Stuart Ford has been forced out as head of IM Global, the independent sales and distribution company that he founded a decade ago. He was terminated on Friday after what is being described by sources as a major “blow up” in his relationship with Tang Media Partners and its CEO Donald Tang over the company’s longterm direction. Tang Media Partners bought a majority stake in IM Global in 2016 in a deal valued at $200 million.
The news comes on the same day that Tang Media Partners snapped up Open Road Studios for an undisclosed sum. It was well known within the company that Ford was opposed to the purchase of the indie studio.
It’s also sent shockwaves around the tight knit world of film distributors. Ford was very much the public face of the company and a fixture at film festivals around the world. IM Global is working on several high-profile projects, including “Serenity,” a noir thriller with Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway; “Richard Says Goodbye,” a comedy drama with Johnny Depp; and “Unabomb,” a thriller with Viggo Mortensen. There are also several projects in development, and agents and filmmakers are unsure if they will survive Ford’s exit. It’s also unclear if Ford’s departure will lead to a thinning of the ranks at IM Global, with other executives joining him in leaving the company.
Ford and his lawyers spent the weekend with attorneys for Tang Media Partners trying to hammer out an exit package, but have yet to reach an agreement.
“We’ve had discussions with TMP and at this point we’re still engaged in those discussions,” said Marvin Gelfand, an attorney for Ford. “We’re in the process of evaluating our options.”
The indie film world is notoriously difficult to navigate, with new companies popping up and being snuffed out in rapid order. In recent months, Broad Green got out of the production business, EuropaCorp suffered a major failure with the box office collapse of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” and Alchemy was forced the shut its doors. Yet, IM Global seemed to be coming off a hot streak and after 10 years in business seemed to have achieved impressive longevity. Last year, it backed the Best Picture nominee “Hacksaw Ridge” and was expanding into television production.
As part of the sale to Tang Media Partners, Ford signed a new five-year contract to remain as CEO and retained a minority stake in the company. At the time of the sale, Ford said he believed that Tang Media Partners would help take his company to a new level.
“These investors have gotten their head around Hollywood content and production and they now understand and want to be a player in the global business,” Ford told Variety at that time. “They know that we understand the value of all sorts of content and how it fits into the growing spider web of digital distribution platforms globally.”
Spokespeople for Tang and Ford declined to comment. Deadline first reported Ford’s ouster.