The fallout from Digital Domain Media Group’s bankruptcy continues with investors in the troubled special effects and 3D conversion firm taking the former CEO, the company’s auditors and other executives to court for fraud. Having lost millions in the James Cameron-founded company just before it went under last September, Iroquois Master Fund and Kingsbrook Opportunities Master Fund late last week filed a six claim complaint (read it here) against John Textor, his wife Deborah, various DDMG directors and auditors SingerLewak LLP. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages as well as interest, legal fees and “such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.” The complaint in New York State Supreme Court alleges common law fraud, aiding and abetting fraud, negligent misrepresentations and omissions, negligence, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and civil conspiracy.
Jim Carrey, Louis C.K., Conan O’Brien and Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer were among nine people honored last night by the Producers Guild of America for their contributions to the advancement of digital entertainment and storytelling in the past year. John Lasseter, Morgan Freeman, and PGA President Mark Gordon were among those who attended the inaugural Digital V.I.P. Awards (Visionaries, Innovators and Producers) at the Bel Air home of entrepreneur Elon Musk. Click over for a complete list:
Unionization and the creation of a trade association topped the priorities at a visual effects biz town hall meeting Thursday in Los Angeles where hundreds of VFX professionals gathered to discuss the state of their troubled industry. Despite calls for solidarity within the global community and a general sense of accord, a tense volley of boos erupted halfway through the panel when Visual Effects Society rep Mike Chambers took the mic and mentioned the organization’s call for larger California subsidies made in an open letter last month. In the letter the VES had announced plans to hold a VFX Congress, which has yet to materialize. “What are you going to do?” shouted one audience member to Chambers, who had no answer for his group.
The exchange highlighted the most crippling challenge currently facing VFX workers: With no organized body other than the strictly honorary VES, artists have no leverage as the current system continues to squeeze their employers for slim profit margins. Among the industry wide issues identified by keynote speaker Scott Squires: A flawed studio-VFX house business model, too much competition, and job-migrating subsidies. Panelists and audience members also decried the strains on health and home life endured by individual VFX artists at the bottom of the VFX food chain. Unpaid overtime, long work weeks and a lack of healthcare benefits are common for visual artists, who comprise one of the last remaining sectors in Hollywood that is not yet unionized.
EXCLUSIVE: Break Media is adding a high octane new channel to their portfolio, just in time for SXSW. The male-targeted online network is launching their new YouTube channel Hardcoded with a web series that blends found footage with episodic action, starring James Kyson (Heroes), Camille Guaty (The Vampire Diaries), Wes Chatham (The Unit), Patrick Fabian (The Last Exorcism), and Jason Manuel Olazabal (Make It Or Break It).
In an open letter issued Tuesday, the Visual Effects Society (VES) officially joined the growing crisis accelerated in recent weeks by the bankruptcy filing of Oscar-nominated VFX studio Rhythm & Hues. The missive calls for Governor Jerry Brown to expand post-production tax incentives in California and announces a VFX Congress to be held in the coming weeks to give artists a means of focusing their collective messages and goals into a united, focused strategy. “There’s a lot of energy and upset and desire on part of artists to say the industry is going through huge changes, and we all want to get together and get recognition at a much higher level”, Roth explained to Deadline. “But once you get there, what do you do with it?”
The VES is an honorary society of VFX professionals that counts just under 3,000 members in 30 countries. However, the industry lacks a VFX trade organization or union. Roth tells Deadline the VFX Congress is still being organized but will take place within the next few weeks. The VES aims to tap feedback from all stakeholders in the VFX industry including studios and facilities, although it is still to be determined who exactly will be allowed to participate in the Congress meeting. Read Roth’s open letter:
SXSW Adds Joss Whedon, Harmony Korine, Danny Boyle Chats & ‘Trance’ Preview; ‘The East’ Closing Night Film
Avengers 2 helmer Joss Whedon and actors Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, and Clark Gregg will host a discussion at SXSW following the U.S. premiere of their Much Ado About Nothing, the fest revealed today. Also joining previously announced panelists Carlton Cuse (presenting a look at A&E’s Bates Motel) and Matthew McConaughey in the Film Conference sidebar are Harmony Korine and the Spring Breakers cast; Danny Boyle, who will tease his April release Trance; and Rob Zombie (Lords Of Salem). Fox Searchlight’s anarchist drama The East, from Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, will close the fest which runs March 8-16 in Austin. Fifteen additional features have been added to the line-up including Stevie Nicks’ self-directed (with the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart) documentary In Your Dreams – Stevie Nicks, James Ponsoldt’s Sundance favorite The Spectacular Now, and the iPhone short A Year In The Life Of Wayne’s Phone directed by The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Here are new Film Conference and Film Festival additions unveiled today:
Warner Bros and New Line’s comedy starring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey will have its world premiere March 8 at the SXSW Film Conference and Festival, which made the announcement today. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, about a pair of Las Vegas magicians who face off against a new rival, is directed by Don Scardino and opens wide March 15. The Austin-based fest also said it will premiere the reimagined Evil Dead; Joe Swanberg’s comedy Drinking Buddies; the Napster documentary Downloaded from Alex Winter; and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers starring Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and James Franco. Most of the full lineup will be announced January 31 and the fest runs March 8-16. Here are SXSW’s descriptions of the films and panels set so far:
Disney has been temporarily granted a request to halt Digital Domain Media Group’s sale of 3D conversion patents. Disney has claimed that the proposed $5.4 million sale would infringe on its licensed ability to convert films from 2D to 3D and could make the company vulnerable to lawsuits. On Monday, Judge Brendon Shannon granted the media giant a 45-day stay of his order that had previously approved the sale; last week, Disney filed an appeal against the sale in federal court. Today’s order allows Disney’s federal appeal to go forward. It also allows the outcome of that appeal to not be rendered irrelevant if a sale occurred before the courts had reached a conclusion. In the interim, Disney will have to put up a $5.4 million bond to cover the projected patent sale fee.
Anil Ambani’s sprawling Indian conglomerate Reliance and China’s Wanda Group have announced plans to create long-term joint ventures in cinema exhibition in India and the United States, Reuters reports. Plans also call for Reliance and Wanda to build real estate projects in India involving a combined area of about 20 million square feet across a pair of locations in Navi Mumbai and Hyderabad. Wanda Group earlier this year became the world’s biggest owner of movie theaters when it acquired U.S. chain AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion. It has about 1,000 screens in China and 5,890 in the U.S. from AMC. Wanda says it plans to spend $10 billion in North America over the next decade. Reliance currently operates 254 screens in India and 170 screens across the U.S., according to Film Business Asia. Reliance also has invested in DreamWorks Studios and has backed a 10-episode pirate project for NBC. Wanda Cinema Circuit was yesterday named Exhibitor of the Year at the annual CineAsia convention in Hong Kong. Reliance’s facilities and post-production unit Mediaworks recently partnered with China’s Galloping Horse to acquire the U.S. effects house Digital Domain. Mediaworks has a 30% stake and Galloping Horse 70%.
Eileen Moran, a driving creative force at Weta Digital and longtime visual effects executive producer for Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Joe Letteri, died in New Zealand Tuesday. At the top of her profession, Moran worked with James Cameron on Avatar, Steven Spielberg on The Adventures Of Tintin, Ridley and Tony Scott, and with Jackson on King Kong, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Lovely Bones, and the upcoming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. She missed the Hobbit premiere last week because she was in hospital. In a note to the staff of Weta Digital, Jackson and Walsh said, “Fran and I are terribly upset at the news that we lost Eileen a couple of hours ago. She was a lovely, decent person who had great respect for all the artists she worked with. Eileen was so proud of Weta and the work all of you have done over the years. She was fiercely loyal to the company, and to Fran and I personally, and we will always be grateful for her friendship.” James Cameron offered the following remembrance: “Eileen was an integral part of building Weta Digital into the most powerful engine for imaginative imagery that ever existed, and she shepherded some of the milestone films of her generation to completion.”
Moran grew up on NY’s Long Island and attended New Paltz University drama school with dreams of becoming an actress. But she decided it was too tough. instead, she took a job as a production assistant on a commercial, working her way up to …
Earlier this month, a bankruptcy judge fast-tracked an auction for financially troubled special effects company Digital Domain. On Sunday, the James Cameron-founded business announced that a joint venture between Galloping Horse America and Reliance MediaWorks will acquire Digital Domain Productions and subsidiary Mothership Media for $30.2M. Under the agreement, Chinese film and TV company Galloping Horse and India’s Reliance will pick up all the of the groups’ business assets including feature film and advertising visual effects, commercial production, studios in California and Vancouver and a co-production stake in Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game of which Digital Domain has been a co-producer. Galloping Horse holds a 70% stake with Reliance MediaWorks taking 30%. “This is a great day for Digital Domain,” said CEO Ed Ulbrich. “Our new partners have incredible strength and reach in the global entertainment marketplace.
Hollywood studios will not be pulling the plug on projects at the financially troubled special-effects company after Digital Domain got some breathing room yesterday in bankruptcy court. Judge Brenden Shannon approved a fast-tracked auction of Digital Domain Media Group for September 21 and a debtor-in-possession order (read it here) that gives the almost-broke company immediate access to almost $12 million. The new auction date comes after newly named DDMG chief Ed Ulbrich told the court that six Hollywood studios told him they would start pulling projects from the Oscar-winning company this week unless Digital Domain had a clear financial path forward. The loss of those effects projects would result in the removal of what is currently 80% of the company’s revenues. “We’ve been fighting diligently to fend off a run on the company, Ulbrich testified. DDGM’s lawyer Robert Feinstein put it even more bluntly: “The studios are freaking out,” the attorney told the judge. Some of the films that Digital Domain is currently working on include Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game (Digital Domain is a co-producer), New Line’s Jack The Giant Killer, and Paramount’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Private investment firm Searchlight Capital Partners has agreed to pay $15M for Digital Domain Productions — the key operation at Digital Domain Media Group — although the special effects company will have to put itself up for auction following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Creditors threatened last month to foreclose; Digital Domain’s been losing cash which put it in default of its loan agreements. But Hudson Bay Master Fund and other senior note holders like the deal with Searchlight: They’re putting up as much as $20M in debtor-in-possession financing. Chief Restructuring Officer Michael Katzenstein says that Digital Domain is “grateful for the cooperative assistance of our lenders, our customers and employees as we work to seamlessly transition these important businesses and other assets to financially strong and committed buyers. Their ongoing support ensures the success of these matters.” CEO Ed Ulbrich adds that the company is “on track to deliver all of our clients’ productions on schedule, on budget and at the highest degree of quality that they expect from Digital Domain.” Films in its pipeline include Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game (Digital Domain is a co-producer), New Line’s Jack The Giant Killer, and Paramount’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Australian Actors, BCE Plans Online Movie Service, Legend 3D & Digital Domain
Aussie Actors Win a Share of North American Revenues
Australian actors who work in local feature films will get a 3.6% royalty from North American distributors’ gross receipts four years after films are first exploited in that market under a new Actors Feature Film Agreement (AFFA). The budget of Australian films in which one or more SAG members are employed also has been raised from $A15 million ($15.5 million) to $22.5 million under the deal negotiated between Equity and representatives of the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA). The new agreement, backdated to January 2012, gives Aussie actors a 17.5% wage increase over 5 years.
Weird things are happening at the James Cameron-founded company that’s responsible for special effects and 3D conversion on many Hollywood productions including Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game. Digital Domain‘s stock is down nearly 34% today to a piddling 65 cents a share and it announced in an SEC filing that CEO and chairman John Textor resigned “effective immediately” with no exit agreement or arrangement. Textor’s Wyndcrest Holdings led an investor group that bought Digital Domain in 2006. He told the board that he left because he’s “in profound disagreement” with the company’s decision to close its animation and visual effects studio in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “Our incredibly talented artists and filmmakers were building something truly special in Port St. Lucie, not just our favorite first film, The Legend Of Tembo, but also our first home, Tradition Studios.” By leaving he says he should have “greater flexibility to independently consider other strategic alternatives for the Company, the Port St. Lucie studio and the people affected.” Digital Domain says the cutbacks in Florida are part of “a strategic realignment that will enable it to focus its resources on its core business.” Studios in California and Vancouuver “intend to operate without interruption.” The board gave COO Ed Ulbrich the additional title of CEO of Digitial Domain Productions while Michael Katzenstein runs day-to-day operations. Katzenstein is is a senior managing director of FTI Consulting, and on August 29 was also named Digital Domain’s interim COO.
That holographic projection of former President Ronald Reagan we’ve been hearing about really is in the works, according to Yahoo News, which reports it was intended to debut outside the halls of the Republican National Convention this week. But the unveiling has been put on hold. “It wasn’t officially going to be part of the convention,” Tony Reynolds, founder of crowdsourcing website A KickIn Crowd, told Yahoo News by phone today. “It was going to be outside of the convention at the Lakeland Center.” But Reynolds said Republican activists asked him to wait out of concern it would distract from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. Reynolds obtained rights to a Reagan speech about small businesses. He plans to use the hologram to promote the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. He has been working with AV Concepts, one of the companies behind the Tupac Shakur hologram that was shown at the Coachella Music Festival. Reynolds surmises that rumors about the Reagan hologram probably resulted from his contacts with media organizations about fundraising efforts. “Digital Domain was involved in creating the Tupac hologram as well, but I think the media organizations just reached out to the wrong company,” he suggested, attempting to explain why some reports claimed the hologram was a hoax.
ICM Partners has signed Philip Atwell, and will focus on finding him feature work. Atwell most recently directed the ground breaking Tupac Shakur Hologram project at Coachella. The show became an internet sensation, and sparked a 500% increase in sales of the late rapper’s albums, and also drove up visual effects company Digital Domain’s stock price. It won Atwell the Cannes Lion Titanium Award. Atwell has directed War, with Jason Statham and Jet Li and the concert film Up In Smoke with Eminem, Snoop, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Here’s the hologram:
From the makers of the virtual Tupac Shakur, who “appeared” at the Coachella Valley Music Festival, comes virtual Elvis Presley. CORE Media Group (formerly CKx), which owns the Presley brand, has signed a deal with digital production company Digital Domain Media Group to develop, produce and own a series of “virtual” Elvis Presley likenesses for entertainment projects – shows and appearances to film, TV and multi-platform productions throughout the world. “This is a new and exciting way to bring the magic and music of Elvis Presley to life,” said Elvis Presley Enterprises President and CEO, Jack Soden. The companies have already begun work on the virtual Elvis Presley likenesses.
Meet The Fokkens
Kino Lorber has acquired all U.S. rights to Meet The Fokkens, a documentary about 69-year-old twins Louise and Martine Fokkens and their experience working as prostitutes in the red-light district in Amsterdam for over 40 years. The film is set to begin its U.S. festival run at the upcoming SilverDocs Film Festival in mid-June. Directed by Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schröder, Meet The Fokkens is slated for a theatrical premiere at New York’s Film Forum on August 8. The film will expand to major markets in September and October.
Abu Dhabi Goes Digital
Digital production company Digital Domain Media Group and twofour54, the Abu Dhabi government-backed media and entertainment company, announced today that Digital Domain will set up an animation, vfx and motion capture studio in Abu Dhabi, as well as a school to teach the next generation of artists. The collaboration is designed to support the Emirate’s goal to become the region’s hub for media content creation.
The new Digital Domain studio will create animated feature films, produce visual and 3D effects, engage in the production of original Middle Eastern-branded entertainment for global audiences and contribute to international productions. The studio will become part of Digital Domain’s global feature film VFX and animation pipeline, connected to its studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Florida and Mumbai. Digital Domain’s credits include the Transformers features and the buzzed-about “performing” hologram of late rapper Tupac Shakur that was shown at the recent Coachella music festival.