Last November, it seemed a bit strange that a group of executives trying to raise money to build a movie studio in Plymouth would hand over $25 million to MIT's Media Lab, to endow the Center for Future Storytelling. Why make such a big commitment to research before you've even gotten your own business off the ground?
This November, the Media Lab is reaching out to other sponsors who might be willing to help foot bill for the new center, after the latest deal to finance the $550 million, 240-acre studio complex in Plymouth fell apart.
I asked Media Lab director Frank Moss today whether he'd seen any cash from David Kirkpatrick, the head of the Plymouth Rock Studios project, and a former exec at Paramount Pictures. "They did give us a material amount to get us off to a start," Moss said, "but obviously, I can't give you details of their financial arrangement." The commitment made last November was $25 million over seven years, but, Moss said, "the world has changed since that happened, and they've encountered tremendous challenges" with funding.
Even before yesterday's news about Plymouth Rock broke, Moss said, the Media Lab has been reaching out to current and new sponsors to find other backers to underwrite the Center for Future Storytelling. "They've been a great partner, but we're making this a multi-sponsor effort, in the style of the Media Lab," Moss told me.
In late October, there was a "Transmedia Summit" at the lab that brought some sponsors in (and also provided some content for Plymouth Rock's on-going Internet video series.)
Interestingly, the Center for Future Storytelling has not yet hired any faculty members of its own; it is currently run by Cynthia Breazeal, a robotics researcher who also leads the Personal Robots group at the Media Lab.
Asked whether Kirkpatrick has suggested that Plymouth Rock might not be good for its entire $25 million pledge to the lab, Moss wouldn't answer, but said, "He has kept me in the loop on the challenges he's had, and we've both adjusted to the realities of how to make this center great. The center is alive and well."
And for a minimum commitment of $600,000 over three years, you can be one of its new sponsors.
Update: I caught up with Kirkpatrick by phone this afternoon, and he told me that Plymouth Rock is still standing behind its obligation to the Media Lab. I asked him if the funding pledge is about $3.5 million a year, and he said that it starts smaller than that, and "ramps up over time."
Is Plymouth Rock back to Square One, now that its financing has evaporated? "Clearly, this is a big bump in the road, but we do have some alternatives we've been talking with for several months, and we're exploring those more deeply," Kirkpatrick said. "We remain optimistic, and we're going to persist and get this done."
(Before this latest set-back, the state of Massachusetts denied $50 million in infrastructure funding to the studio project.)