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IMG enters original content space with sports docu

MUMBAI: Sports and media business IMG is making its entry into the original content space with a sports feature documentary on former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS disease at the age of 34.

The move by IMG comes seven months after hiring former ESPN programming executive Mark Shapiro as chief content officer. The business was acquired by WME last year.

IMG will also finance and executive produce ‘The Gleason Project’ that explores the story of Gleason, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2011.

In a statement, Shapiro said, “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.”

The film will be produced by Seth Gordon, the producer of the Academy Award-winning documentary ‘Undefeated’, and directed by J. Clay Tweel.

IMG will help finance the film as well as leverage the brands and events in the combined WME-IMG portfolio to help market and create brand and media partnerships for the film.

Shapiro said, “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.”

Tweel added, “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. 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.”

Gleason, a former football star, is one of the world’s most recognizable advocates living with ALS. He played for New Orleans Saints for eight years, from 2000-2008. Three years later, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and given two to five years to live. That same year, Gleason learned that his wife, Michel, was pregnant. So he started a video journal so that his son would know who he was. Over 1,000 hours of footage will be cut together for the documentary.

Gleason was at the same time creating a video autobiography. He became an activist to bring awareness to the disease. He began working alongside leaders in technology and science to help develop new treatments and identify a cure.

“I believe part of my purpose is to inspire others; to live life to its fullest, to overcome adversity, and to explore what is truly possible. I believe this film, and the story it tells, is a product of my purpose,” said Gleason in a statement.

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.

‘The Gleason Project’, which is only a working title, was unveiled at an exclusive preview in Venice last evening at a private event attended by Maria Bello, Clay Tweel, Seth Gordon, Pat Quinn, Rich Eisen, Eric Johnson and Jessica Simpson.

Other producers on the project include Kimi Culp and Kevin Lake. WME and UTA will represent the filmmakers in handling distribution rights for the documentary, which is scheduled for an early 2016 release.