Vinton Shopping Quest Project
"I'm definitely on my way back from hell," Will Vinton told AWN, a few months after the studio he founded, Vinton Studios, gave him the boot. The king of Claymation claims he is much happier now, having signed with Creative Artists Agency and is shopping around a number of animated projects, including a feature film script, THE QUEST, written by Peter Crabbe.
Vinton said he's quite relieved to be away from the studio he started in 1976, because of increasing tensions with the new regime, headed by investor Phil Knight and ceo Jeff Farnath. Vinton Studios was famous for the California Raisins, UPN's GARY & MIKE and THE PJS with Eddie Murphy and Imagine TV, as well has numerous animated shorts. But in the soft advertising market, the studio had to cut the staff by three-fourths. Farnath and Vinton made a deal with Nike founder/ceo Knight, a minority shareholder since 1998, to put money into the Portland, Oregon-based studio while it sought a feature film deal.
Within six months of Knight assuming a majority ownership, Vinton was out. Vinton resigned from the board on April 14, 2003, partly in protest to its actions and to pursue more creative interests. Then Farnath came into his office on April 17 and told him he was part of the next round of layoffs; that his services were no longer needed. "They didn't even pay my contractual severance," claimed Vinton. Vinton filed suit against five members of the studio's board of directors, including Knight. He is seeking $3.1 million in damages. THE OREGONIAN reports that Vinton did not sign a legal release so the studio was not forced to pay him severance and the amount is unclear since Vinton had been offered various packages. Vinton still holds his company stock.
Looking back Vinton said, "When the studio grew unwieldy, I found myself not doing creative work but working on the growth of the company itself. It was all consuming. Irony is that we didnt have to bring in professional management, but I did but because I wanted to get back to the creative work. A bunch of people actually warned me that was potentially the worst thing I could be doing. Then when things got going badly, I got sucked back in to try to rectify things," he said. When Knight came in, Vinton said the new regime made promises they failed to keep.
Vinton said he was amazed because he thought, "If you treat people well, they'll treat you well back. I feel so naïve. I like working with people on a handshake. I guess I'm too trusting. The board in no way was representing the company's interests," according to Vinton. "They were representing Phil Knight's best interests. I had taken a half salary when times were tough to help keep things going.
"I had to come to this kicking and screaming, I suppose," he continued. "I never would have chosen this scenario for an exit. It's potentially the best thing that'll ever happen to me. It forced me to get me off my duff and get back to do creative involvement in productions."
Vinton says he's eternally optimistic and that a lot more will be revealed during the court case. "It's not what I wanted to do," he said. "But under the circumstances, I'm sorta happy to do it, because it's so wrong what happened along the way."
Upon his dismissal, CAA agents Jon Levin and Rob Kenneally contacted Vinton. "I was delighted to go over there," he said. "It dovetailed nicely with my getting more focused on television and movie projects. I needed to get a fresh point of view on things. Rob has been a good friend for a long time. Jon has a really strong interest in fantasy stuff and animation. He's a great guy and agent. I like his sensibility. I didn't really have that interest or support from agents at previous places.
Vinton is shopping wide THE QUEST. His collaborator, Crabbe, wrote MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS: LIVE AT ASPEN, a 1998 TV special and the feature scripts CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? and MCHALE'S NAVY, plus he performs standup comedy.
Vinton says he is exploring a variety of things; there's a very good chance he will be starting a new company. The company will grow up around those projects, just like the first one did. Vinton said his experience "is quite a story. I think this is some sort of screenplay, animated film for adults," he suggested.