In an interview with Transworld Skateboarding magazine about the problems, Textor boldly noted, "I'm the only investor who is willing to put in more money. "

Carl Domino, who was then a West Palm Beach investment advisor, had invested $50,000 in Sims.

"Textor said the company was really doing well but they had an inventory buildup and just needed some money to get through the season," Domino recalls. "The guy could answer every question. He's got a real silver tongue."

Video instructor Dwayne Taylor (left) and his student Andrew Spence (right) posed with Textor in West Palm Beach.
Video instructor Dwayne Taylor (left) and his student Andrew Spence (right) posed with Textor in West Palm Beach.
The firm helped create a rapping Tupac image for Coachella.
Eric Smith-Gunn / evsmitty /
The firm helped create a rapping Tupac image for Coachella.

Domino says he asked for his money back, and Textor suddenly cut off contact with him. Domino figured the money was lost and he'd never hear from Textor again. But years later, when Domino had won office as a state legislator and was working in Tallahassee, Textor's name popped up.

Ross says that when Wyndcrest Partners took over Digital Domain, it brought in old executives from Industrial Light and Magic — adding a corporate vibe to what had been a scrappy upstart. "It was kind of like bringing A-Rod and Jeter into Fenway Park," Ross recalls. Ross left the company shortly thereafter.

In Florida around 2006, Textor started another branch of Wyndcrest. He would eventually use the new Florida company to absorb the California company. "He's allowing himself about $8.5 million in compensation for his own shares," according to a lawsuit later filed by onetime partner Carl Stork, the former Microsoft exec.

Florida also offered incentives to studios for film production, plus cheaper labor and lower taxes than California. And the Sunshine State was chock full of officials whom Textor could persuade to pour millions of dollars into his new Florida-based company, which would eventually take on the name Digital Domain Media Group.

These successes might have been a welcome distraction from the fact that the IRS filed a lien against Textor in 2008 for $7.8 million in unpaid personal taxes. The next year, he satisfied the lien but ran into more trouble: BabyUniverse went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Bay's Transformers, with effects by Digital Domain, came out in 2007. The California company got to show off with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which the reverse-aging head of actor Brad Pitt, from ages 87 to 63, was completely computer-generated. Benjamin Button won the Digital Domain team the 2009 Academy Award for digital effects.

In July of 2009, the Florida arm of Wyndcrest announced plans for a digital production studio in Port St. Lucie, about two hours north of Miami, promising hundreds of local jobs. Wyndcrest had been in talks with St. Lucie County officials, and a multimillion-dollar land deed for a new facility was in the works. In September, Textor announced a partnership with Florida State University to build a film school in South Florida that would work closely with the new studio.

In the state capitol in Tallahassee, Carl Domino (R-Jupiter) shared a suite with Kevin Ambler, a Republican from Tampa. "We're used to people coming in and visiting," Domino says. "But all of a sudden, near the end of the 2009 legislative session, I saw Textor in there."

Textor had already applied for a state grant the normal way, through a quasi-public agency called Enterprise Florida, which recommends grants for companies that promise jobs. He had been rejected. So here he was at the source, lobbying legislators for incentives. Soon he had Ambler and Gov. Charlie Crist on his side.

Domino says that it was unorthodox to fast-track gifts to private companies and that Textor's project was code-named "Project Bumblebee." Domino tried to block the incentive payment, but Textor and his colleagues dismissed him as a former investor with an ax to grind.

Eventually, Domino says, the grant was put directly into budget law, with approval from the governor. Textor received $20 million of state money from a fund normally used to lure out-of-state businesses to Florida. The money was contingent upon the creation of jobs. Ambler was later named to Digital Domain's board of directors.

The deal was approved, and just before Thanksgiving, the City of Port St. Lucie followed suit, giving Wyndcrest land and a brand-new studio building in exchange for 500 full-time jobs by 2014.

By January 21, 2010, construction on the Port St. Lucie facility was underway, and Digital Domain had already hired dozens of people, including veterans of Disney and Pixar. That day, Textor was on an airplane traveling to the Academy Awards "bakeoff," where Oscar nominees are winnowed down to finalists. A Star Trek revival with scenes by Digital Domain was up for Best Picture.

He typed out an email (later made public in a lawsuit) that boasted of his influence on legislators. "Just yesterday, I finished drafting legislation for the state of Florida to create a 20%-30% tax credit (effectively a rebate) for film production in Florida beginning July 2010," he wrote. "Our relationship with the legislature far exceeds that of the [film] industry lobby... So while the industry was waiting to see the new bill, I was actually drafting the bill (personally). State legislators here in Florida are not full-time, so they really need help."

As Textor was working these deals, he persuaded his partners to sell him their stock. Stork sold all of his shares to Textor's new company in February 2010. Bay sold his that May.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help