How Cannes Screening of ‘Religulous’ Helped Launch IM Global in 2007

In 2007, buyers packed into a Cannes suite to watch a promo reel of Larry Charles’ “Religulous,” in which comedian Bill Maher poked fun at religious extremism across the world. That mockumentary helped launch IM Global’s international sales and lay the foundation for what has grown into a worldwide producing, financing, distribution and licensing outfit. The upstart sales outfit founded by CEO Stuart Ford couldn’t have asked for a better reception as the positive reaction from international buyers helped clinch a U.S. sale by CAA, which handled domestic rights.

“It put us on the map,” says Bonnie Voland, head of worldwide marketing & publicity, who’s has been with IM Global since its inception.

This year, the company expects to deliver more than 20 titles into the global marketplace. Using experience gleaned from their years working for Miramax Intl. and the Weinstein brothers, Ford and new international sales and distribution prexy Michael Rothstein have pursued a strategy of providing premium titles and volume in order to forge a commanding market presence.

“At IM Global our international output gravitates towards diversity and scale in order to hopefully generate value in every single territory,” says Ford. “(We marry) that approach with controlling more than our fair share of premium content and the added penetration that having multiple overseas offices can offer.”
Aside from its headquarters in Los Angeles, IM Global has outposts in New York, London, Mumbai, Mexico City and Beijing.

The company’s fast-growing slate spawned a range of genre-specific labels: mainly Opus (for mainstream pics), Acclaim (arthouse), Octane (genre) and Anthem (foreign language).

“I think the diversity of our slate speaks to our larger strategy of creating a broad portfolio of content for exploitation on a uniquely global basis, all with a real emphasis on minding the changes in local marketplaces, and in technology,” says Rothstein.

To date, more than 100 firstrun features have been sold under the different labels, handled jointly by a sales team led by Rothstein, exec VP of international sales Tatyana Joffe, senior VP of sales & acquisition in Asia Leslie Chen and her European counterpart, Emil Elmer.

Meanwhile, the company has cultivated strong ties with buyers from the get-go. “We’ve had a Latin America output deal with IM Global since Stuart created the company,” says Sun Distribution head Diego Halabi, who has high expectations for upcoming titles “Autobahn” and “The Secret in Their Eyes.”

In February 2013, IM Global launched Latino film sales joint venture Mundial with Mexican production shingle Canana (a partnership among Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal and Pablo Cruz), which releases an average of three to five pics a year, according to Cruz.

“It’s been marvelous; Mundial is growing fast,” says Cruz. In November last year, Canana formed an exclusive overseas sales output deal for Spanish-language titles with Latin American financier-producer AG Studios, run by Mexican producer Alex Garcia.

IM Global releases eight to 10 Chinese-language pics under the Anthem label and inked a multi-year output deal last year with China’s Huayi Bros. The company has also handled a plethora of Indian films on its Apsara Distribution label, the bulk from Indian conglom Reliance Entertainment, which acquired a majority share in IM Global in 2010.

In addition, the company represents international rights to a catalog of more than 250 films that have collectively grossed north of $5 billion worldwide, including libraries from Intermedia, Beacon and Spyglass Entertainment.

“We’re a company of cinephiles, so it’s very exciting that we get to be involved with upwards of 30 films a year that come from Hollywood, Asia, Latin America Europe and Bollywood,” says Voland.

“(IM Global will) hopefully add in some ‘at source’ territorial distribution ownership over the next few years, and I think we have a sales strategy that’s built to succeed in the new global marketplace,” says Ford.

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