Big Idea Productions of Lombard, producers of the phenomenally-successful VeggieTales videos, books, games and music, has found itself in a cauldron of boiling financial water.
Earlier this month, the 10-year old company, co-founded by former bible student and computer animation whiz Phil Vischer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Federal Court.
It listed assets of $8 million and $43 million-plus in liabilities. The assets, namely Big Idea’s copyrights, trademarks and license agreements, will be sold at an Oct. 28 auction.
New York-based Classic Media LLC has a preliminary agreement to buy the assets for $7.5 million, the opening bid at the upcoming auction, where higher offers are expected.
Classic Media is one of the biggest names in media properties. It owns or manages Harvey Comics characters, Golden Books, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “The Lone Ranger” and scores of others.
Classic’s CEO, Eric Ellenboger, said his company would commit everything it takes “to advance Big Idea’s unique franchise.”
Big Idea was the pride of the Chicago production community. It operated the biggest animation studio between coasts, employed 200, had sales of $40 million and sold an estimated 30 million videos/DVDs over the past decade.
Big Idea last winter won rave reviews for its first feature, the self-financed “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.” With a gross of $24 million against production costs of $12-$14 million it should have returned a profit. But the unfavorable distribution deal cut with Artisan Entertainment did not specify if or when Big Idea would get paid.
Then, in June, Texas Federal Court ordered Big Idea to pay $11 million in damages and court costs to Dallas-based distributor Lyrick Studios. Lyrick charged Big Idea with walking away from its six-year verbal contract to sign with bigger Warner Home Video in 2001 for mainstream distribution.
When the company attempted to arrange new financing and was told it had to outsource its animation to attract new investors, Big Idea laid off most of its staff, leaving them with no means to produce new shows.
The former staff of 200 is down to a current staff of around 40.
Kris Fuhr, a spokesperson for Big Idea, said the company intends to continue producing VeggieTales videos. An Easter special is due for February release, followed by videos in May and September.
Big Idea has operated out leased space in the Yorktown mall since 1999. The year before, the company bought the long-vacant DuPage Theatre in Lombard, with the intention of investing $15 million to turn it into production headquarters, but plans were unexpectedly dropped.
Vischer, an Iowa native, and his partner Mike Nawrocki who met at St. Paul Bible College in Minnesota, started their company out of Vischer’s spare bedroom in 1993. Their goal was to create quality entertainment that could rival anything Hollywood could produce, but with a biblical worldview.