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Andrew Cripps and Richard Gelfond, IMAX

Imax CEO Richard Gelfond and new EMEA president Andrew Cripps talk to Wendy Mitchell about their blockbuster summer ahead and the international territories that could see the most growth.

It is good to have fans in high places. Imax heads into its biggest summer in history helped in part by Christopher Nolan shooting more than an hour of The Dark Knight Rises in the Imax format.

“Chris is unto himself the lead fanboy for the Imax network,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond says. “He is so driven by quality and presentation. He’s said it allows the audience to see his vision the way he wants it to be shown.”

A newer fan of Imax is Bond, James Bond. The franchise will move into the format for the first time with Skyfall (out internationally on October 26). “If you look at what happened to Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, putting it in Imax really helped advance the franchise,” Gelfond says. “It made sense to try to do the same thing with Bond, to try to introduce more fanboys and younger audiences.”

There have already been strong results this year for films such as The Hunger Games, Marvel’s The Avengers, Men In Black 3 and Prometheus, with The Amazing Spider-Man set to launch this summer.

The Imax network continues to grow rapidly. As of March 31, 2011, there were 528 theatres operating in 46 countries. A year later, the tally was 643 screens in 53 countries.

‘Christopher Nolan is the lead fanboy for the Imax network’

Richard Gelfond, Imax

With that growth in mind, in February Imax recruited Andrew Cripps, the former head of Paramount Pictures International, for the new role of president EMEA. Eventually, Imax believes Europe, the Middle East and Africa could support about 400-450 screens - currently there are 99.

Cripps says: “I would put France and Germany at the top of the list where Imax is expanding in Europe. Russia has been a tremendous market for Imax - we’ve got 22 open, and eight later on this year in the pipeline.” He adds: “They embrace technology there [Russia], and the box office has been incredibly strong. We’re in business with the top six circuits in Russia.”

As such, the company will work on its first Russian local release, Stalingrad, in October 2013 (this follows the first French-language Imax release HOUBA! On The Trail Of The Marsupilami).

Gelfond notes that slotting in local productions can be easier than it might first seem within the busy release calendar. “Local language really is a territory-by-territory basis,” he says. “Release schedules are different internationally so it’s finding those openings and gaps.” The blackout periods for foreign releases in territories such as Korea and China also present opportunities.

And content can be broadly tailored for each part of the world. In the US, the company has slightly shifted its strategy away from animated family titles to more live-action films. As such, Prometheus took over screens in June instead of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, while the family animation was able to go out on Imax in Eastern Europe and Russia.

‘France and Germany are at the top of the list where Imax is expanding in Europe’

Andrew Cripps, Imax

Imax cinemas have made their debuts in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in recent months. And a trickier market such as India is also showing signs of opening up, with multiplexes becoming bigger and Imax planning its first Bollywood release by the end of 2013. China - where the company has been working for more than a decade - is also booming, with the number of Imax cinemas open or contracted to open now at 225.

Other hot territories to target include the Middle East, “the UAE in particular”, as Cripps notes. Latin America is also a key growth market. Gelfond says: “Brazil now has 60 malls under construction and it is underscreened in general.”

Imax also has technological innovations planned to keep ahead of its rivals, including laser technology patents the company licensed from Kodak in October 2011. “The idea is to create a laser-based Imax system, and we’ve partnered with Barco to do that. We expect to release that to theatres in the fourth quarter of 2013,” Gelfond says. “That brightness in 3D will be a big differentiator. Also the blacks are blacker, the contrast is better. It’s a next-generation kind of leap in projection technology.”

Also in the pipeline is an Imax format digital camera, which is more nimble than the current Imax film camera, and which could be ready in the second half of 2013.

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