PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - PORT ST. LUCIE — A federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware on Monday approved the sale of assets belonging to Digital Domain Media Group Inc. to a partnership of Chinese and Indian film companies.
Although the sale doesn't directly affect Digital Domain's Port St. Lucie studio that was shut down Sept. 14, the director of an animated movie that was being made there called the news "absolutely fabulous."
According to a report late Monday afternoon by Bloomberg News, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brendan Linehan Shannon said he would sign an order approving the sale of Mothership Media and certain other businesses and assets of Digital Domain Productions Inc. to a consortium of Beijing-based Galloping Horse Film Co. and Reliance MediaWorks Limited, based in Mumbai.
The final wording of the contract is yet to be worked out, but according to court records cited by Bloomberg, the companies agreed to pay $30.2 million for a wide range of assets including studios in California and British Columbia, assume contracts worth $3.6 million and pay employees $2.9 million in wages. Galloping Horse-Reliance also gets a co-production stake in "Ender's Game," a science-fiction movie starring Harrison Ford scheduled to be released next year.
Digital Domain Media Group, the branch of the company that filed for bankruptcy Sept. 11, still owns the rights to "The Legend of Tembo," an animated movie being made there under the direction of Chuck Williams and Aaron Blaise. Williams is encouraged by the sale to Galloping Horse-Reliance.
"Galloping Horse has a $5 million investment in 'Legend of Tembo,' so they want to see the movie get made," Williams said. "We hope they want to see it get made in Port St. Lucie because we have everything needed to make the film here."
Williams added that Reliance was an investor in a project at the Port St. Lucie studio to convert two-dimensional images to 3-D images.
"The fact is, (both firms) didn't want to see the company in Florida go bankrupt," Williams said. "It was the lenders who got in the way."
Williams said he expects the rights to "Tembo" and other Digital Domain assets tied to the Port St. Lucie studio to go on the auction block. He and Blaise have made a bid on the movie's rights.
"Owning the rights to the film would give us the most freedom and the best shot to make sure it's made here in Port St. Lucie," he said. "But we'll reach out to whoever gets the rights to see what will be the best strategy."
Williams said he hopes "Tembo" goes up for auction sooner than later.
"There are a lot of people we'd like to see get back to work," he said.
Williams said about 120 people at the studio were working on "Tembo," the story of a young African elephant that is captured, taken to India to be used in battle and struggles to return home. Williams said the film would take from 18 to 24 months to complete.
Port St. Lucie spent about $40 million to build and equip the 150,000-square-foot facility in the Tradition neighborhood that houses the Digital Domain animation studio. The city leases the site to the company. Port St. Lucie also gave the company $7.8 million in cash out of a promised $10 million economic development grant in exchange for the company's promise to create 500 jobs by 2014.
Digital Domain also was awarded $20 million from the state's Quick Action Closing Fund. In all, the company's government-backed incentives totaled $135 million.
Port St. Lucie City Attorney Roger Orr said Monday evening he hasn't had contact with Galloping Horse-Reliance representatives.
"I don't know their plans," Orr said, "so it would be premature to comment on them. I can say that there are some awesome opportunities here, and if they wanted to proceed with their acquisition of Digital Domain, I hope they put Port St. Lucie in their plans."