BREAKING: In a pre-Cannes foreign sales shakeup bombshell, Millennium/Nu Image partner Danny Dimbort has left and joined forces with Red Granite Pictures. He’s taking the role of president in the foreign sales company Red Granite International, and has taken with him Christian Mercuri, who’ll be co-president, and Joe Gatta, who’ll be president of production. Relations between Dimbort and Avi Lerner have been strained for a long time. In January 2010, I reported as much, when Dimbort was gone for weeks and speculation was high that he would leave because he and Lerner disagreed on the kinds of movies they should be making. At the time, Lerner scoffed at the speculation, saying Dimbort  was “categorically not departing, and whoever is telling you that is just being mean. We’ve been partners for 30 years, he’s my best friend, and I love him to death. You want a problem? It’s that the American government doesn’t give a shit about the piracy of our product that’s taking place around the world. The stuff about Danny is bullshit.”

Relations got even more strained when Dimbort was busted by the Producers Guild for giving a producing credit to his teenage granddaughter. Now, I’d always heard Dimbort did this to make a point, because he was pissed that Lerner was putting girlfriends into producing and other positions where they would receive credit. Last year, I’d heard that Dimbort was bought out of his equity position in the company, but that it didn’t mean he was leaving. Now, he’s gone. How this shakes out for Lerner’s company remains to be seen, but it is obviously a big blow. All three of these executives were important to the company, and Dimbort is considered one of the best at his job. It comes after Millennium had a real hit in The Expendables, is mobilizing a sequel to the action film, and has its biggest production investment ever in the upcoming Conan the Barbarian. Lerner had no comment on the move. Here’s the official announcement:

Los Angeles, CA / Cannes, France – May 9, 2011 – Looking to expand its business operations in key growth areas, Red Granite Pictures, the Los Angeles based film production and finance company (“Friends With Kids”) led by Founder, Chairman and CEO Riza Aziz and Vice Chairman Joey McFarland has announced plans to form a new international sales division and bolstered its production arm, bringing in a trio of highly accomplished, veteran executives to serve as division heads.

The new international sales company, Red Granite International, will be run by Danny Dimbort, who assumes the role of President and Christian Mercuri who assumes the role of Co-President. Both Dimbort and Mercuri come to Red Granite from Nu Image, a company Dimbort co-founded with Avi Lerner, Trevor Short and Danny Lerner. Mercuri served as President of International Sales & Distribution at Nu Image.

Dimbort and Mercuri will remain active in their current roles at Nu Image through the upcoming Cannes Market then segue into Red Granite International, which will officially open its doors and commence sales operations this summer.

On the production side, Joe Gatta has been hired as President of Production and immediately assumes oversight of the Red Granite feature film slate. Gatta most recently served as Head of Millennium Films, where he oversaw production on a broad slate of films including the upcoming “Conan the Barbarian.”

Joey McFarland commented, “This is an exciting time for Red Granite Pictures. We have big plans for the company but realize that at this crucial stage you’re only as good as your senior executive team paving the way for continued growth. With Danny, Christian and Joe on board, we feel we are in a great position to grow the company, establish a significant footprint in the global film arena and ultimately build a strong brand.”

Riza Aziz adds, “Danny, Christian and Joe have a tremendous pedigree and bring a wealth of experience that completes a crucial piece of the Red Granite business model. We are tremendously excited to have them join our international sales team, and we look forward to working together to bring high quality commercial feature films to the marketplace.”

At this stage, Red Granite intends to produce four to five feature films a year and is actively looking to acquire negative pick-ups and third party productions for sales and distribution.

The company most recently teamed with Point West Productions and Locomotive to produce the romantic comedy “Friends With Kids” starring Jon Hamm, Megan Fox, Jennifer Westfeldt, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph, Ed Burns and Chris O’Dowd. Jennifer Westfeldt wrote and directed the film, which is currently in post production. The film will be added to the Red Granite International slate when the division begins operations. Cinetic Media is handling U.S. sales for the film.