WTOC Investigates: Return to Moon River

WTOC Investigates: Return to Moon River

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Moon River Studios and Jake Shapiro are back in the spotlight, this time new allegations are stemming from a new project with different people who say they are owed money.

The company that rattled the Effingham County community, breaking contracts and promises to build a state-of-the-art movie studio, is now shaking things up in Savannah.

Moon River Studios may have failed to build a movie studio in Effingham County, but it successfully filmed a movie in the Savannah area. These projects may be different, but what remains consistent are the complaints from people who have worked on both projects.

"It was a long process trying to get paid," said Chip Lane, owner of First City Film.
"No matter what project it seems this group gets involved in, the way is paved with broken promises," said attorney Charles Bowen.

There are new allegations and a new twist to the drama surrounding Jake Shapiro and Moon River studios. A WTOC investigation revealed in May, in just two years, plans tanked to build a multimillion dollar movie studio in Effingham County.

There was nothing to show for it other than SEC filings, revealing the company lost $6 million dollars last year and only made $18,000.

Effingham County was out more than $200,000, along with dozens of investors and former employees who never got paid.

"When I saw your story I was a little nervous," Lane said.

Nervous because Lane said he feared he was about to become one of those unpaid contractors.

Despite a federal investigation, Shapiro and Moon River Studios managed to move on to the county next door, pursuing a new project in Chatham County, a horror film called "Mara".

"They hired me to come in and hire actors from around the country, around the world," Lane said.

But Lane said after six weeks, he still had not received a paycheck.
"We had several invoices," Lane said.

And he wasn't the only one. "Mara" wrapped up filming in May, but an open records request filed in July with the Savannah Film Office revealed at least five crew members still had not been paid, including another casting director who sent us this outstanding invoice of more than $1,700 she's owed for services back in April.

"I have no idea what he is doing," Bowen said. "All I know is simply based on the pattern of what's happened in the past. You have transfers, you have assets that get transferred but not liabilities, and the only reason that you do something like that, in my opinion and experience, is try to defeat creditors and try to defeat people whom you owe money to."

Bowen not only represents victims from the first project in Effingham County, but now he represents people who say they haven't been paid for their work on "Mara."
"Many people coming forward, saying 'look, they agreed to pay us this amount to do this work' and nothing," Bowen said. "Not a single response. They reach out, they get no response whatsoever."

Bowen has been trying to negotiate with Shapiro, hoping to settle these claims without having to file a lawsuit.

But it doesn't seem he is having much luck.

"We did in the beginning," Bowen said. "At this point there's been no response to letters or calls or texts."

Officials from the Savannah Film Office have also been pressing the issue. On June 20, interim Film Services Director Beth Nelson emailed Shapiro about the five unpaid crew members.

Shapiro responded, saying, "I apologize this was not handled appropriately. I will personally reach out to each of these individuals to resolve this situation."

Nelson followed up twice with Shapiro but never heard back.

So we decided to ask him ourselves.
[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]
[endif]Elizabeth Rawlins: Hey, are you Jake? I'm Elizabeth Rawlins from WTOC. Do you have a minute?
Jake Shapiro: Not really I'm in a meeting.
ER: Well we are still getting phone calls from people about you not paying them so I didn't know if you had any plans to pay these folks?
JS: Everything came out great on the last film that we did and we are working with everyone to get everybody paid.
ER: Yeah, but some say you are doing stuff that's illegal. Are you doing anything that's illegal?
JS: Of course not
ER: You're not?
JS: Of course not.
ER: Well what are you doing? Where did $6 million go last year?
JS: That's all in the public filings.
ER: Some say you're selling your assets but not the liabilities?
JS: It's all in the public filings. Off the record I would be happy to discuss any of that with you at a later time, but I'm literally in a meeting.
ER: Ok, so you're not doing anything illegal?
JS: Of course not.
ER: And are you going to pay those folks that you haven't paid?
JS: We are doing our best.

While many are still waiting for their paychecks, some have been luckier than others.

Lane eventually got what he was owed long after it was due, and coincidently right after our first story aired in May.
When asked if he thought he got paid because of our piece, Lane replied "I would like to think so. I don't know, maybe."

But for those who are still waiting realize they are no longer waiting on the money.

"I mean I really believe, it's only a matter of time before justice is done in this case," Bowen said.

According to the Savannah Film office, Moon River Studios is already working on a new film. Interestingly enough, it's called "Coup d'etat."

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