A visual effects studio that once planned to compete with the rest of Hollywood by using college students paying them tuition to work on films, is already facing bankruptcy. But now it has the ire of Florida state officials who are demanding they get the $20 million they invested in the company to move to the state back.
But the chances of seeing a return of that money? Not so good.
Gov. Rick Scott has directed the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity to spend up to $500,000 to hire lawyers to represent the state in bankruptcy court. That court will determine what to do with what’s left of Digital Domain, a one-time prominent special effects studio founded by director James Cameron that, among other things, produced all the special effects for the blockbuster “Titanic.”
The $20 million was part of an overall incentive to draw Digital Domain to Florida’s Port St. Lucie area just north of Miami in 2009. The state moved forward with the funding incentive despite its lead public-private business screening company, Enterprise Florida, rejecting it. Digital Domain also pulled in local incentives as well, including a $10 million pledge from West Palm Beach in addition to $9.8 million in land and a $15 million bond to build a school.
Digital Domain moved into that school at the beginning of 2012, just months before the company shut down all of its Florida operations.
While in bankruptcy last September, Digital Domain was sold to a partnership that consisted of Beijing Galloping Horse America LLC and Reliance MediaWorks. However, the company could still be subject to creditors while the bankruptcy case looms on, including the state’s demand for its $20 million back.
Florida is maintaining that Digital Domain broke its contract by not notifying the state it was filing for bankruptcy, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Digital Domain was started in 1993 and includes films like “Avatar,” “I, Robot” and even the most recent “Star Trek” movie as part of its portfolio. The studio has won seven Oscars during its run, and at one point employed 300 people in Florida alone.
The board for Digital Domain announced it was closing the Florida site last September, prompting the resignation of chief executive officer John Textor. The company filed for bankruptcy just days later.