CRAFT: THE CREATIVE ISSUE; What lessons can be learned from the way Spots fell apart?

Jane Austin charts the fall of a well-respected group that had lost faith in itself

Jane Austin charts the fall of a well-respected group that had lost

faith in itself



The closure of Spots, one of London’s foremost commercials production

companies, at the end of last month (Campaign, 28 June) illustrates how

fragile small production units are when beset by internal fighting and

mounting debts.



Why and how did the 25-year-old company - which, in the week of its

closure, was voted the third-best production house in the world at the

Cannes festival - plunge into liquidation owing its named creditors more

than pounds 1 million?



Mark Andrews, the managing director of Rogue Films, observes: ‘From the

start, Spots stood for all that was great about the English commercials

business.’ That it was successful for more than 20 years says a lot

about the partnership between its two founders, Barry Myers and Tim

White.



‘In 1992 Spots went supernova and became one of the most exciting

production companies in town,’ Blink’s managing director, James

Studholme, says. The company began a period of expansion, taking on such

talent as Paul Meijer and Tarsem, with his producer, Robert Campbell.



It is impossible to know just why Spots closed. Myers and White, along

with Spots’ directors, many of whom claim they are owed money, are

locked in a legal battle, and are unable to tell their stories.



Spots’ legal troubles began when White abruptly left the company in

August 1994 and set an industrial tribunal in motion against Myers for

unfair dismissal, although he kept his 40 per cent shareholding in the

company. After several postponements, the case is set to be heard on 30

July.



Spots’ insolvency is also a matter of some debate. The creditors’

meeting, on 12 July, erupted into a shouting match when several

creditors refused to accept the Spots-appointed liquidator. The meeting

was rescheduled for 19 July, and a new liquidator agreed. Some of the

larger creditors listed include the post-production houses, the Mill

(pounds 51,369.51), Rushes (pounds 32,594.89) and Cel Animation (pounds

47,674.45). Planete Spots, the French office of Spots UK in which Spots

UK has a 51 per cent shareholding, is the largest creditor, with a claim

of pounds 471,577.52.



Many in the industry believe that Spots’ demise really began at the

flagship US office in the early 90s, when the management walked out and

the company was restructured around its top director, Michael Werk.



But when Werk left the company in 1994, Spots held no commercially

viable US-based directors. At about the same time, the relationship

between Myers and White started to disintegrate.



Andrews continues: ‘After Tim left, I believe that Spots got itself into

a position where neither the company nor its directors knew which way it

was going. Tim’s steadying influence will have been missed at Spots.

Whoever signs Barry as a director will acquire one of the best talents

in the business.’



Rumours about Spots’ financial vulnerability began to spread in the

autumn of 1995, when all the staff were sacked and then put on freelance

contracts. To many observers it was a sign that something was seriously

wrong.



Olivier Delahaye, managing director of Planete Spots, succeeded Robert

Campbell as the London managing director in February 1996. Several

former employees say the French management style conflicted with the way

Spots’ UK and US teams had worked.



Lisa Mehling, the former head of sales at Spots’ New York office, says:

‘Spots was the most tight-knit, loyal and dedicated team of people.

Because of this dedication, we all stayed too long, and many sacrificed

their own personal interests. The French management didn’t treat

employees very well in my opinion and they didn’t pay on a regular

basis.’



Andy Delaney, one half of the directing duo, Big TV, explains why he

left Spots: ‘At the beginning of the year, we felt the company had lost

direction. We appreciated that it was having to make cutbacks, but after

all the producers were made freelance and Robert left, there wasn’t the

back-up. Production talent wasn’t appreciated. We are owed a lot of

money, but we’re not on the creditors’ list.’



Shortly after Campbell’s departure, another director, Theo Delaney, left

for Tomboy. Then the producers, Adam Lyne, Dominic Delaney and Tommy

Turtle, all left to open the UK office of @radical. media - a group

Tarsem and Big TV joined. At the same time Paul Meijer left to join

Palomar Pictures.



White is now running Freedom Films, a feature film company, while Myers

wants to find work as a director. Myers says: ‘We had turned Spots

around in the last year and had a terrific roster of directors. Then

they all defected - you’ll have to ask them why.’ He admits that the US

office was the beginning of the problems but adds: ‘Spots had become a

really realistic company in the last year, but we came from another

age.’



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