Q&A: Greg Foster

This Hollywood guy sizes up Imax's future prospects

Greg Foster is Imax's Mr. Hollywood. A seven-year veteran of the giant-screen company, Foster stakes out a Hollywood beachfront for the Toronto-based company from offices in Santa Monica. He previously spent 15 years in film production and marketing at MGM/United Artists.

As chairman and president of Imax Filmed Entertainment, Foster overees proprietary production projects and feature-film distribution. In the latter vein, he helps Hollywood program Imax's 115 giant-screen commercial Imax venues throughout the U.S. and Canada -- plus about 50 overseas -- with movies such as the current blockbuster "The Dark Knight" and the upcoming "Eagle Eye," "Madagascar: Back 2 Africa" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

Imax's ongoing rollout of hundreds of digital-projection systems in multiplexes worldwide should integrate the company further into the commercial exhibition community, while its original, mostly institution-based giant screens will continue to show the usual mix of nature-themed and educational programming.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Foster about Imax's concerted push into Hollywood.

Hollywood Reporter: Tell us one thing we didn't know about your plans for Imax-format film releasing.

Greg Foster: The only thing that none of us know is just how big it's going to get and just how expansive our choices are going to be. But what I can tell you is that the amount of options, of film titles, that we have today is significantly more than we had before "The Dark Knight."

THR: "The Dark Knight" has helped open doors in Hollywood?

Foster: It has, and what it's been is a fantastic proof-of-concept. Our cultural stock, if you will, is shooting through the roof right now because of "Knight." We've become the place to see the biggest movie in decades, and that's because of the vision of (director) Chris Nolan and the support that we've received from Warner Bros. We now have filmmakers who have wanted to shoot with Imax cameras, and they now have justification for doing it.

THR: Your stock hasn't done too badly on Wall Street lately, either.

Foster: My feeling is that will all take care of itself. My job is just to deliver as many high-quality films as I possibly can to the Imax theater network.

THR: What do you say to those who complain that a 21⁄2-hour Imax experience like the Batman sequel can be exhausting?

Foster: We're selling out four weeks into the movie.

THR: Will giant-screen exhibition in the U.S. and Canada outpace your international business for the foreseeable future?

Foster: No, I don't think so. "Knight" has been an unbelievable success internationally. We just struck a four-theater deal in Australia with Hoyts and a four-theater deal in Japan with Tokyu, which is a big exhibitor. We have great support all over the globe, and at the end of the day it all comes down to the movies. Movies are the software that feeds the hardware. We had a chicken-and-egg problem because we didn't have have enough theaters because we didn't have enough movies, and (vice versa). But we've cracked the code on the movie side (and now that) the software is feeding the hardware, the hardware is feeding the software. It all seems to be working.

THR: What portion of your feature business will be comprised of 3-D exhibition after the rollout of your digital screens?

Foster: It's difficult to tell you a percentage. What I can tell you is that "The Polar Express" was a huge milestone for our company (in 2004). Jeffrey Katzenberg has said it many, many times: "Polar" was the kicker, the trigger of 3-D mania, and I think that 3-D is a huge part of our business going forward. With that said, 3-D is not a panacea. You can't put a movie into 3-D and automatically assume it's going to be a giant success.

THR: Five years from now, how many domestic and foreign Imax screens might be available for a movie like "Dark Knight"?

Foster: We're not interested in being on every street corner -- Imax is a premium experience. So we will have many more than we currently have, but we don't need and don't want thousands of them. My guess is domestically, meaning U.S. and Canada, there will be somewhere between 400-500 Imax commercial locations five years from now. Internationally, there's the opportunity for even more because the world's a bigger place. So maybe 600 or 700 internationally for the Hollywood films. One wouldn't want to see "My Dinner with Andre" in Imax.