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Int’l Executive: Marcos Scherer’s Imagem Filmes Fuels LatAm Surge

Company powers up production and acquisition in fast-growing markets

Some people have all the fun. Marcos Scherer — CEO of Brazil’s Imagem Filmes, a big distributor in an ever bigger market — hunkers down to work each morning in Florianopolis, an Atlantic island city featuring more than 40 beaches, a high standard of living, a low crime rate and a reputation as a party destination.

Imagem has cause to party. Scherer predicts the company’s seven 2013 local releases will generate an impressive $70 million in box office. Its latest, comedy caper “Vai que da certo,” about five dorks bungling a security van heist, bowed March 22, and has scored $12 million through April 21, helping to drive a 17% uptick in the nation’s first-quarter B.O. What’s more, Imagem has proven quite adept at production, marketing and distribution in Brazil, currently the No. 12 world film market and climbing.

The company can tap into the country’s tasty tax rebates, levied at 70% of each dollar collected by the Brazilian government as withholding taxes paid on minimum guarantees. (U.S. studios in Brazil can similarly take advantage of this when they co-finance productions.)

Imagem can also tap into the national zeitgeist. Its films appeal to Brazilians’ growing middle-class mores, nostalgia and insecurities as they dash helter-skelter toward modernization.

If it all sounds too perfect, like every savvy indie veteran, Scherer talks down his market. Brazil’s traditional home entertainment sector has suffered terrible losses due to piracy and the digital paradigm shift, he says, and adds that digital will only truly blossom in “five years or so,” with the spread of high-quality Internet broadband.

Scherer started out in the ’80s handling regional sub-distribution for studio pics. He and his brother, Abrao, founded Imagem in 1998 as a vid label, then moved into ever larger foreign buys for theatrical distribution in order to drive sales to TV outlets.

Firmly established as one of Brazil’s leading independent distributors, Imagem will acquire about 20 films a year for all Latin America, Marcos Scherer says.

Berlin fest purchases include a trio of high-profile Gold Circle Entertainment titles (comedy Search Party and horror-thrillers “The Unholy” and “In a Dark Place”), plus Jeremy Renner starrer “Kill the Messenger,” from Focus Feature Intl., and Mister Smith’s “Love, Rosie,” a Constantin romantic comedy.

But it’s production where Imagem is really upping the ante, climbing from five Brazilian movies in 2010 to seven this year, contributing commercial expertise at the distribution and production levels, in script and casting, Scherer says.

This year’s slate includes “We’re So Young,” which bows May 3. Imagem produces and co-distributes with Fox. The biopic centers on Renato Russo, a revered ’80s singer-composer whose propulsive rock ballads still enthrall modern Brazil.

“The Dognapper,” a Brazilian “Marley & Me,” which opens Aug. 9, gleefully ribs Brazil’s newly won status as the world’s second-largest pet market in the world, accounting for $7 billion a year in sales of pet-related goods and services, according to the Pet Rio Vet trade fair.

“Marcos and Abrao Scherer are very smart in selecting and marketing Brazilian films, (aiding in) development and doing a fantastic job marketing,” says Sergio Sa Leitao, CEO of Rio city investment fund RioFilme, which co-financed “Vai,” “Young” and “Dognapper.” “They bet high, work well and are getting results.”

Imagem’s marketing and commercials divisions are run out of Sao Paulo. But management and financial operations will remain in Florianopolis.

As long as the party is going on, it’s easy to see why.

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