CHATSWORTH, Calif. - "Michael Ninn is no longer."
The voice on the phone belongs to the man known in the adult industry as Michael Ninn. But the award-winning director has temporarily given up his nom de porn after a falling-out with his namesake company, Ninn Worx_SR.
"This is definitely headed to court," the director told AVN. "I am no longer working for the company."
That is probably the only point on which Ninn agrees with the owners of the Spearmint Rhino Corporation, which acquired Ninn Worx and all of its assets last year. As part of the deal, Ninn Worx_SR owns the name Michael Ninn as well as the Ninn Worx content library.
"We welcome [a court case] at this point," Ninn Worx_SR CEO John L. Gray told AVN. "We would rather have organization and order than arguments."
Signs of trouble at NWSR have been showing for some time; contract girls Jana Jordan and Nikki Kane left the fold in March, and performer Cassidey followed suit in April. Last week, the Spearmint Rhino corporation released a statement indicating that Ninn was "on hiatus" from directing - but according to the man himself, that "hiatus" came as a surprise.
"They escorted me out of the office on Friday two weeks ago, under the guise that they were doing some wiring in the building," the director said. "When I went back to work on Monday, I was locked out of my office."
Ninn remains a forty-nine percent shareholder in Ninn Worx_SR, but both sides confirmed the director is no longer welcome at NWSR headquarters in Norco, Calif. Ninn has relinquished control of his epic adult fantasy The Four, currently in post-production and slated for release through NWSR this summer. He now intends to start his own company using the name IMNINN for contractual purposes.
Gray described the split as a matter of economics. With Ninn Worx_SR more than $1 million in debt, Gray said, the company could no longer afford to spend time or money disagreeing with its in-house auteur.
"We kept butting heads," Gray told AVN. "We couldn't make decisions on doing things differently, and that led to dissension. The oddity here is that Michael has not left the company as such; he remains a 49 percent shareholder, and that's all the original agreement provided for. Our new company [Ninn Worx_SR] acquired 100 percent of his company, and the dissension comes from different philosophies of where to take the new company."
Gray blames Ninn for making expensive, impractical choices that led to disagreements on everything from color correction to contract girls, public relations, trailers and investing in an Internet presence.
"Everything was meeting with two opinions which equated to non-productivity and nonsense," Gray told AVN. "So we decided to take the helm - it was, after all, our right from Day One. It's impossible to expect different results without doing something differently. Before we came along, Ninn's results were unsatisfactory; that was the whole purpose of the deal. It was about our infusion of money and management expertise and resources. To make the deal with us and do nothing differently than he did the month before we came along is nonsensical."
Ninn insists he had no creative disputes with the Spearmint Rhino board and believes he was made the whipping-boy in the company's internal disputes.
"I'm the first person to say that I am not a good businessman - but I never signed the checks," Ninn responded. "In my opinion, the problem is that their COO [Kathy Vercher] and Mr. Gray, who owns Spearmint Rhino, have totally opposing views on how to operate business - and I was caught in the middle. She is very pragmatic about spending, and he is very loose with spending; they both needed a whipping post, and I became it."
According to Gray, Ninn Worx_SR has run up $1.6 million in debt since the company launched last year. Ninn believes the company owes more than $2 million.
"We went to that company [Spearmint Rhino] a little over $200,000 in debt, and in less than 8 months, I believe we were $2.3 million in debt," Ninn said. "I signed one check during that period; how could I be held responsible? I don't okay the checks to be signed."
Ninn said his differences with the company involved Spearmint Rhino's neglecting to pay talent, crew and other contractors.
"They gave me everything creatively that I could possibly want," the director said. "This has nothing to do with the creative end. It has to do with business ethics. It's about paying people. If you hire somebody, you pay them; that's business ethics 101. You don't hire them and make them chase their money...some of them for six months and longer. "
While he weighs his legal options, Ninn is already laying plans for his IMNINN venture. He is already working on a script to star some of the former Ninn Worx_SR contract girls and preparing to launch an Internet presence for the new company.
"I need to get back to making pictures that are more about the art of what I do," Ninn said. "I've become a mill of content and a relatively wealthy man from it...but somewhere along the line, I lost who Michael Ninn was supposed to be originally."
Gray stressed that the shakeup at NWSR will ultimately benefit Ninn.
"Michael has 49 percent of all of our efforts," Gray said. "We intend on going out and doing things differently to make money for us and for Michael, as well. Our intent is to be very strong; we know where we stand. We saw no future whatsoever in the way things have been done - so we decided to change things as aggressively and as quickly as we can. As a shareholder, Michael will benefit from these changes."