Work continued quietly Thursday afternoon at Medient Studios’ office in Savannah. But behind the scenes, a day of upheaval and tumult had taken place.
Manu Kumaran, the founder and chief executive officer of the company, was ousted from his position Wednesday evening, with Jake Shapiro taking his place as CEO and entertainment industry veteran Charles Koppelman assuming Kumaran’s spot as chairman of the board.
Shapiro said Thursday afternoon the studio remains committed to its planned massive project in Effingham County, a movie/DVD/video game production facility on 1,550 acres off Interstate 16 and Old River Road.
“The future is real,” Shapiro said. “That’s the biggest difference now. We are putting a plan into place that will actually result in the studios being built and the jobs being created.”
Effingham Industrial Development Authority chairman Dennis Webb said it is too early in what appears to be an internal struggle to know what will happen, but he believes the planned studioplex will move forward.
“I remain confident it is going to happen,” he said Thursday. “The business model works, the plan works and they have been making steps to get the development going. We believe fervently this is going to change the wake of the entire industry. We literally believe that Medient Studios in Effingham County is going to do to Hollywood what the Japanese did to Detroit.”
Shapiro said the new leadership team has met with the Effingham Industrial Development Authority representatives and officials from Shore Development and Titan Atlas. He also said the new management team will adhere to the plan Kumaran set out to follow from the beginning — shooting movies in native languages using different sets of actors for release in global markets.
“The vision is fantastic. The plan is quite elegant,” he said. “The issue was the implementation, which the board and our team has now taken ownership of.”
Kumaran posted on his Twitter account Wednesday evening: “If it can happen to Steve Jobs I guess it can happen to anyone.” He later released a statement to Georgia Public Broadcasting, announcing his ouster from the company.
“A number of illegitimate actions, in my view, have occurred over the last 48 hours, which have allegedly removed me as an Officer, Chairman of the Board, and majority voting rights holder of the company,” he said. “In my view, these matters should be more comprehensively discussed in a forthcoming 8K. Bear in mind that the 8K filing is from the perspective of those persons who have taken these actions against me. I intend, as promptly as possible, to take such legal actions as my counsel deem appropriate to reverse the actions against me.
“Needless to say, Medient is my baby and I am stunned and deeply saddened by the events of the past 48 hours but this isn’t over just yet.”
In a conference call with investors Thursday afternoon, Shapiro said the studio no longer plans to build a suspension bridge and The Leaf, a giant glass structure that would serve as an amphitheater.
Medient broke ground on the project last August and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Effingham IDA in March 2013.
“This company has raised a lot of capital,” Shapiro said. “But this company has not made movies in quite some time. This is a movie production company and you can’t be a movie production company without making movies. Making movies is not only the impetus for job creation, but it also generates jobs, revenue, cash flow, profits and the ability to make more movies and bigger movies.”
Shapiro said there has been “significant” shedding of overhead and “tremendous” cost savings as a result of the moves.
“We’ve leaned down the corporate overhead to a strong, lean, tough team that can build and create the individual productions,” he added.
Medient was to produce “Kickback,” an espionage thriller based on events in Russia, with shooting to take place later this year in Central and Eastern Europe.
“We are re-evaluating our entire slate of films,” Shapiro said.
He said the studio will focus on making movies locally rather than abroad. Medient announced in April that “The Damned,” its first movie to be shot in the Coastal Empire, would begin production later this year.
Medient’s stock price tumbled from around $2 a share a year ago to less than .2 of a cent, and Shapiro addressed the rapidly-declining value.
“Every single decision this company makes has to come down to that bottom line question — does this create shareholder value? It’s all about running a tight, efficient ship to maximize the value and growth of this company,” Shapiro said.
Kumaran was told of his dismissal during a Wednesday night conference call with the board of directors.
Last Friday, the company announced it had made substantial progress in paying off the debt accompanying the production and acquisition of “Yellow,” which has garnered wide critical acclaim.
“‘Yellow’ is a ground-breaking film that we can all be very proud of,” Kumaran said in a statement last week. “It was absolute necessary to eliminate the multiple debts on the film so that the film can be released this summer. As a result of paying off the majority of the investors, the bulk of the revenues generated by ‘Yellow’ will come directly to our treasury. We will reinvest these funds into new productions, so that any future dilution related to film production should be reduced or eliminated.”
Medient also recently announced former New York governor David Paterson joined the board of directors and Dennis Davidson will become an external special advisor.