Filmmaker Spike Lee is suing Viacom Inc. over its plans to call the TNN channel Spike TV to attract male viewers. Lee filed papers June 3, 2003 for an injunction against Viacom's use of the name, it was reported by The Hollywood Reporter. "The media description of this change of name, as well as comments made to me and my wife, confirmed what was obvious that Spike TV referred to Spike Lee," he said in court papers. Viacom has been asked to explain why it shouldn't be barred from using the name. Viacom bought TNN in 2000 and announced a new programming and branding initiative, which is expected to launch on June 16, 2003. Viacom said it was confident the court would reject Lee's claims to the name Spike. Lee said TNN's president Albie Hecht has publicly associated the name "Spike" with Lee. Lee has signed affidavits from industry people who thought of Lee when they heard about Spike TV. Some believed Lee had become affiliated with the network.
The California state Supreme Court decided unanimously on June 2, 2003 that celebrities are not entitled to compensation from studios, publishers and artists so long as the likeness of the famed is portrayed creatively rather than literally. The court ruled against Johnny and Edgar Winter, recording artists who sued DC Comics for portraying the brothers as worm/human villains with tentacles sticking out of their chests, called Johnny and Edgar Autumn. Depictions that "are distorted for purposes of lampoon, parody or caricature" are entitled to free-speech protection, justice Ming W. Chin wrote in the decision, Winter vs. DC Comics, S108751. The Motion Picture Assoc. of America had filed arguments in the case so that studios would be able to produce unauthorized drama-documentaries and celebrity spoofs. Celebrities must still be compensated if their actual faces or names are used on commercial merchandise. The court also found that trial judges can throw out these kinds of lawsuits by celebrities without trials. This decision protects the right of studios for background uses of celebrity images, photographs or posters, according to the Motion Picture Assn. The Winter brothers still have a claim against DC Comics for using the brothers' names in advertising for the comic books, a decision the Supreme Court left to a Court of Appeal.
Dieselfx has commenced operations in Santa Monica, California. Elliot Jobe founded the new effects house after leaving Playground where he was the lead inferno artist. Joining the team with be Craig Price, Playground's former creative director and producer Alessandra Pasquino, who also worked at Playground. From design and production supervision to final finishes, the new firm has a wide range of serves for clients including a complete CGI package.
Post-production company PostWorks New York has made a major move, acquiring all of Tapehouse companies, including Tapehouse Editorial, Tapehouse Digital Film, Tapehouse Broadband, Black Logic and The Anx, as well as all of SMA Realtime and 50% of audio post house Caterini Studios. With the acquisition, PostWorks will be equipped to handle every aspect of digital or film post-production for both short-form and long-form television, film and multimedia projects.
By an overwhelming vote, the members of the Animation Guild and Affiliated Optical Electronic and Graphic Arts, Local 839 IATSE have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the major animation producers. The new Animation Guild agreement offers the same wage minimum increases, health and pension benefits as the IATSE Hollywood Basic Agreement, which was agreed to in November 2002 and ratified in February 2003.
Newark, New Jersey-based IDT Media announced May 15, 2003 that its animation production unit, Digital Production Solutions (DPS), will acquire a 51% interest in Film Roman, Inc., a leading independent animation company, through the purchase of newly issued shares of Film Roman common stock. Film Roman produces the animation on the primetime hits THE SIMPSONS and KING OF THE HILL. IDT Media is a subsidiary of IDT Corp., a multinational carrier, telecommunications and technology company.
The following is a letter from Joseph Barbera read at the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council along with a statement from Alan Leib, chairman of The Modern Committee of the L.A. Conservancy to support saving the Hanna-Barbera building.
Dear members of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council,
First, Id like to thank you for your time and interest in a subject very near and dear to my heart; the facility at 3400 Cahuenga Boulevard.
Parties interested in saving the former Hanna-Barbera building in Hollywood from being razed by a developer have a reprieve and are marshalling support at the city and California state level to have it declared a historic site for its architectural significance and importance as a part of Hollywood history. Los Angeles developer William McGregor was seeking approval to transform the site at 3400 Cahuenga Blvd., near Universal Studios, into an apartment and retail space in a meeting before the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee. But opposition has swiftly mounted from the Los Angeles Conservancy group, animation professionals, Joseph Barbera, co-founder of HB, and a neighborhood association concerned about the traffic and proposed new freeway on-ramp for the project. Amidst this controversy, PLUM granted a six-month continuance for the developer to work on his plans while the L.A. Conservancy is petitioning the California Register of Historical Resources to protect the birthplace of THE FLINTSTONES and THE JETSONS.
George Lucas has divided his empire in Point Richmond, California into a new animation division to focus on the creation of digitally animated feature films reportedly due to his frustration over studio-controlled animated projects that have fallen through over the past six years. Lucas-film Animation will be given its own identity and autonomy to develop and generate full-length CG cartoons.
Leading videogame publisher Infogrames Entertainment SA (IESA) has changed its corporate name to Atari. Infogrames (New York City and Lyon, France) acquired the Atari brand when it bought the interactive assets of toymaker Hasbro in January 2001 and has periodically used the name, one of the oldest (30 years) and most legendary in videogame history, for titles such as DRAGON BALL Z, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, SUPERMAN, TERMINATOR 3 and ENTER THE MATRIX, which debuts on May 15, 2003, day and date with the film, THE MATRIX RELOADED.
Chel White, Ray Di Carlo and David Daniels have combined strengths to form an artist-driven studio Bent Image Lab, in Portland, Oregon. "Our mission is to generate the future in 'mixed media/animation/live-action'," said partner/executive producer Di Carlo. "We are artists doing business, not businessmen trying to make art." Di Carlo however, has a successful business background and will operate Bent under a highly unique business model.
The Henson family is the winning bidder to buy 100% of The Jim Henson Company from German kids TV outfit EM.TV Merchandising AG for $89 million. Recently Disney, Saban and Sony Pictures had appeared to be the likely buyers. The Henson heirs sold the company to EM.TV three years ago for $680 million and now are set to pay $78 million in cash plus $11 million of the Henson Co. assets.
Viacom-owned Showtime Networks Inc. (SNI) has laid off 70 workers, roughly 10% of its staff, on May 5, 2003, primarily in the areas of affiliate relations, marketing and creative services. This follows on the heels of rival HBO eliminating 20 jobs the previous week.
S4 Studios a traditional/3D animation design and content creation studio founded in 1999 in the San Fernando Valley, has opened its new studio in the heart of Hollywood. The new facility, located at 1529 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, will allow the growing studio greater access to its core businesses of trailers, network graphics and TV commercials while continuing to develop original content for motion pictures, television, direct to video and online.
DIC Entertainment has sued Speed Racer Enterprises to enforce DICs television, merchandise and other ancillary rights to the animated series SPEED RACER, which is airing weekly on the Nickelodeon network. DIC is seeking damages of $5 million plus punitive damages and injunctive relief for fraud, breach of contract, injunctive relief, conversion, slander of title and a number of other causes of action in case filed with Los Angeles Super Court.
Broadcast design industry leaders Paul Newman, Jim Moran and Gary Bonilla have formed CO-OP, a new advertising and design company in New York City that operates as the strategic core of a network of partners with a full range of complimentary creative companies. CO-OP offers its clients brand strategy and brand development through advertising, vertical marketing, business to business communication, direct marketing, interactive, brand design and identity and broadcast design.
A developer wants to raze the Hanna-Barbera Studios buildings that animation legends William Hanna and Joseph Barbera erected in 1963 at 3400 Cahuenga Blvd. near Universal City, to build shops and apartments. HB preservationists are scrambling to mount a campaign to save what they call is a historic and architecturally significant landmark, while some residents of that neighborhood fear the project would worsen traffic in the Cahuenga Pass.
Manex Entertainment, Inc. reported revenues of approximately $1,750,000 with an operating profit of $400,000 in its preliminary unaudited results for the three-month period ended March 31, 2003. Manex Entertainment has been best known in the past for providing Oscar-winning visual effects for big-budget feature films such as THE MATRIX, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. It has west coast facilities in Los Angeles and Hayward, California and is proposing to build east coast facilities in Trenton, New Jersey.
Haim Saban's plan to buy KirchMedia has hit a snag because KirchMedia creditor banks are refusing to accept some terms of the deal, which they claim are different than what Saban originally proposed. "The most recently presented business plan (11 April) has substantial disadvantages for the banks' position in comparison with the originally presented business plan," credit bank, cooperative DZ Bank said in a two-page letter, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.
Viacom has reached an agreement with AOL Time Warner to buy AOL's 50% interest in Comedy Central, the only all-comedy network in the U.S., for a total of $1.225 billion. The transaction is expected in the second quarter of 2003, whereby Comedy Central will be wholly owned by Viacom and join MTV Network's line-up of basic cable channels. Viacom is well positioned to do so, having just announced a 26% increase in net earnings in the first quarter of 2003. Viacom posted net income of $443M, or 25 cents a share, compared with a loss of $1.11 billion in 2002, or 63 cents a share.
Roger Chouinard, owner and co-founder of Duck Soup Studios in Los Angeles, has renamed his studio DUCK to go with a new image and logo, as well as new developments in the creative and technical direction of the studio.
Viacom's chairman/CEO Sumner Redstone has been juggling his board of directors, dropping it from 18 to 17 members to "enhance corporate governance," the media conglomerate said in its annual proxy filing. A power debate has been resolved beween Redstone and COO Mel Karmazin. Both have reupped with Viacom signing employment contracts that return significant powers to Redstone, 79, while maintaining Karmazin's authority to run Viacom on a daily basis. It was widely reported that issues had arisen between them when Viacom and CBS Corp., where Karmazin, 59, was CEO, merged.
Brothers Thomas and Florian Haffa, formerly top executives of German kids television group EM.TV, were found guilty April 8, 2003 of fraud and fined $1.5M, according to the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Munich judge Huberta Knoeringer said the Haffas deliberately misrepresented EM.TV's finances to manipulate the company's share price and dismissed their claim that mistakes were made because of confusing international accounting procedures and business practices common to the media industry. Thomas Haffa, founder/CEO of EM.TV, was ordered to pay $1.3M while Florian, former CFO, must pay $250,000. The prosecuting attorney Peter Noll had asked for much higher fines and wanted them placed on eight months probation. The Haffas' lawyer Rainer Hamm is appealing the verdict.EM.TV rose rapidly in the late 1990s from a merchandising company to produce and distribute kids shows and went on a buying spree, overpaying for assets such as the Jim Henson Co. ($680M) and a 50% stake in the Formula One race-car circuit ($1.5 billion). The EM.TV trial lasted for five months and is seen as a possible precedent for other corporate fraud trials in Germany. In August 2000, EM.TV published half-year figures that grossly inflated its revenue and profits. The numbers were later corrected downward in October and December. Thomas Haffa sold 200,000 shares worth of EM.TV stock for almost $20M earlier in 2000. EM.TV forecast a pretax profit of $240M, but ultimately booked a net loss of just under $1.5 billion.
Eric Fogel, creator of MTV's CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH and producing partner John Lynn have opened AniMotion Unlimited, a full service animation studio located in Midtown Manhattan. The studio's mission is to keep animation production alive and well on the East Coast, according to Fogel. Fogel was creator/director/co-exec producer of CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH, MTV's first clay-animated series that had a four-season run, starting in 1998.