Now that I have put some distance between myself and the business that was KURV studios, I am okay with talking about what happened during the companies crumble to going out of business.
It was an extremely difficult time with a few colleagues that I worked with trying to bring the company down or say that I was stealing money from the business. Basically they just did not understand what was going on with KURV studios at the time and in some ways we did not understand either.
I started KURV studios back in 2001 if I remember correctly. I was working for Wordware Publishing and loved that job. We were publishing some great books even if we were the underdogs of the industry. I will also stop to say here that I am not going to bring anyones name into this article besides mine. The reason I said above that enough time has passed is this was again very difficult and the last thing I want is to seem like I am trying to 'clear' my name, or drag anyone else down.
While at a show for the Game Developers Conference in San Jose I met an incredibly talented artist (not the booth girl here) who knew this little known 3D package called LightWave. Long story short here Wordware became one of two publishers to attack the Lightwave 3D market. The other publisher chose to do books that were 'bible' type in nature. We attacked the market from a different angle, picking one of the major 3D market areas, like modeling and doing a smaller but extremely thorough book on that topic. more information on one topic that the 'bible' style book could cover, making our library more in depth, only by virtue of sheer size and information.
By the time we had published 4-5 books from various artists on various topics, my name was getting 'out there' as I would go onto the major forum boards and pump the library. This was long before you young people were doing social media :).
Because I was getting well known and I had a passion for this industry, I decided to start a company doing training in a way that these books could not cover, video.
KURV studios was born.
We had a VERY successful business with in a year for a one person shop working part time from home. It took me about a year or 18 months to get things to where I could leave Wordware and work on KURV studios full time. This was a very busy, work from 9 am to 2 am job with very few days or weekends off. This was about 2003 or 2004.
Fast forward to 2007 - 2008 we had more than 30 videos online, 15-20 artists and things were going well. We had a few artists that did not create videos up to our quality so we had to invoke our quality clause and refuse their training. This created some enemies of KURV but we lived through it.
You have to understand, the visual effects market is small, we had about 75,000 people on our mailing list. These were people who at least downloaded free training if not purchased training from us. We had about 2,500 customers that would purchase videos from us based on topics on a regular basis. Over the years we effectively lowered the price people expected to pay for training from $80 dollars down to around $30. This drove a few other businesses out of business. Most of them had big over head, studios, camera, lighting, etc. We did not need any of those items, we were lean and low barrier to market.
The Beginning of the End
The down side to driving others companies out of business was some of those people were friends with folks at NewTek and when they had no where to go, they went to work from them. This placed people that did not really think fondly of KURV or me, inside the company that made the product I was doing training on.
In 2007 my wife and I made the decision to move into a larger house. The started home we had was perfect for us, but we were looking to have children now. After a few years of infertility treatments, we had decided to adopt from the CPS / Fostering program. We needed something a little larger. We moved in in July of 2007 and with in six months we started to feel KURV studios slipping in sales. By 2008 our sales were off by 45%. We had to start laying off the few employees we had hired and start closing down technical expenses to stay afloat. Turn off the phone system, and figure out ways to save money on the month to month business needs. We had recently started fostering a little girl that was only 8 months old at the time.
So we had a few things causing me stress at this time. We had a little girl now depending on us, we had declining sales that I needed to figure out and a slightly larger mortgage payment. We needed to keep KURV studios alive, it was really all I knew how to do (it felt like). I would lie awake at night thinking of the consequences to us closing the company down for us and for the artists we worked with. With in a few months the sales had declined even more and we got a call that the little girl we were fostering, had a sister. Thank goodness the states fostering program pays foster parents. The money we received helped us stay afloat while we took every penny from KURV to pay the businesses bills and artists for training royalties.
We were able to survive 2007 and 2008 but going into mid 2009 things were getting very tough. We had invested some funds into a new technology that would help us produce videos faster and from online live training. This allowed us to pay artists at the time of training but we still had the issue of not being able to pay all of our royalty obligations from money coming into the company. The only good news for us was we finally knew it was not our products that were causing our slow sales, it was the economy affecting everyone else like us, and our small niche of customers, were deciding to pirate our products as opposed to buy them. We struggled to stay afloat just hoping as did many companies in the US that this would be over soon as the economy would turn around. Oh how hind site is 20/20.
The Last Straw
In early 2010 I was introduced to a new artist I had never heard of before. He told me he had worked on a major VFX TV series that had won a few Emmys. He said that he had won Emmys as well and he had files from the TV series he could use for training. This would be amazing for KURV studios. This might be the thing to save us! If we could only make enough videos and sell them at a slightly higher price while at the same time enforcing anti piracy laws on about 40 web sites, we could make it. We started paying a company to help us fight the piracy while working with this new artist. He was amazingly fast and a fantastic artist. He was cranking out training at a staggering rate. I was barely able to keep up with the editing and post processing of the titles. We had 2-3 videos released and we had just paid to have another 7 created, duplicated and produced when I received an email from a unknown source.
You Just Can't Write This Stuff
So we got this short, direct email from a unknown source. It read, "The person your working with is not who he says he is... he will destroy your business and no one will respect you if you continue to work with him." I may not have mentioned it here, but we had received emails like this before about other artists. The only thing about this email that sent a cold shiver down my spine was this email said, "he stole assets from the studio... they may not come after him, but they will come after you for profiting from these stollen assets". This was serious. We had 9 videos invested in this artist and what the person emailing me did not know, we were heavily using more assets from this television series in the unreleased 7 videos. Our backs were against the wall on this, we were paying a lot of money to try to stop the piracy bleeding our company dry and now we had a accusation we simply could not ignore.
The first thing I did was to talk to the artist being accused in this situation. When I told him what was going on, he got irate, enraged and only wanted to know who was saying these things. He said that he had enemies at this studio, they were jealous of him and would do or say anything to bring him down. I understood this all too well. So I set out to contact the studio who the artist said he was working for. Took me about a week but I got in touch with the VFX supervisor of the TV series. I was in awe, this was the guy who was in charge of the VFX of this series and while I was talking to him was on location in Louisiana shooting a Nicholas Cage movie. He took time out of his busy schedule to let me know all about this situation. He was furious that we we re planning on distributing assets from the series. He said I know you got lured into this situation but your going to be up against lawyers from NBC Television. He basically said, the artists did not work on the show, he was the network wrangler for the studio doing the work. Thats how he had access to the files he had, the supervisor flat out said, "he stole the files". I asked about the Emmy award as well, he said "while he technically worked on the show, he never won an Emmy". He went on to explain that when a TV series wins an Emmy, the Academy allows you to list a certain number of artists with credits for winning the "Emmy", 9 in this class of show. Does not seem fair to me, but those are the rules, I called the Academy to verify this myself. He went on to explain that the person responsible for letting the Academy know who the people were to credit with the Emmy... was him. This is how he knew the artist did not get nominated or win the Emmy for the series. My next call was to the Academy of Television & Art Sciences. I spoke to several people there who all verified the things that the supervisor told me. This artist never won an Emmy, he was never even nominated
This put me in a very bad place. On one hand I had an artist denying everything I was told and on the other, I had a VFX supervisor, that I reached by contacting NBC Television. I chose to believe the VFX Supervisor.
I had to look at the financial impact of this on the company. We were already behind on several artists paying royalties, I was already behind on our personal bills and we had a big payment due to the piracy company. I choose to do what any publisher would do. I took the amount of royalties owed to that artist and applied them to our business expenses to get out of this situation. We had pinned our hopes on this artist's series, the TV series was a VFX gold mine and we had been blasting emails that this artists was a Emmy winning artist, worked on this series, had permissions to use studio files, all of the above. Our emails go out to about 70,000 people, needless to say, we were in a corner on this.
We contacted the artist and let him know what our plans were. The last thing we wanted to do was to talk negatively about him and bring out what we knew about him. The artist lost it, "I had to pay him or he would do everything he could to bring me down". He immediately started talking to my closest artists telling them I was refusing to pay him. I owed them money as well as we were barely making it at this point. My other mistake on all this was befriending these artists. They knew everything going on in my life. They knew we were adopting three now, little girls from the CPS system at the end of the year. They built up a story that the adoption was going to cost 10's of thousands of dollars and thats where all the money I owed them was going. Somehow I was masterminding a "ponzi" scheme. What these folks did not understand was, the foster payments from the state were, at that time, what was keeping us a float financially. We were adopting these girls, but the state was paying for the adoption, not us. All we had to do was show up.
My mistakes in this was allowing my fears of loosing my children over shadow my integrity and honesty to these artists. In this fear I choose to try to juggle the financial issues with these artists I owed money to while doing my best to get the business "back on track". Not being 100% honest with these artists was a mistake, and one that I truly regret today. My fear was if I told them we were having money trouble, they would immediately stop doing training and ask us to stop selling their titles. We would immediately go under and have to figure out if CPS would relocate the children before we could adopt. The truly weird and funny thing is that the artist that lied about all of this is working closely for NewTek now and doing shows with them. It is a strange turn of events and I can only imagine what the artists in Hollywood think about it.
The half truths and lies that came from these artists mainly two people were amazingly hurtful. The part that amazed me the most is I was posting information that could be easily verified by looking on the Academy web site or simply looking on the NBC credits site, but this had no effect on the public. I guess the fact that more than just two artists were saying that I owed them money was enough to over shadow the full truth. While the business did owe them money, I certainly was not using that money to live off of and drive fancy cars as they said. People truly do love the gossip and do not want to hear the truth. This incident has given me a new insight on what I think when I hear a story about someone and what they have done.
So thats the story about KURV studios. Dates may be off a slight amount, it was a long time ago, but the story is true.
So to all you artists that were owed money when KURV studios went under I am truly sorry. My intentions by holding that money was to invest it back in the company to try to keep things alive. The incident with NBC literally pulled the rug out from under us all at once. If I did not give you a personal apology and phone call at the time, I am again very sorry. You were owed at least that. I hope that you can understand that with all the things being said about me and the company, things in my life were very difficult. It actually put me in the hospital ICU for 7 days. Not an excuse, just an explanation.
I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I hope you have been blessed through out your career and hope the speed bump that was KURV studios has not caused you any hardship, God bless you!
Note: I have left out any images from KURV studios because I really don't want to cause any issues for the artists involved in this article. I did not want any images to lead anyone to believe I was in a round about way implying they were involved in this situation. 90% of the artists I worked with were amazing people and I have the utmost respect for them.