In our verified complaint and petition under the California Public Records Act, Santa Monica College Animation Professor Jim Keeshen allegedly stated, "Right now I'm just using them so that I can finish my film.... Let me try to finish up what I'm doing here so I can get out of here on my own terms." He additionally claimed in an email to me that he was the "now the scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb awaiting the axe at SMC." He additionally told me that I had "essentially poisoned the water here... for everybody.... It's a really bad climate here now."
Poisoned the water for whom? Who is them? The Santa Monica College administration or the students? As Keeshen explained to me, he didn't care about Julie Yarrish, Katharine Muller and Judith Penchansky and that he has "to live with them as we're swimming in the same pond." Did he not care about the students as well? He told me, "I'm not in anybody's side." I discussed some of the questionable transactions Keeshen had with SMC: "They're pointing to all the little kickbacks and things you've gotten, $10,000 here, a laptop here, the sabbatical here, the $40,000, the fake tax id number which doesn't match Studio Animatics." He didn't deny any of this to me, but merely stated, "I'll have to face that when the time comes."
How is it a bad climate? Is it because Jim Keeshen can no longer use SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology as his own digital playground? When I did a search for Jim Keeshen Productions, it confirmed that Jim Keeshen Productions was in fact using the school for his own self-serving purposes in that the address he has listed is 1660 Stewart Street, Santa Monica, CA. This is the same address as SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology! Here's a screenshot I made from Manta's website:
According to Jim Keeshen's Course Syllabus, "In 1997 the Academy of Entertainment and Technology was started at SMC and Keeshen was asked to help set up the curriculum and advise on hardware/software purchases. He became the first full time professor and chair of the Academy." The AET People website adds under its faculty description for Jim Keeshen, "Jim eventually started his own animation studio, continuing to produce TV commercials and specializing in animatics for advertising agencies. He came to Santa Monica College in 1987 and, in 1997, helped to establish the original Academy program. He is now associate professor of animation at the Academy."
And who was hired at AET when Keeshen was chairman? Was it the qualified industry professions they promised us or Jim Keeshen's friends and former and current employees of Jim Keeshen Productions? If Jim Keeshen Productions and AET are one-in-the-same, does it really make a difference?
Lea Milic "has more then 20 years of experience in the entertainment and animation industries. She has worked as a producer/production manager on many 2D and 3D projects including: TV serials, commercials, direct to video projects, video games, and web animation" according to AET's faculty website. According to her Animation Producer's Handbook bio, "Lea Milic is a producer at Jim Keeshen Productions in Santa Monica, California."
Joddy Nicola also teaches 2D Animation I, 2D Animation II, and Special Topics in Animation at the Academy. Joddy Niccola [alternate spelling] is also a senior lecturer in animation at Otis College of Art + Design. According to his faculty bio, "Certificate of Fine Arts (Character Animation). Animator, Director, Writer. Owner of Hijinks Animation. Has worked with Jim Keeshan Studio Animatics. Clients include Disney and Warner Brothers." I assume this is the same Jim Keeshen Studio Animatics we have discussed in previous blog postings. In fact, Joddy Nicola is listed as one of the animators in Jim Keeshen Productions' 1995 animated short entitled, "Monkey Love."
JIM KEESHEN'S "MONKEY LOVE"Nicola is also credited for layout while Jim Keeshen is listed as the Director and one of the story developers. You can download the movie here.
SCENE FROM JIM KEESHEN'S "MONKEY LOVE"
And what about AET professor Jan Nagel? She teaches ET 72 Career Explorations, an AET class taught online. She also took over Jim Keeshen's ET 2 Storytelling class when Keeshen was on his alleged sabbatical in Fall 2003. She also filled in with me for the Storytelling class in Fall 2004 when Keeshen left in the middle of the semester to go to Korea to work on his animated short, "The Day of the Dead." And who is the person responsible for marketing "The Day of the Dead" for direct to home video? None other than Jan Nagel according to Keeshen's 2002 "El Dia de Los Muertos" promotional booklet where Jan Nagel is listed as "Entertainment Marketing Diva" on the back contact page. An online article in Animation World Magazine, dated November 30, 2005, stated:Jan Nagel is a marketing consultant to the animation industry representing production services and development, and is the president of Women In Animation, Inc., a worldwide professional organization. Jan was also representing the following projects at this year’s NATPE: El Dia de Los Muertos (Jim Keeshen Productions), Captain & The Quill (Glenn Productions) and Goddess Only Knows (MJ Productions) for co-production and/or distribution.
JIM KEESHEN'S "DAY OF THE DEAD"
Follow the yellow brick road, but all that glitters is not gold...
PJ Abode and James Reilly were former students of AET who became professors, allegedly hired by Jim Keeshen. Stu Seldon and Tim Ryan were also graduates of the Academy who were then hired as computer staff members. Nepotism seems to go a long way in the Academy's hiring practices. Even Peidad Robertson, the former SMC president, brought in her friends from Florida, Katharine and David Muller, to work at SMC along with her friend Winniphred Stone from Massachusetts who worked with Keeshen on the AET distance education courses. Clearly, the cards were stacked in Keeshen's favor to do with what he pleased of the Academy program.
In addition to faculty, did Jim Keeshen use students to work on his own personal and commercial projects at AET, utilizing publicly funded school facilities at no expense to him? As Keeshen's teaching assistant at AET during the period of 2004 and 2005, I also worked on his "Day of the Dead" project, even creating a website for him. In a memorandum I wrote to him while he was in Korea at the beginning of this year, I outlined several concerns I had on his project and various financing strategies. I wrote in part, "Accordingly, having Jan Nagel’s Marketing Diva information clearly marked on your investment packages for Day of the Dead is not in your best interests, yet you could utilize her contacts to help bring in potential investors, but you must weigh the risks of her marketing strategies and expertise, or lack of, in this risk-filled area of seeking potential investors for your film."
I also later voiced my concerns to him in a later email about using school facilities to work on his own projects. I wrote in relevant part, the following:
As I stated on the phone, I am very busy with press matters at E3 all week and, despite this took the time, to email and phone you back twice today. I also stated on the phone tonight that there are some newly discovered legal issues I wish to discuss with an attorney at this point about the legality, or lack of, which may come back to hurt either of us and with which I seek to protect us both.
One of these legal and ethical issues which concern me deals with the "Santa Monica College Computer and Network Use Policy" which I recently reviewed. It states that your computer in your office should not have been used for "non-District fundraising and commercial purposes."
You additionally had me do work for the last year on your commercial "Day of the Dead" animated film which was not part of the school, at least according to what you told me, and you had me research fundraising for this same film and any pay I did receive from you, was done in relation to your commercial projects such as "Day of the Dead" and "Surfer Joe." You paid me either through personal checks or corporate checks under Jim Keeshen Productions, Inc. Again, I feel the school could use all of this against you so I took all of that off the server.
I will let you know once I find the time to obtain legal counsel and advice in this matter.
I ask you to think about these things so as to protect yourself in this matter. Did you know when we were doing the special lectures, your "Day of the Dead" and "Surfer Joe" film project and financing documents, that this was a violation of school policy? Were you ever given anything in writing stating what you could do or should not have done on your school office computer during school time using school facilities? I never was! Again, I believe in your film projects and only tried to help you. If the school uses anything I own, even in part, and places it on their school server, in light of their recent retaliation against us, I will be forced to defend my rights accordingly.
Did Keeshen, as chairman of AET, also use other students to work for him in his digital playground?
According to one former Academy of Entertainment and Technology student who worked on Keeshen's Family Guy Pilot Pitch:
Just to fill in the questions you have, Jim Keeshen did approach us directly, a group of five of the most "competent" students at the time, to work on the Family Guy pilot. There was never any paperwork given or signed, and we were not trained by anybody, except maybe given some direction on the first day to tell us what needed to be done, and basically just started that same day and continued for at most a couple of weeks. Jim was never present at the studio during this time, except maybe on the first day and the last. The two names I gave you were AET students like me and both worked on the pilot as well. I don't recall any of the other names you mentioned, but all the people who worked on the pilot are credited on that tape.
We were also offered opportunities to apply to work at Film Roman, and were given animation tests from Film Roman by Jim Keeshen to practice on, with a contact name, and we each applied, with no real results.
For the most part we worked on the assumption that we had to pay our dues, work for free as it were, to get in the industry. But we were never paid or told we were hired as interns. We were just asked directly as a group if we were interested, by Jim, and of course we said yes.
You ask if I ever signed any paperwork/agreement/statement when working for Keeshen Studios. I never did. It was all a verbal agreement and understanding that we would work on the Family Guy pilot for credit, no pay, as an internship. We were disappointed not to see our credits when it aired, but most of us moved on.
As you well know, in almost any industry, internships and apprenticeships are part of the deal in the hopes of making it in whatever business, paying your dues as it were, unfortunately this practice is ripe for abuse.
Although many AET students were credited on the Family Guy pilot, none received internship credit at AET. According to the Internship and Job documentation provided by Robert Sammis by and through Santa Monica Community College District, Jim Keeshen Productions is only listed as officially hiring one intern since the Academy's inception in 1997 to the present. Yet, according to one former employee of Jim Keeshen Productions, dozens of alleged "interns" from AET filtered through Keeshen's animation studio on Sawtelle between the period of 1998 to 2001 where they were used for free and then let go. If these AET students did not receive internship credit nor were they paid, was this not then a violation of federal and state law in that these employees should have at least received minimum wage for their hard work?
And did I get paid for work I did for Jim Keeshen Productions and as his teaching assistant at Santa Monica College? In April this year, when I asked to be paid, Jim emailed me the following: "I am trying to get money up to pay my income tax and will see if I can pay it as well as the rent which I now owe for 2 months. Am trying to borrow from the family at this bad time. If I have anything left over I'll slip you some cash, but don't hold your breath." I never did get paid in the end, yet Jim Keeshen earned a salary of $93,874. Considering how much money he pulled in teaching at AET and through Jim Keeshen Productions utilizing cheap labor, one questions how he could not pay his income tax or his rent. Was he lying to me or was something else going on here?
During the approximate period of 1997 to 2002, inclusive, Jim Keeshen Productions maintained a website under the URL http://www.jfkproductions.com. This site is no longer online, but I was able to obtain a cached copy. The site states the following: JIM KEESHEN PRODUCTIONS is a full-service animation company. We produce animated TV commercials, ID spots, test commercials, animation for the internet, CD-ROMs and multimedia. We especially love the traditional form of character animation and are currently working on some animated shorts, 1/2 hour TV specials and a feature length film. The artwork you see in our site comes from the various projects we are working on. Available for you to download are the sample animation reel with our commercial work and a short cartoon that we have just finished called Monkey Love. I hope you enjoy our art.
The about page claims: "In 1982 Keeshen incorporated into Jim Keeshen Productions and specialized in producing animation & animatics / photomatics for the major ad agencies in L.A., S.F., N.Y., St. Louis and Chicago. The company maintains a staff of talented artists and technical personnel." The question is who precisely were these "talented artists" and "technical personnel"? Were they in fact free slave labor from Keeshen's pool of students at the Academy where he was chairman and a professor in animation? No names of his staff were listed or otherwise credited on his website.
Additionally, what CD-ROMs and multimedia did Jim Keeshen produce? The ones paid for by the taxpayers through federal, state, and district funds and allegedly for the benefit of Santa Monica College?
This brings us to a final issue of the intermingling of Keeshen's commercial work with his educational and ethical interests, or conflicts thereof, as a professor at Santa Monica College. According to the SMC Board of Trustee Minutes for April 3, 2000, Animatics received a consultant contract for the Academy of Entertainment and Technology "for an amount not to exceed $10,000." The funding source was under the "Economic Development Virtual Multimedia / Entertainment Center Grant." The following comment was given:
SMC, as one of its objectives in the Virtual Multimedia/Entertainment Center Grant, wil be hosting two days of intensive multimedia computer training on April 10 and 11, 2000 at the Academy of Entertainment and Technology. The training program will follow the same format as last year and will be made available to interested faculty and staff. Animatics will be responsible for hiring qualified trainers, provision materials, design marketing materials, and other expenses that may be incurred in the scheduling and implementation of the training program.
So, who is Animatics? According to another consultant contract with Animatics, dated September 30, 2001, Animatics was corrected to read "Studio Animatics" with James Keeshen's name as President under the consultant signature. Keeshen uses his home address and a very questionable California tax identification number for Studio Animatics given the fact that this company is not registered either through business records in Norwalk, CA or on the State of California's business portal. The only company which does appear to have been owned by Keeshen is the California corporation known as James Keeshen Productions, Inc. Additionally, Animatics, Inc. is not a registered company, yet Jim Keeshen advertises that it is on SIGGRAPH's website. He uses the Sawtelle address where he allegedly ran Jim Keeshen Productions, at least when he worked on the Family Guy pilot pitch. His email@example.com email is the same one he uses on the AET website under his faculty bio. So, why didn't Keeshen enter into a consultant contract with Santa Monica Community College District under the name of this company? Perhaps because his name would have readily shown up in a search either through Google or SMC's own internal search engine. Why would Keeshen want to conceal this information from the public? Well, if the original 2000 Animatics contract follows the agreement he signed with the District as the latter 2001 did, he agreed that "he and all his employees are not employees of the DISTRICT." Also, he agreed, as a consultant, to "furnish, at his own expense, all labor, materials, equipment and other items necessary to carry out the terms of this Agreement."
Wait a minute here... wasn't Keeshen an employee of the District by virtue of being an animation professor at the Academy? Didn't he also use students to do his work and school facilities and equipment? We shall never know as to the 2000 Animatics contract as that public record (as well as any supporting documentation including proposals, reports, bills, invoices, and receipts) has been long withheld from us by the District.
Shouldn't the fact that Jim Keeshen was an employee of the District in direct violation of his consultant contract have thrown up a red flag for SMC when payment was due and payable for services allegedly rendered? Well, in a document we received from SMC entitled "Santa Monica College Instructional Consultants" which stated in parentheses "Only for Persons Not Otherwise Employed at Santa Monica College", Animatics was authorized a fee not to exceed $35,000. The amount was crossed out and amended to $40,000. The authorizing signature under Department Chairperson was none other than AET Dean Katharine Muller.
The social security number is conveniently blacked out, making me question whether the Business Service Office paid Jim Keeshen under the tax identification number used in the consultant contract or under his own personal social security number which he would have used for payment as an instructor at Santa Monica College. Dean Muller knew Keeshen was an employee of the District, so why did she blatantly cover this over and authorize public funds to pay him as if he were not?
Did the Board of Trustees know about this? What about Robert Sammis, then Vice-President of Human Resources in charge of personnel files at SMC? Well, according to the October 5, 2004 campaign contributions to Margaret Quinones for her SMC Board of Trustee re-election campaign, Robert Sammis, Katharine Muller, David Muller, then SMC president Piedad Robertson, AET internship coordinator Gloria Mottler, and current president Thomas Donner all donated money to the Friends of Margaret Quinones. Again, Keeshen had the cards stacked in his favor and, as one former AET student so poignantly stated, "this practice is ripe for abuse." The Animatics contracts, much like Keeshen's Fall 2003 sabbatical, were allegedly rub stamped through this system of abuse.
So, is Jim Keeshen the "sacrificial lamb" as he claims or merely the wolf is sheep's clothing? I will leave that for you, the taxpayers and students of SMC, to decide. I'm sure SMC's public records will reveal more of the story behind Jim Keeshen's digital playground at AET.
-- Des Manttari,
(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP
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