IMG Enters Original Content Space With ALS Sports Documentary (Exclusive)
The agency will executive produce ‘The Gleason Project,’ about former NFL player Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
Seven months after hiring former ESPN programming executive Mark Shapiro as chief content officer, IMG has made its first move into the original content space, The Hollywood Reporter has exclusively learned.
The agency, which was acquired by WME last year, will executive produce The Gleason Project, a feature-length documentary that explores the story of former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2011, at the age of 34. IMG will help finance the film as well as leverage the many brands and events in the combined WME | IMG portfolio to help market and create brand and media partnerships for the film.
“Very few individuals are brave and tenacious enough to accomplish all that Steve has in their entire lifetime. The fact that he has become a one-man catalyst for a global movement in just four years is absolutely incredible, and we are extremely proud to help bring The Gleason Project to audiences around the world,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Steve’s universal message of resilience and hope, told through the lens of a sports hero, is directly in line with our mission of supporting sports and entertainment content that has the ability to create meaningful change.”
WME client Seth Gordon, a producer on the 2012 Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated, will produce, with UTA-repped J. Clay Tweel (a co-director on this year’s Sundance amputated-leg doc Finders Keepers) at the helm. They unveiled an exclusive preview of the project on Thursday evening in Venice, Calif., at an event that also was attended by Maria Bello, Rich Eisen, Pat Quinn, Eric Johnson, Nanci Ryder and Jessica Simpson.
“I am extremely humbled and excited to be a part of this amazing team of people who are coming together to tell Steve’s story,” Tweel said in a statement. “I was drawn to this project by Steve’s determination and honesty, which gives us the ability to explore the challenges of this disease on a very personal level.”
Added Gordon: “Clay and I have worked together throughout our documentary careers, and I’m thrilled to support him in what will be a very special and powerful film.”
In addition, Microsoft has come on board as technology partner as the company continues to explore tech innovations to improve the lives of people living with ALS.
“We are proud to continue our work with Steve and are honored to support the upcoming documentary about his amazing journey,” Microsoft executive vice president and chief marketing officer Chris Capossela said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to do important work together.”
Shapiro, who advised WME on its acquisition prior to joining the combined agency last September, was hired to develop and package content by capitalizing on WME | IMG’s participation and relationships with multiple sports, fashion and media entities. His considerable programming experience includes developing original films and series such as SportsCentury, Pardon the Interruption, Around the Horn and Playmakers over 12 years at ESPN, earning 16 Emmys and two Peabodys during that term. He also served as CEO and an executive producer at Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with THR.
Gleason has become one of the world’s most prominent figures advocating for research on ALS, a disease that got its nickname from MLB Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig in 1939. Gleason’s documentary will be culled from more than 1,000 hours of footage that includes video journals that the athlete began taping after learning his wife, Michel, was pregnant with their unborn son the same year he was diagnosed.
“Part of my purpose is to inspire others to live life to its fullest, to overcome adversity, and to explore what is truly possible,” Gleason said in a statement. “This film, and the story it tells, is the product of my purpose.”
Kimi Culp, a longtime producer and story developer at NBC, ABC and The Oprah Winfrey Show, and film and branded entertainment executive Kevin Lake also will produce.
WME and UTA will represent the filmmakers in handling distribution rights for the documentary, which is scheduled for an early 2016 release.
To donate to The Gleason Project Foundation, visit here.