Andrew O’Riordan, an Area Seventy of the Church, closed the fireside by telling the congregation that, “You have heard a very special story tonight and it is very fitting that we give this award to Scott Neeson.  What we have seen and heard here is very pleasing to our Father in Heaven.”

According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, people often like to talk about how they need to ‘find’ themselves.  Interestingly, the Church says, Christ told us that the way to find ourselves was by losing ourselves. 

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospels, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35). Losing ourselves in service is a great way to find ourselves.  It allows us to practice what Jesus did.  We show our love for God by serving each other.  Service gives us a happiness that self-interest never will.   

Scott Neeson ‘found himself’ in the country of Cambodia, figuratively and literally.  He is giving hope, purpose and smiles to hundreds of children there. Whether at the pinnacle of his career in Los Angeles or at the top of a heap at Steung Meanchey, he lives his life ‘standing for something’.

The Church is very involved in humanitarian work in 182 countries around the globe, including Cambodia. Watch more about The Church’s Humanitarian Program. 

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