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The Jigsaw Entertainment meltdown prompts litigation

The Jigsaw Saloon and Stage opened briefly for a Lucky Paws Animal Rescue fundraiser this past weekend, but the storied restaurant-nightclub remains closed for day-to-day business for the third week. Monday, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health suspended the club's food service license, citing an overdue renewal.

Disappointed fans of the Parma institution reported seeing cleaning crews in the restaurant last week, but nothing resembling the promised "management training" yet. And the owners' financial troubles seem no closer to resolution ("The Jig Is Up," March 18).

Akron's Black Keys, the area's current ambassadors to the rock world at large, still haven't been paid for two sold-out January shows at the Agora Theatre, which is being managed by a partnership between founder Hank LoConti and Jigsaw owner Phil Lara. With 3,800 tickets sold, the band should have received a $50,000 payday. The Keys filed suit against the Agora on March 3.

A big chunk of the tickets were sold through Ticketmaster, which can hold funds for up to three weeks. Nearly two months after the show, a Cleveland judge instructed the Agora to pay the band by March 20. As of March 23rd, the venue had yet to deliver the funds. A pre-trial conference was set for Tuesday afternoon, after the deadline for this issue of Scene.

After the Agora staff was replaced with loyal Jigsaw minions, the new Agora booking crew took last week off. The venue released a schedule at the end of the week, but it didn't include any new shows.

The Jigsaw Group fiasco is fall-out from a 2008 accumulation spree. After buying the Jigsaw in December 2007, Lara rapidly expanded over the following months, until he had a stake in three other Cleveland clubs — the Agora, the Hi-Fi Concert Club and Peabody's. The Hi-Fi and Peabody's bailed quickly, citing financial commitments that hadn't been met.

The meltdown has left one club closed, hamstrung another, alienated the region's biggest band and left dozens of employees in the lurch. But it could have been worse. Lara had explored buying other Cleveland institutions; here are three businesses he didn't buy.

• Lava Room Recording. In initial talks, the Agora deal would have included Metrosync recording studios in the complex. At the same time, Lara made an offer to purchase Lava Room Recording, a Cleveland studio whose partners at the time included Hi-Fi owner Billy Morris. (Morris has since left the business.) Owner Mike Brown says the deal was lopsided and would have left the studio's assets vulnerable. Brown says Lara also tried to pay him for sessions using an $1,800 check written from a closed account.

• Chimaira. The band's bassist and business delegate Jim LaMarca says he met with Lara, who proposed purchasing the Cleveland metal heroes for $3 million, to be paid over five years. "I didn't even take [the offer] to the band," says La Marca. "They would have looked at me like, 'Dude, are you crazy?'"

• The Beachland. Before getting a hook in the other concert venues, Lara made a bid on the Beachland, proposing to rename it "The Jigsaw Saloon and Stage at the Beachland Ballroom." But owner Cindy Barber says the deal felt fishy. "I just didn't think the Jigsaw was a more important entity than the Beachland," says Barber. "I didn't think it would be safe turning our much-beloved venue over to him." — D.X. Ferris


Last Friday, Cleveland Film Commission director Ivan Schwarz spoke on WCPN's The Sound of Ideas, again, to pat himself on the back for everything he's done to make Cleveland the Hollywood of the Rust Belt. Which would be totally awesome, if it were true. Unfortunately, host Regina Brett doesn't know as much about movie production as she does about open discovery.

Much ado was made about Nehst Studios, which recently signed a lease for part of the Cleveland convention center. Schwarz figures the company is going to bring in $100 million if one of the competing film-production tax-incentives bills finally passes. Brett didn't ask for specifics about Nehst Studios, as if tacking "studios" at the end of a name puts you on the same level as Warner Bros. and Paramount.

So what movies has Nehst Studios produced to prompt speculation of nine-figure revenues? Could it be Slumdog Millionaire? No. The Reader? Try again. Howard the Duck? They wish.

Here's some recent hits associated with Nehst Studios: Running the Sahara. 41. Love and Orgasms. The Uniform Motion of Folly. Heard of any of them? Schwarz loves to remind people that one of Nehst's CEOs was a producer on Sling Blade, a cool low-budget film that grossed about $24 million — in 1996. And now Nehst Studios is going to bring $100 million to Ohio. Mm-hmm.James Renner


Like some kind of concert promoter, filmmaker and make-up artist Frank Ippolito has worked hard to recruit patrons for the screening of his two shorts, Teller 1 and Teller 2, which show at the Cleveland International Film Festival at midnight on Friday. The Cleveland native flew in from Los Angeles last week in time to make the festival's opening night party and has relentlessly handed out flyers. "If you're trying to be a filmmaker and someone whose work is taken seriously, you have to promote yourself," he says one afternoon from the festival's hospitality room at Tower City. With his backpack and hoodie, he doesn't look much like a filmmaker, but he's clearly not just some skate punk.

Ippolito says he was first drawn to the world of make-up when he was 10 and saw a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. He made a mask in his basement, and things snowballed from there. He made up actors at Geauga Lake's Halloween events for five seasons before moving to L.A. in 2000 to be a mold maker at a toy company. That company went under, but he landed a gig on the 2002 fantasy flick Reign of Fire, and that led to jobs on Scary Movie 2, Pirates of the Caribbean and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Ippolito met magician Teller through a friend, and the two entered a short-film contest related to George Romero's 2007 zombie movie Diary of the Dead. "Penn and Teller have a huge fan base, so when the fans saw it, they wanted another one," says Ippolito. In each film, Teller, who doesn't speak during Penn & Teller's performances, talks in a droll voiceover while fending off a grisly zombie and wandering aimlessly in the desert. The two films are strange, sordid tales.

Ippolito says he's working on a third short with Teller. But for the time being, he's happy to be back in his hometown, basking in the film festival's limelight.

"As a filmmaker, I've been treated really great here," he says. "It's kind of flooring how hospitable they are. This is how I imagined it would be at a festival. This is going to be the benchmark for how I judge film festivals from now on." — Jeff Niesel


It's a big deal for businesses to shut off the lights for an hour in the evening — especially for restaurants, bars and coffee shops. But a few Ohio cities are participating in Earth Hour, the World Wildlife Fund's call for greater global-warming awareness. The plan: Turn off lights and unplug unneeded appliances between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28.

"What's this all about?" you might ask as the lights go down just before the barista hands off your latte. And then the barista might tell you: The WWF hopes to create political momentum for enacting national climate legislation and a global climate treaty. Last year's Earth Hour was a big hit, with about 50 million people — 36 million of them in the U.S. — turning off the lights. Among the dark landmarks were the Sydney Opera House, Bangkok's Wat Arun Buddhist temple, the Coliseum in Rome, Stockholm's Royal Castle, London's City Hall, New York's Empire State Building, Cola-Cola's famous Times Square billboard, Chicago's Sears Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Google's homepage.

More than 2,140 cities and towns in 82 countries are participating. Lakewood and a handful of Earth-friendly non-profits and businesses are sponsoring a gathering at the Lakewood Women's Club Pavilion from 8 to 9:30 p.m. with a bunch of stuff you can do in the dark: stargazing, acoustic guitar-playing, firelight storytelling and more. For information, visit — Michael Gill


Ohio Citizen Action has a big and dirty state to patrol for industrial excrement, right near the bottom in nationwide water- and air-quality rankings. Last fall, its organizational tactics helped convince metal and mining behemoth Eramet to spend $170 million to clean up its Marietta manganese factory. But OCA's Cleveland chapter, one of just three in the state, can handle only one big issue at a time. That's why it's training ordinary citizens to become better activists and observers.

At its next Good Neighbor Campaign training session (9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at CSU's Main Classroom 438), the organization is bringing in pollution-prevention expert Robert Pojasek from Boston to discuss how he's convinced companies to cut emissions and costs. Liz Ilg, the Cleveland chapter's program director, says Pojasek will illustrate how to use a "campaign of conscience to convince plant managers and CEOs that they need to listen to their neighbors."

Dr. Anne Wise will discuss the public-health side of pollution ramifications. Then participants can go home and deal with their problems in a constructive way, says Ilg. "We don't get to work on every issue, and we know that there are so many people out there dealing with different issues in their backyard, so we offer these trainings to deliver to them what we've learned."

The cost is $15, which will pay for breakfast, lunch and all training materials. Two future field trips will build on what attendees have learned, with more hands-on help in researching and organizing. For information, call 216.861.5200 or go to Dan Harkins

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