EMI has a long history as a record label - everyone from the Beatles to Coldplay - but its burgeoning film business owes much to two men and their motorcycles.
"Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman came to meet with us about a soundtrack, and we ended up doing the DVD release of Long Way Round," remembers Stefan Demetriou, a 10-year veteran of EMI who now oversees the company's film work as director of audiovisual. "That showed us we could have success with non-music projects."
The 2004 DVD release went on to sell half a million copies.
EMI is now moving full-tilt into theatrical releasing with the current run of Sigur Ros - Heima, a documentary featuring the Icelandic band, and a March 7 UK launch of award-winning documentary We Are Together (Thina Simunye). EMI aims for three to five theatrical releases per year.
Demetriou met We Are Together director Paul Taylor and producer Teddy Leifer before the film's screening at the Tribeca film festival earlier this year, when it was already backed by Channel 4 and HBO. The film is an intimate look at the lives of South African children orphaned by Aids who find hope through music. EMI came on board, also working on a non-profit basis to benefit the charity set up by the film-makers. "That project just ticks all the boxes," Demetriou says.
EMI is now preparing the soundtrack, including songs by the Agape orphans in the film as well as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and potentially a track featuring Paul Simon singing with the orphan choir. More4 will screen the film around the summer 2008 DVD launch.
Not all of EMI's film projects will involve music, but many will benefit from synergies with the music industry. "In this new world of content and entertainment, there aren't the same barriers," Demetriou says. "It feels like a natural progression for us. We have a lot of artists who want to work with us creatively and we want to work with them visually."
For instance, Kylie Minogue documentary White Diamond was shown in 40 Vue Cinemas before its DVD launch, and Robbie Williams has worked with live concerts shown in digital cinemas on the UK's Digital Screen Network (there is synergy with exhibition, as EMI's parent company Terra Firma also owns Odeon).
EMI also plans to move into fiction. "We're developing projects from scratch and also looking to acquire two finished feature documentaries," Demetriou says. "I'm also interested in talking to new film-makers; like on the music side, we want to discover and work with new talents."
And EMI plans to tap more artists on the music roster - in 2008, one legendary band could be the subject of a film.
"The music industry is in a transition period," Demetriou admits, pointing to declining album sales. "But there are positive things about that, in looking at alternative content and harnessing digital changes. We've a strong history of working with artists visually, from Pink Floyd to Bowie. We're not just a record company, we're a creative company."