EXCLUSIVE: Imagine Entertainment Chairmen Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have launched Imagine Documentaries, a venture to develop and produce feature documentaries and non-scripted television projects. Grazer and Howard have set to Justin Wilkes to run the division, which will be based in New York. It marks Imagine’s first dedicated Gotham outpost.
Wilkes, who has been the long-time President of Entertainment and a partner at RadicalMedia, has worked closely enough with Grazer and Howard to have developed a shorthand. Wilkes collaborated with Grazer and Howard on Jay Z’s Made in America (on which Howard made his docu debut as director) and more recently on the hit National Geographic series Mars. Wilkes co-created and exec produced that series, whose second season debuts this fall. Imagine has always shown an interest in the documentary, with earlier efforts including Katy Perry: Part of Me, Inside Deep Throat, and Beyond The Mat. The venture follows Imagine’s Howard-directed Grammy-winning The Beatles: Eight Days A Week and the upcoming docu on Luciano Pavarotti which Howard is also directing.
Wilkes’ non-scripted film and TV work includes producing or exec producing such films as Liz Garbus’ Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning What Happened, Miss Simone, Joe Berlinger’s Oscar-nominated Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, as well as the recent Netflix series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, Bobby Kennedy for President, Abstract: The Art of Design. Other producing credits include six seasons of Oprah’s Masterclass and the recent New York Times documentary series, The Fourth Estate for Showtime, which premiered as Tribeca’s closing night film. Besides Garbus, Berlinger, Howard and Grazer, Wilkes has produced projects for Morgan Neville, Dawn Porter, Bennett Miller, Fisher Stevens, Judd Apatow, Michael Bonfiglio, and Terry Gilliam.
“We are so excited to have Justin join the team,” Grazer and Howard said in a statement. “He combines unique vision and masterful execution in all his projects. In the world of filmmaking and documentaries, he is a visionary. We have enjoyed our successful collaborations over the years, and are excited for what is to come in the future.”
Said Wilkes: “Partnering with Ron, Brian and Michael has been a life-long dream of mine and to have an opportunity to expand their stellar brand in a new genre is an exciting proposition. Imagine Docs aims to be a welcoming home for filmmakers and tap into the vibrant entertainment community in New York.”
In addition to the focus on docus, Wilkes will also head up Imagine’s branded storytelling initiatives. In that space, Wilkes has helped to create and produce such brand-driven entertainment as six seasons of the acclaimed Sundance Channel/Grey Goose series Iconoclasts, four seasons of Nike Battlegrounds, Axe’s The Gamekillers and the American Express: Unstaged music initiative, which included the Emmy-winning Taylor Swift Experience. Wilkes’ work has been honored with numerous industry accolades including multiple Cannes Lions and Clios.
Wilkes will transition from his duties at RadicalMedia over the next few months, and that company will have an ongoing working relationship with Imagine. Wilkes will start the new division while continuing to oversee a slate of Radical projects as exec producer.