Governing Board To Appoint Panel To Decide Fate of FSU-Digital Domain School

Jan 17, 2013

Florida State University is trying to keep the doors open at its West Palm Beach Film School location, even though its partner production company has gone bankrupt.  The Digital Domain bankruptcy has left the state on the hook for millions, created increased scrutiny on Florida State and has left the fate of students in the program up in the air.

After getting $20 million in state funding, Digital Domain declared bankruptcy in September, leaving the state out of $20 million and hundreds of workers in its Port St. Lucie and West Palm Beach facilities without jobs. The company’s CEO John Textor, recently spoke with South Florida’s News Channel Five and deflected blame for the company’s failure.

“The problem becomes trying to deliver on your promises to the community. That’s not always consistent with the short-term whims of an investor market. One of the most difficult things we realized was trying to balance community goals with Wall Street goals.”

Florida State University partnered with the company to build a film school location in West Palm Beach and the two shared a building. When Digital Domain went bankrupt, Florida State came under fire for not getting approval for the digital program from its own board, or the Board of Governors, which oversees all the state’s public universities.

“I’m going to appoint a three person committee to meet with FSU to delve down and make a recommendation to the board," said BOG Chairman Dean Colson.

Earlier in the month, FSU Trustees gave University President Eric Barron permission to move the West Palm Beach Film program to Tallahassee, where the main film school is located. But in a presentation before the Board of Governors Thursday, Barron pushed for allowing the digital film program to remain in its current location.

“The faculty with industry experience is critical. We’ve asked both those individuals if they’re willing to move to Tallahassee and they aren’t willing to do that," Barron said. "We surveyed all 28 students that we have within the program at West Palm Beach, and with one exception, even knowing tuition would be substantially cheaper, they said they wouldn’t be willing to move.”  

Barron says the university has found several other companies willing to partner with it to fill the gap left by Digital Domain:

“Olympusat is the first one. It’s a media and entertainment company has a global operation distribution. The Conversations are ongoing with CEO Chuck Mohler. It has the largest distribution of independent networks in the United States.”  

The list also includes the Sierra-Nevada Corporation, the health information company Watermark, and a fourth, called Pod 15, a code name used by the state to keep the company’s economic interests a secret while they negotiate with the state for an incentive deal. Florida State’s Partnership with Digital Domain was troubled from the start. The first issue was the location-West Palm Beach is home to a similar program run by Florida Atlantic University. The arrival of FSU into the area created tension between the two schools and ultimately led the university governing board to create new rules making it harder for schools to start programs in areas of the state where similar ones already exist.