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
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
‘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
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
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
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
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