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After Digital Domain failure, FSU grapples with next step for film school

Florida State University is struggling to figure out the next step for its acclaimed film school in light of the failure of Digital Domain Media Group, the government-subsidized animation company that filed for bankruptcy in September.

The university's Board of Trustees gave FSU President Eric Barron permission Friday to move FSU's West Palm Beach film studio to Tallahassee if he thinks it would be in the best interest of the school. Barron will also discuss his options when he meets with the Board of Governors, which oversees the state's university system, on Jan. 16-17. 

FSU got into hot water after it launched a South Florida campus this fall with failed film company Digital Domain.

The company, founded by director James Cameron and responsible for work in such films as Titanic and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, accepted $135 million in state and local cash, land and tax breaks before it laid off 300 workers and abandoned the university.

FSU provost Garnett Stokes told the Board of Trustees that students and faculty want to continue the program in West Palm Beach because they believe they can better attract film partners in a bigger metropolitan area.

"Only one student indicated a willingness to move to Tallahassee,therefore a teachout will be absolutely necessary," Stokes said.

Barron also seemed in favor of continuing the South Florida program, emphasizing that almost all of FSU's film graduates enter the film industry--but they have to leave the state to do so. One intent of the program, Barron said, was to build a film industry in Florida and keep talented graduates in the state. 

"With cost, you could transfer it to Tallahassee, that's a fact," he said. "But it would be a very different program."

Projections estimate that it would cost $3 million up front and $1.6 million recurring to hire faculty and provide a comparable facility in Tallahassee.

The Board of Governors has so far expressed resistance to keeping the FSU facility in South Florida, questioning the need for FSU to have the satellite campus when Florida Atlantic University has a film school nearby.

Barron contends that FSU's degree is different than FAU's.

"We're laboring under the view that this type of degree is already being offered," he said. "But that's not true."