'Titanic' effects maker files for Chapter 11

Associated Press Modified: September 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm •  Published: September 11, 2012
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Less than a year after going public, the digital production company founded by director James Cameron has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and agreed to sell the core of its business to a private investment firm for $15 million.

Digital Domain Media Group Inc., best known for its work on Cameron's "Titanic," has produced visual effects for more than 90 movies, including "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" and the "Transformers" series. And in April, its Tupac Shakur hologram made a splash when it took the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and appeared to perform alongside Snoop Dogg.

But the company was "running out of cash," Chief Restructuring Officer Michael Katzenstein said in court filings, and had violated cash and debt requirements set forth by its lenders. It tried to find additional outside sources of capital, but wasn't able get enough to restructure its debt and pay its operating expenses, he said.

The downward spiral was swift. The company went public just 10 months ago, selling nearly 5 million shares at $8.50 each, below the expected $10 to $12 range. Drifting to the $5 range by spring, the stock then spiked as high as $9.20 following huge reaction to the Shakur hologram, with the performance garnering 15 million YouTube hits within 48 hours and winning a top award at the creative marketing gathering Cannes Lions.

Building on the buzz, Digital Domain got the green light to create an Elvis Presley hologram for shows, film, TV and other projects worldwide, including appearances.

But by August the struggling company said it would review its options, suggesting a possible sale. Shares have fallen as low as 44 cents in recent days.

One of the biggest shareholders in the company is former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who is listed in bankruptcy filings as owning 1.6 million shares. From the high to Tuesday's closing price of 55 cents, his holdings have lost $13.6 million in value.

Digital Domain, based in Port St. Lucie, Fla., has studios in California and Canada that create digital visual effects, animation and digital production for the entertainment and advertising industries. The company had spent the past few years building a new animation studio in Port St. Lucie, using millions in incentives from the city and the state.

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