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Digital Domain: John Textor's Student Labor Plantation

Slaves, at least, got room and board. On John Textor's digital plantation, the labor was going to pay the boss for the privilege of making him rich.

For all the weeping and wailing over the demise of Digital Domain, the govt-subsidized "film school" that crashed and burned in West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie last week, and amid all the self-justifying jaw-flapping of the public officials who were complicit, the sleaziest aspect of con man Textor's scuzzy scam has gone completely unremarked locally: the exploitation of student labor for private profit.

It's been all over the internet since last spring, causing an explosion of rage in the film industry, but no one in SoFL seems to have noticed (or maybe they just don't think it's important) that in a speech to investors last November, Textor bragged about how his animation school, Digital Domain Institute, was going to provide grist for the mill of the company's studio.

Textor told the audience:

"...what's interesting is the relationship between the digital studio and the college. Not only is this a first in a number of ways that we've talked about, but 30 percent of the workforce at our digital studio down in Florida, is not only going to be free, with student labor, it's going to be labor that's actually paying us for the privilege of working on our films."

With the blithe indifference and moral myopia of the consummate con man, Textor went on to boast how he'd fooled the feds, too:

"Now this was the controversial element of this and the first discussions with the Department of Education, 'cause it sounds like you're taking advantage of the students. But we were able to persuade even the academic community, if we don't do something to dramatically reduce costs in our industry, not only ours but many other industries in this country, then we're going to lose these industries ... we're going to lose these jobs. And our industry was going very quickly to India and China."

Great! Let American workers not be left behind in the global race to the bottom. By all means, let us reduce costs, and what's costlier than human labor? Even if it may be illegal.

(Not that anyone should give a good goddamn, right? For the bargain-basement tuition of $28K a year, these kids were going to learn a trade -- in a glamorous industry with first-rate pay and endless employment opportunities. As if.)

OK. Fire Ant can understand how that sort of slimy pitch would appeal to investors like the good, Society Page folks at Palm Beach Capital, who sunk ten or so million into Textor's scheme. When they're not making the rounds on the Island, those people create jobs suck the blood out of working folks.

But for state and local public officials to turn a blind eye to Textor's plans to grow fat off the sweat of young people, to kick in millions in public moolah to help him do it... Where's a people's tribunal when you need one?

Everyone involved in this snake-oil orgy claims to have done due diligence. The WPB Community Redevelopment Agency said it checked on Textor and his company inside and out, including the use of a private dick and a "New York attorney specializing in the entertainment industry." Somebody should sue somebody for malpractice.

Really, though, they just didn't want to know.

The public will be out quite a few millions before all the Digital Domain dust has settled. But it almost seems worth it not to have government fund the exploitation of starry-eyed youngsters by a charlatan like Textor.

Fire Ant is an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite. He covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected].

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Fire Ant

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