People/Biz

Imagine Entertainment taps Justin Wilkes to head new doc venture

CORRECTION: In an earlier posting of the story, the headline incorrectly cited Mr. Wilkes’ first name. Realscreen regrets the error. Imagine Entertainment chairs Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have launched Imagine ...
June 26, 2018

CORRECTION: In an earlier posting of the story, the headline incorrectly cited Mr. Wilkes’ first name. Realscreen regrets the error.

Imagine Entertainment chairs Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have launched Imagine Documentaries, a venture led by outgoing RadicalMedia executive Justin Wilkes.

Based in New York, Imagine Docs will focus on developing and producing premium feature documentaries and non-scripted television.

Wilkes (pictured) and Imagine have teamed on previous projects, with Wilkes producing Howard’s doc-directing debut, Jay Z’s Made in America alongside Grazer and Howard, and, more recently, the National Geographic series Mars, which Wilkes co-created and executive produced.

Wilkes, the long-time president of entertainment and a partner at RadicalMedia, has previously produced and executive produced a roster of award-winning projects including Liz Garbus‘ Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning film, What Happened, Miss Simone? and her New York Times docuseries, The Fourth Estate for Showtime, which premiered as the closing night film at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Other credits include Joe Berlinger’s Oscar-nominated Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory; the recent Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, Bobby Kennedy for President, and Abstract: The Art of Design; and six seasons of Oprah’s Masterclass.

“There’s been this ongoing synergy between the companies,” Wilkes tells realscreen of how discussions began regarding establishing a doc division for Imagine. “I’ve been here [at RadicalMedia] for 18 years – I’m a partner here and I’ve grown up here. I love this place. Over the last couple of months, in a very organic way, these conversations began, and it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of, and one that would allow me to still continue on here at Radical with some of the projects I’ve helped to develop and incubate, while also launching this new banner.”

In addition to the focus on non-fiction entertainment, Wilkes will also shepherd Imagine’s branded storytelling initiatives. His previous work in the branded space includes six seasons of the Sundance Channel/Grey Goose series Iconoclasts; four seasons of Nike Battlegrounds; Axe’s The Gamekillers and the American Express: Unstaged music initiative, which included the Emmy-winning Taylor Swift Experience.

Imagine, Radical and Wilkes will work over the next few months on transitioning responsibility and project oversight.

“Over the next three months I’ll continue in my presidential role here while turning the lights on at the new venture, helping to find an office space, figure out the staffing needs and effectively get us open for business,” he tells realscreen. “But I’ll be overseeing the transition here at Radical, helping to put the succession plan in place, and then beyond the three months, there will be a small slate of projects that I’ll remain involved with as executive producer on behalf of Radical.”

Wilkes adds that the relationship between the two companies is “completely friendly” and “there will undoubtedly be projects that Imagine and Radical will still collaborate on” going forward.

“What got me excited about this, as we were starting to reach out to some of our filmmaking partners and people within the doc community, is the notion that Imagine, this storied Hollywood entertainment company, is going to be investing heavily in the doc space,” Wilkes says. “That’s a testament to where the industry is right now, and the demand for premium content that people seem to have an insatiable appetite for. We’re perfectly poised to take advantage of that.”

Of the company he’s been with over the past 18 years, Wilkes says: “We’ve been nimble enough over the years to be able to get involved in some really great projects, and that’s a testament to the founders, Jon Kamen and Frank Scherma, who founded a place with an open architecture and a willingness to ‘be radical.’

“When I walked in this morning, I was kind of looking in the office in a different way, and we still have the sign above our door that says ‘RadicalMedia: Never established.’ It’s still the truth.”

(With files from Barry Walsh)

About The Author
Senior staff writer Frederick Blichert comes to realscreen with a background as a journalist and freelance film critic. He has previously written for VICE, Paste Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Xtra, Canadian Cinematographer and elsewhere. He holds a Master of Arts in film studies from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia.

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