It’s a changing of the guard at the highest levels of an exhibition giant that has become a major force in popcorn movies. Colligan replaces Greg Foster, who has served as Imax’s ambassador to Hollywood for the past 18 years. Foster will depart the wide-screen company, where he served as CEO of Imax Entertainment, at the end of 2018. At Imax, Foster forged strong ties with the creative community, forming alliances with the likes of Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, and Joe and Anthony Russo that paid off with the directors using the company’s cameras to shoot their movies.
Colligan, like Foster, has strong relationships with filmmakers and is well known in the movie business for her work overseeing Paramount’s marketing campaigns for the “Transformers” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “Interstellar.” However, her departure from Paramount was contentious. After stepping down from her post in November, she pursued legal action against Paramount and alleged that gender bias and discrimination led to her exit. In an interview with Variety, Colligan said the matter had been resolved “amicably” and stated that there was never any lawsuit.
“I have a lot of friends over there and good relationships,” Colligan said. “I don’t see it being any real issue in terms of my work at Imax.”
Colligan said she was drawn to the Imax job because she sees opportunities to push the brand to innovate and expand its offerings. Imax, with its sprawling screens, has established itself as a distributor of choice for big-budget studio fare, but Colligan believes that it should broaden the kinds of content it distributes. From concerts to local-language pictures in places such as India and China, Colligan said she wants to keep driving Imax to be about more than just comic book movies.
“We have a chance to ask questions about what immersive entertainment means on a holistic level,” she said.
Imax’s stock has been a solid performer in recent months, but some analysts have warned the exhibition sector faces grave threats from the rising popularity of streaming services. They are concerned that Netflix and its ilk encourage people to skip the theaters for the comforts of home. However, both Colligan and Imax Corporation chairman Rich Gelfond see these streaming services not just as challengers, but also as potential new clients. Apple is making inroads into film distribution, Amazon wants to make films with bigger budgets and more populist appeal, and Netflix is toying with having a greater theatrical presence. Netflix could be the toughest company for Imax to work with going forward, because it debuts its films simultaneously on its streaming platform. Imax respects theaters’ exclusive 90-day window to show movies.
“I’ll be having conversations with every streaming service out there to see what kind of opportunities there are,” Colligan said.
Foster’s departure had been in the works for more than a year. Imax announced that Foster wasn’t running for reelection to its board in a spring earnings call and also mentioned that his contract was coming up. Foster said after Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” a World War II epic that was shot with Imax cameras, was released in 2017, he began to feel restless. The film used Imax extensively in its marketing and Foster felt it represented the pinnacle of what he had been trying to do with the brand. He told Gelfond that he was thinking about moving on from the company and the two have spent the past 18 months discussing a transition.
“It felt like it was time,” Foster said. He has yet to decide on a new landing spot and plans to take some time off after leaving Imax.
“I’m not retired,” Foster said. “That’s for sure. I’ll start putting myself out there when I’m done here. I don’t know what my next role will be, but it will somehow involve the best filmmakers in the world and making sure that their visions are effectively captured, communicated, and presented to audiences.”
Colligan’s appointment will be effective Feb. 19, 2019, but she will come on board in a consulting capacity prior to that date. Gelfond said he is hopeful that Colligan will make the role her own and he is encouraging her to shake things up.
“We wanted someone who is going to think outside the box,” Gelfond said. “We didn’t want a caretaker. We wanted someone who is going to come in and make their own imprint.”