In a move that will shake up the international sales world, Jeremy Thomas' UK-based HanWay Films and Hengameh Panahi's Paris-based Celluloid Dreams are planning to merge. The new sales, production and financing venture, dreamachine, will be based in London, Paris and Toronto.

Financial terms have yet to be disclosed, but Panahi and Thomas are equal shareholders in the new privately funded venture.

Panahi and Thomas will serve as joint chairmen, with Panahi specifically overseeing acquisitions and production. HanWay chief executive Tim Haslam will serve as CEO of the new company, with particular responsibility for sales, distribution and marketing.

Also sitting on the board are HanWay's Peter Watson and Stephan Mallmann and Celluloid's Philippe Aigle and Charlotte Mickie.

The companies plan to work together to acquire and produce marketplace-friendly films, as well as to jointly exploit their 500-title library in new digital platforms.

HanWay and Celluloid Dreams say that by banding together they become a stronger entity. Panahi said: 'For middle-sized companies, it's now hard to survive. We have to fight to keep our directors and our movies.'

Peter Watson added: 'It removes a player for the marketplace, but it gives us more financial muscle' in terms of the combined company's productions and acquisitions.

With Cannes looming in a month-and-a-half, each company's current projects will now be represented by dreamachine. It creates a formidable slate: films from the HanWay stable include Michael Winterbottom's Genova, Philip Noyce's Dirt Music, Julian Jarrold's Brideshead Revisited and Jon Amiel's Charles Darwin biopic Annie's Box; from the Celluloid line-up come Alan Ball's Nothing Is Private, Tom Kalin's Savage Grace, Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely, Todd Haynes' I'm Not There and Johnnie To, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam's Triangle.

The companies did not reveal how many projects they would work with each year, only that the total numbers would be less than HanWay and Celluloid have dealt with separately.

Responding to the struggling arthouse marketplace
Dreamachine will work with films of varying budgets, but Panahi noted that one main motivation for the merger was the fact that Celluloid had struggled in recent years to find buyers for smaller arthouse titles - which she called 'festival films' - that struggled in the marketplace.

'The movies that I've been putting energy in are not working anymore,' she said. 'No matter how good they are, they can't find distributors. There's no market.

'The idea is to become more ambitious,' Panahi continued, not only to work on potentially bigger-budget films, but also to be involved in moreareas of afilm's lifethan only sales. 'We can support film-makers in helping to finance projects and also in helping distributors with marketing.'

While Celluloid has a long history of working with foreign-language fare, it remains to be seen how big a priority that will be for dreamachine. Watson said simply: We're moving into more of the English-language world.'

Haslam noted that he wanted to work with films that each had the potential to sell to 35 territories, not just a handful.

Thomas did stress that the companies would notreinvent themselves nor the independent films they work with. 'We're not going into big mainstream movies,' he said. 'We want to be doing the most celebrated of the independent movies.'

Exploiting a library in the digital age
Dreamachine's combined library includes more than 500 titles from bankable talents such as Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci, David Cronenberg, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Francois Ozon and Wim Wenders.

The companies plan to build their own international digital distribution platform, initially based on a video-on-demand model, to exploit the library.

Growing the library through further acquisitions will be another goal. All parties involved said that the goal of exploiting their libraries was the genesis for the merger. 'The core of the move is to face today's situation in terms fo financing, marketing and distribution and also to look at what are the new markets,' Panahi said.

Watson said further details of dreamachine's digital plans were being discussed and would be announced in coming months.

Dreamachine's financing and operations will be led in London by Watson and Mallmann, and in Paris by Aigle. Watson and Aigle will be charged with expanding the company's financing and executive producing activites, managing and acquiring new library titles and looking at strategies for new media and digital distribution.

Mallmann, who will serve as COO, will manage the group's operations. Mickie and her staff in Toronto will concentrate on co-production, acquisition and sales for North American independent films.

'Redundancies minimal, merger not just about cost savings'
Dreamachine will have about 50-60 employees, down from more than 60 separately. But Panahi said redundancies would be minimal and that the merger wasn't just about cost savings.'This isn't just about a savings opportunity, it's about sharing expertise and knowledge,' she said.

HanWay was founded in 1998 by Thomas, Watson and Mallmann, with chief executive Tim Haslam joining the company in 2003. HanWay works on titles from its sister production company Recorded Picture Company, and also for third-party projects.

HanWay also brings to the table its lucrative libraries of titles from Merchant Ivory, Peter Weir, Wim Wenders and Jeremy Thomas himself, whose productions include The Last Emperor, Naked Lunch and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.

Paris-based Celluloid, which Panahi established in 1993, also has relationships with some of world cinema's top directors. The company has worked on projects by Francois Ozon, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Haneke, Todd Solondz and Abbas Kiarostami.

Along with its offices in Paris, Berlin and Toronto, Celluloid Dreams opened an office in London in May 2006. Celluloid has increasingly moved into English-language fare in recent years, and it backed the production of recent Sundance hit Son of Rambow.