EXCLUSIVE: Imagine Entertainment Chairmen Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have made a substantial investment and take an ownership stake in Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions. The intention is to help Jigsaw’s elevation into a flourishing mini-studio, and further the ambitions of the Imagine Documentaries banner led by Justin Wilkes and Sara Bernstein for a stepped up output of docus for multiple platforms.
Imagine steps up after one of Jigsaw’s co-owners, Kew Media Group, fell into receivership and had become, as Gibney explained it, “a ball and chain around our ankle. I had been talking to Ron and Brian over a number of years about the possibility of joining forces in some way, and the timing suddenly seemed perfect,” Gibney told Deadline. “They had always seemed enthusiastic about what we did, and wanting to invest in that and see if there were ways to enhance our reach, our financial stability and our ability to go out and extend that reach by offering financing and support to other filmmakers, to invest in what it is we do. That was very important to me and they were very engaged in making sure I had editorial control and independence. They asked all the right questions and proposed great possibilities about how we could extend non-fiction storytelling more in the fiction realm and in podcasting and other areas, at a critical time when people are so engaged in non-fiction stories.
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“They’re very different characters, Brian and Ron, but they’re explorers in ways I find intriguing,” Gibney said. “I couldn’t be more thrilled it’s happening and I am glad that my former colleague from HBO, Sara Bernstein, is part of this. She and Justin Wilkes are already cooking up a lot of things together. Ron and Brian have a storied career in feature filmmaking and I’m sure that will help us expand more into the fiction area, and engage with our new scripted exec Kevin Plunkett. It gives us finally the financial stability we need, the ability to expand, and also a sense of creative generosity which is what I so appreciate about what those guys do.”
Howard said they are working out the infrastructure now, but the win is having such a prolific quality filmmaker in the fold at a time when non-fiction docs have a greater currency than any time in recent memory.
“It’s remarkable the way audiences and companies have discovered the viability, meaning and power behind the documentary medium,” Howard told Deadline. “Under Justin and Sara, the work we’ve been able to do just in the last 18 months is incredibly gratifying and great for Imagine’s growth. Alex Gibney is a massive talent, and a great storyteller. In recent years, Brian and I got to know him and Justin and Sara have known him for years. This opportunity to work together, through an investment in Jigsaw, just made so much sense, business and creatively. The collaborations this will lead to will be incredibly exciting and follow this path that Imagine’s on. Growing in some really powerful areas, from kids and family, the documentary side, to our work in movies and TV. It’s a great day for us, to have this association with Alex and Jigsaw. Every project will get financed in whatever way makes the most sense,” Howard said. “Alex will also utilize and have access to our team at Imagine to help him grow his business, whether on the scripted or non-scripted side. He’s a tremendous storyteller.”
I asked Howard, who has directed hit documentaries himself like Pavarotti and The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, The Touring Years, if there was one Gibney-directed docu above others that blew him away.
“So many, but the one on Sinatra was just tremendous,” he said. “It’s not one of the most controversial or revealing on a sociopolitical level, but it was clear eyed, great storytelling and riveting to watch. That’s the key. Not only the subjects and ideas he tackles, but his storytelling sensibilities are really remarkable. He’s going to be a great influence and inspiration to be working with.”
Imagine co-chair Grazer said the move underscores how serious the company is in its documentary ambitions.
“It’s our goal and intention to be the premiere documentary film company in the world,” Grazer told Deadline. “I think we all think smart TV is captivating, it pulls subscribers and shapes and informs the culture and it brings dynamically interesting stories which Alex Gibney’s pieces have done for me. He has opened up worlds I knew nothing about, except the headline, and he gets deep behind the scenes and makes it riveting and intense. He builds everything out of a place of truth, fact and authenticity and what’s really amazing, beyond being one of the most preeminent documentary filmmakers in decades, is how unbelievably prolific he has been. It’s compatible with our goals in launching this division, which has enabled us to have a series of docs with Martin Scorsese, being able to do Pavarotti and The Beatles, the Dads documentary coming out now. To be able to get Alex Gibney just fortifies that creative ambition.”
Gibney formed the New York-based Jigsaw in 2012. Among the films in that time are Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, and his current film Citizen K, which was just released on Amazon Prime, about former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Jigsaw’s team is headed by COO and EVP of Production Richard Perello and SVP of Development and Production Stacey Offman. Gibney won the Emmy for Going Clear, and the Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side.
Jigsaw’s TV output includes two seasons of the Netflix investigative series on corporate greed Dirty Money; HBO’s The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley; Showtime’s four-part series Enemies: The President, Justice & The FBI; and the four-part breakout Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat. The company is partnered HBO Max for the upcoming 10-part series Generation Hustle and premiered several projects including the recent Alison Ellwood-directed two-part series Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time for Epix, Why We Hate on Discovery Channel, which Jigsaw co-produced with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television; there is also AMC’s Hip-Hop: The Songs That Shook America with QuestLove, BlackThought and Shawn Gee’s Two One Five Entertainment. And the Netflix five-part docuseries The Family, directed by Jesse Moss, How to Fix a Drug Scandal directed by Erin Lee Carr, and The Innocence Files, a series that exposes difficult truths about the state of America’s deeply flawed criminal justice system.
UTA, through its AGM Partner subsidiary, served as financial advisor to Jigsaw and Alex Gibney on the transaction. Venable served as Jigsaw’s legal advisor on the agreement. Imagine was repped in the deal by Michael Eisner and Wesley Morrow of Eisner LLP and The Raine Group.
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