Harmony Gold USA

Harmony Gold USA
Private company
Industry Television programs
Founded Los Angeles, California (1983)
Headquarters Los Angeles, California, USA
Key people
Revenue Unknown
Number of employees
Website www.harmonygold.com

Harmony Gold is a real estate developer, motion picture distributor and production company, based in Los Angeles. It was founded in 1983 by Egyptian-born Frank Agrama and is managed by his daughter, Jehan F. Agrama.

The company began by selling broadcast rights from Paramount Pictures to the Mediaset media conglomerate.[1] It is best known as the distributor of the controversial Shaka Zulu miniseries and for various anime series, notably Robotech.

The company worked closely with Intersound, a Los Angeles-based post-production recording studio, managed by Frank Agrama's son, Ahmed Agrama. They were responsible for partially dubbing Dragon Ball,[2] Magical Princess Minky Momo and Dr. Slump before going out of business in 2006.[3]

In addition to its distribution and production interests, Harmony Gold manages several real estate properties in the Southern California area. They also operate a screening room in Los Angeles.


Beginnings in late 1970s

Harmony Gold's story began in the 1976, when Frank Agrama began selling broadcast rights from Paramount Pictures to his friend, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset media company. In the late 1970s, Agrama, while in a trade fair in Cannes, France, met Hong Kong entrepreneurs Paddy Chan Mei-yiu and Katherine Hsu May-chun. The three agreed to form a collaboration to trade movie rights internationally. Chan set up Hong Kong-based company Harmony Gold Limited in 1979, while Agrama set up Agrama Film Enterprises on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.[4] In 1983, Agrama set up Harmony Gold USA. He later also became the Los Angeles commercial representative of another of Chan's companies, Wiltshire Trading.[5]

The 1980s: notable projects

Shaka Zulu (1983–1986)

In late 1983, Agrama negotiated a deal with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to distribute the controversial Shaka Zulu miniseries[6] in spite of the economic sanctions at the time.[7] The planned 10-episode miniseries was based on the story of the king of the Zulu, Shaka (reigned 1816 to 1828), and the writings of the British traders with whom he interacted. In the same year, Agrama founded Harmony Gold USA, Inc.

Throughout 1984 and 1985, the original budget of about $1.75 million escalated quickly to $12 million, and the SABC justified the outlay to anticipated returns to be earned on the international market. Frank Agrama, however, noted the production was a "calculated gamble." Shaka Zulu had in fact, become the most expensive miniseries ever produced for television syndicate in the United States without pre-commitment to network or operation time to date. To ensure its marketability, Harmony Gold demanded that the well known white 'stars' appeared in the first episode to satisfy US advertisers, contrary to original script.[8] The SABC's involvement was also completely removed for its international release due to legal implications set by apartheid. The opening credits featured Harmony Gold, Inc., with Frank Agrama listed as associate producer.

Shaka Zulu went on to become a massive success worldwide, and has developed a cult following since its premiere in 1986. It has been the most repeatedly screened miniseries ever shown on syndicated television in the United States. By 1992, it had been seen by over 350 million viewers. The series dislodged John Marshall's The Hunters and the later The Gods Must be Crazy film series as the prime shaper of American perceptions of 'tribal' history in Southern Africa.[9] Despite its success, the SABC failed to recoup the cost of their production due to unfair terms negotiated by Harmony Gold during production.[10]

Robotech (1985)

In the mid 1980s, Harmony Gold hired Carl Macek to adapt Japanese animated programming for American broadcast release. Macek originally wanted to adapt The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, but was instead forced to combine three different anime series together, which became named Robotech:

  1. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross
  2. Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross
  3. Genesis Climber MOSPEADA

Harmony Gold's cited reasoning for combining these unrelated series was its decision to market Macross for American weekday syndication television, which required a minimum of 65 episodes at the time (thirteen weeks at five episodes per week). Macross and the two other series each had fewer episodes than required, since they originally aired in Japan as weekly series. The production was successful enough to merit a movie and a spin-off, Robotech II: The Sentinels. Due to unforeseen economic circumstances, production was cancelled.

Late 1980s to early 2000s

In 1988, after the cancellation of Robotech II: The Sentinels, a number of the staff were recruited to work at Saban Entertainment. Carl Macek, along with his friend Jerry Beck went on to found Streamline Pictures. Meanwhile, Harmony Gold began moving away from production and began focusing more on film distribution, dot-com ventures and real estate.

In 1998, Harmony Gold came under some scrutiny by several media executives for their role as a 'middleman' selling Paramount Pictures distribution rights to Mediaset.

From 1999 to the early 2000s, the company began reverting to film production once again. They partnered with Netter Digital and hired Carl Macek to write Robotech 3000, a spinoff of the original series. A promotional trailer was screened at the 2000 FanimeCon anime convention, and was widely panned by fans. Tatsunoko Productions attempted to salvage the project, to no avail.

2000s and beyond

Harmony Gold began heavily pushing Robotech, first by releasing the series via a partnership with ADV Films in the US, and Manga Entertainment in the UK. In 2006, they partnered with FUNimation Entertainment to release Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles on home video.

In August 2014, Harmony Gold released their first direct-to-video live-action feature in over a decade, The Big Goofy Secret of Hidden Pines. Directed by Henri Charr, the film revolves around the comedic antics of two vacationers after they stumble upon Bigfoot.

Legal problems

Harmony Gold and its founder, Frank Agrama, have had an extensive history of legal troubles beginning in the early 2000s. Italian investigators discovered and froze bank accounts in Switzerland; five belonging to Agrama. According to another Italian daily, the Corriere della Sera, the five accounts are said to contain SFr140 million ($109.5 million). This early investigation led to two high-profile trials.

Mediaset conviction

On November 29, 2006, federal agents raided the home and offices of longtime Hollywood producer Frank Agrama in connection with Italy's ongoing tax fraud, embezzlement and false accounting investigation of its former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Court documents revealed the recent search by FBI agents centered on Italian allegations that the producer, Frank Agrama, Berlusconi and others fraudulently inflated the price of television rights originally purchased by Agrama so that millions of dollars in kickbacks could be paid to executives of Berlusconi's Mediaset media empire.[11]

On October 26, 2012, Agrama was convicted after a lengthy trial involving the buying and selling of US film rights to the Mediaset media company at inflated prices.[12] As his age exceeded 70 years, he was exempted from direct imprisonment and served no actual jail time. According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors in Milan, Italy charged Agrama, along with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and ten others in a trial over tax fraud, embezzlement and false accounting at the Mediaset media company on November 21, 2006.

Mediatrade acquittal

In October 2011, Paddy Chan Mei-yiu and Katherine Hsu May-chun, along with nine others (including Frank Agrama and Pier Silvio Berlusconi, son of Silvio Berlusconi), were indicted by a Milan court and charged with buying rights for US television series and movies, then reselling them to broadcasting rights firm Mediatrade (a subsidiary of Mediaset) at inflated prices and laundering the money in a complex scheme. The four companies allegedly involved in this scheme were Wiltshire Trading, Harmony Gold, CS Secretaries and Loong Po Management.[13]

According to prosecutors, Chan met Agrama in Cannes, France in the late 1970s at a trade fair and they decided to form a partnership to trade movie rights internationally. Chan organized a Hong Kong-based Harmony Gold Limited in 1979, records from the city's Companies Registry show. In the same year, Agrama organized Agrama Film Enterprises on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Four years later, he set up Harmony Gold USA. He later also became the Los Angeles representative of another Hong Kong company established by Chan, Wiltshire Trading.

Prosecutors estimated the illicit profits between 1988 and 1999 amounted to US$170 million. Earlier in 2005, Swiss investigators froze 150 million francs (HK$1.29 billion) at a UBS branch in Lugano belonging to Harmony Gold, Wiltshire Trading and other companies.[14]

On July 24, 2014, Variety reported that some of the charges have been dropped due to expiring statute of limitations.[15] An appeals hearing is set to take place January 20, 2016.[16] On January 18, 2016, all charges against Frank Agrama and five other people were dropped. Berlusconi and Mediaset Chairman Fedele Confalonieri were convicted and were sentenced to 13 months of imprisonment.[17]

Legal issues regarding Macross copyright

Harmony Gold, via its license of Robotech, is the co-copyright owner in the US for images of mecha from the component series of the show, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. They have pursued multiple lawsuits against anyone using mecha which even vaguely resemble these designs.

Most notably, many early designs used in Battletech, such as the Warhammer, Valkyrie, and Marauder, were licensed directly from the Japanese producers of Macross, with the overlapping rights mistake not being realized for nearly a decade. Harmony Gold sued FASA, and as a result these designs were removed from the game. Fan outcry over 'The Unseen' has led to multiple attempts to negotiate deals allowing for resumed use of the designs, but despite in one case a sourcebook going to press before being abruptly pulled, no deal has ever been reached. As a result of the failed negotiations, the producers of Battletech ruled that any designs not developed in house would no longer be used in order to avoid future issues.

Harmony Gold issued cease and desist orders against sites displaying images and trailers from the deceased video game MechWarrior, due to one of the mechs used in the trailer being a Warhammer.[18] The company claims that the images portray ’mechs that they own the rights to, according to a legal settlement from 1996.[19]

The legal status of Harmony Gold's license to Macross is dubious. Harmony Gold's license for Macross came from Tatsunoko Production, but Japanese courts ruled that it was Studio Nue (creators of the series) that controls the Macross intellectual property. The license Tatsunoko was given was for international distribution outside Japan only, and does not allow them to control the intellectual property. According to the US Copyright Office, Harmony Gold is the Co-Copyright owner.

Harmony Gold is known for making broad ranging claims on the Macross copyright and trademarks in order to extract payments from other companies. In 2013, Harmony Gold claimed in Federal Court that Hasbro's SDCC 2013 exclusive set "G.I. Joe vs Transformers The Epic Conclusion" violated their copyright license and trademarks on the animated Japanese Macross TV series (1982–84).[20] On September 23, 2013, Harmony Gold's suit against Hasbro was dismissed, and Hasbro was allowed to continue to sell the sets. Hasbro and Harmony Gold came to an agreement.




Flagship animation

Other animation

Documentary series and specials


Alternative names: MasterVision

Harmony Gold was known in the United Kingdom as MasterVision in the VHS pre-certs sector. They released the same films on another UK label ppKids Cartoon Collection for the home market during the 1985. Finding a MasterVision or Kids Cartoon Collection aka Harmony Gold in the UK is like striking a pot of Harmony Gold, as they were a rare brand of VHS here in the UK. Some English dubs by Harmony Gold only made it to the UK under these UK labels of them, "The Little Train" was one of their notable UK exclusive English speaking dubs for instance, as there are no signs of any US versions, unless it's just even more rare in the US. However this mentioned dub did get a semi US Harmony Gold dub in Mexican in the NTSC region so it did hit one NTSC dub in the Americas. This notable rare film dub by them was made from footage from an 1980 Italian URBS production instead of their normal fare in Japan using footage by Toei and Tatsunoko. This noted film was released in 1985 by them on both Kids Cartoon Collection and MaserVision, making it one of their first and only UK exclusives, as far as English dubs by them are concerned. These VHS companies by them also released the standard fare from their USA branch, for example "The Brave Frog" and "Robotech" in the UK.

External links


  1. "How Bruce Gordon, the man from WIN, helped catch Silvio Berlusconi". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 2015-08-12.
  2. "Macek Training". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2010-01-25.
  3. "Robotech dubbing studio closing down". Crystal Acids. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  4. "Italian prosecutors say Hong Kong women were key to a massive money-laundering scheme". South China Morning Post. 22 May 2014.
  5. "Italian prosecutors say Hong Kong women were key to a massive money-laundering scheme". South China Morning Post. 22 May 2014.
  6. "Remembering Shaka Zulu". Remembered. 30 May 2013. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  7. 'Shaka Zulu': Negative Metaphor For South African Blacks, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1986
  8. "History from South Africa: Alternative Visions and Practices, page 301". Joshua Brown. 1991.
  9. "Shaka Zulu and visual constructions of history". Screening the Past. 30 June 2003.
  10. "Joshua Sinclair on Shaka Zulu and apartheid". Camera in the Sun. September 2013.
  11. "Federal agents search producer's home, office". Los Angeles Times. 29 November 2006.
  12. "Silvio Berlusconi sentenced for tax fraud". BBC News. 26 October 2012. Archived from the original on 11 December 2015.
  13. "Hong Kong set to hand over Berlusconi-related evidence". South China Morning Post. 7 June 2013.
  14. "Italian prosecutors say Hong Kong women were key to a massive money-laundering scheme". South China Morning Post. 22 May 2014.
  15. Nick Vivarelli (2014). "Judge throws out some Berlusconi charges". Variety. Retrieved 2015-12-11.]]
  16. "Mediatrade, il 20 gennaio inizia l'appello". e-duesse. November 9, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  17. Ariston Anderson (2016). "Mediaset CEO Pier-Silvio Berlusconi Gets 14-Month Sentence in Tax Evasion Case". Hollywood Reporter.]]
  18. Luke Plunkett (2009). "Mechwarrior 5 Runs Into Legal Trouble". Kotaku. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  20. "HARMONY GOLD USA, INC vs HASBRO" (PDF). www.courthousenews.com. Retrieved April 29, 2015.
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