Our International Sales Agent (ISA) of the Day coverage is back again for this year’s Cannes Film Festival. We will feature successful, upcoming, innovative and trailblazing agents from around the world, and cover the latest trends in sales and distribution. Beyond the numbers and deals, this segment will also share inspirational and unique stories of how these individuals have evolved and paved their way in the industry, and what they envision for the new waves in global cinema.
ISA of the Day Sam Blan is an Executive at the Los Angeles
based Inception Film Partners. His intercultural perspective, worldviews and
devotion to exploring new ways of reaching and understanding audiences through
new platforms and technology makes him an asset and a shining example of where
the new generation of the film industry is going. Beyond the ins and outs of business and numbers, Sam
understands the importance of positivity and community in the film business. He
connects his career and drive to the greater picture of the world, and sees
film as a tool of understanding that can heal on the global scale and transform
Sam shares more about
his partners, Cannes and his inspiration:
Who makes up
The company is only made up of the people who work for it
everyday. Inception Media Group is a parent company operated by partners David
Borshell and Andy Reimer. I work most closely with EVP of sales and distribution,
Jim Harvey, who has been in sales for over twenty-one years, and has worked for
companies such as Myriad, Lakeshore, Bold and Summit. He has sold movies like Drive with Ryan
Hole with Nicole Kidman, and Mr.
Brooks with Kevin Costner.
I speak fluent Arabic, so having language skills is highly
useful in our work. What really makes us different is that we don’t just go to
festivals. We’ll go to consumer electronic shows, licensing expos; we’re always
thinking outside of the box of not just how to create content, but also how the
content is being consumed. How is it being bought, and more importantly, what
are the trends facing the future? That’s the difference from many other
companies. We’ll go the extra mile to look at something to understand who is
the audience and how they’ll be reached.
What does Inception
have at Cannes this year?
We have a big animation film called Almost
Heroes 3D with Taylor Kitsch, James Woods, Jon Heder, Jennette McCurdy and
Carla Gugino (and many others) at the market. We’re bringing two new pre-sellable films called Sexy
Criminals, and 1001
Bullets. As far as newer acquisitions, we have a hilarious film called May
the Best Man Win, which came out of SXSW. It will be released theatrically
in the United States. We have another film called VANish,
with Maiara Walsh and Danny Trejo, that’s in a similar vein to Reservoir Dogs
meets Buried (See Inception’s full Cannes lineup below).
How are sales this
So far, so good.
I was part of a company called Strategic Film Partners for two and a
half years and then Inception Media Group bought it and turned into Inception
Film Partners. With the titles that we acquired like Almost
Heroes and Barefoot (acquired from WME), we’re definitely
in a solid place. We’re growing and getting more and more traction.
Who are your buyers?
We deal with buyers from all around the world, but it just
depends. It doesn’t really matter as far as trying to get access to the buyers,
especially when you have a seasoned veteran like Jim on your team. It’s a
matter of having the right content. We’ll deal with everyone like Village Roadshow and BSkyB. We deal with all the major buyers including the
studios, such as Sony (which we have done several deals with), mini-majors, and
go all the way down to the smaller scale buyers.
We’re obviously a newer entity, which comes with the trials
and tribulations of any new company. We try to be as transparent as possible.
In this business there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, and I’m upfront with what
we’re trying to create as a business. That’s one of the things that we pride
ourselves on; we’re always going to be honest.
Our estimates are always a little more conservative, because
we’d rather be as exact as possible. Window dressing estimates is rampant in
our business, but a hard drama usually won’t sell in Asia, for instance, so why
put an inflated number? To get the movie or make it under false pretenses??? We
tell people to make their film budget a little lower, and expect a number
that’s not going to necessarily be what they think. We want to be as pragmatic
as possible. We normally over deliver on expectations because we started from a
base that was realistic. Jim consistently exceeds those expectations.
Where does your drive
come from and where do you see yourself going?
It beats going to law school, number one! I did really well
on my LSATS, and much to my father’s chagrin, I said I’m going to Hollywood. Aside
from winning young author competitions and being in theater, I really knew
nothing about the industry. Furthermore,
I was watching television one day when I was 23 years old, and I just didn’t
like what I was watching. I thought to myself, “I can do so much better
than that, and I think it’s one of those things where we can’t allow mediocrity
to be the norm. “
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of it in this industry. I’m as
guilty of it as anyone else…working with things that are not to the standard
of what we’d like to have out there, but I want to learn and grow as much as
possible. I’m an autodidact, and will always be. I love and enjoy entertainment.
I just want to share it, because storytelling is the conduit of life in our
One of my favorite quotes, from Martin Scorsese, is “Now more than
ever, we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how
we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” This
quote always gets me, because cinema can transcend boundaries. I’m of
Palestinian descent. I speak Arabic, and I travel to the Middle East and all
around the world. I’m an interculturalist, and to be able to understand
different cultures and use cinema to bridge those gaps is a phenomenal gift. I
want to bridge the gap between the east and west and bring meaningful cinema to
the world. In order to do that, you have to raise the bar for yourself and for
Are there popular
films that actually transcend cultural barriers?
At the end of the day, you have to look at one of the best
selling genres: family, because it covers the universal themes: happiness, love
and the importance of relationships with kith and kin. We all smile in the same
language. Other genres such as action work as well. The Hunger Games worked
worldwide. I’ve been a big comic book nerd my whole life, and I think a lot of
those stories transcend really well.
They come with universal themes. For example, when you talk about Iron
Man, it’s not just about a guy in a metal suit. It’s about a guy who tries to use
his power for good to advance the human race. Just look at someone who I
admire, Elon Musk, as a real life example of who director Jon Favreau wanted to
portray. Although, Marvel’s Iron Man was around way before Elon came on the
scene. There are examples like this throughout our movie history. It’s the same
thing with Spiderman; a normal guy becomes a superhero, and most people can
relate to that.
One of the best selling intellectual properties in the
Middle East right now is actually about regular people becoming superheroes,
and we had a similar show in the USA called Heroes. Everybody around the world
can relate to stories when shared through the lens of the heroic journey. When
you make it relatable to audiences, they buy tickets and jump on board.
I’m also excited for a lot of films coming out of the Middle
East. Look at Omar
that was up for the best foreign film in the Oscars. This film helped to
explore the political discourse of Palestine and Israel.
Do you have any comments
on the film business and its greater community and culture?
Let’s help each other out. Every company is obviously in
competition, but when I see someone create a good film or something else that’s
really awesome, I don’t get envious of it. I applaud it. It’s only good for the
industry. When people create good content, it’s good for everyone. A lot of
people in the industry tear each other down and I think its BS. It’s high time
that we all help each other out and rise together. That’s what I hope to do in
my career. I want to inspire people in my field. I want them to inspire me, and
I think it needs to happen more.
Partners’ Cannes Lineup:
Almost Heroes 3D
Making the Best Man Win
Breaking the Rules
More about Inception
Inception Film Partners is a worldwide motion picture
and content sales, representation, distribution, finance and production company
which has been in operation since 2004.
IFP has experienced explosive growth in its eight years of
operation, having distributed a tremendous number of pictures through major
studios, TV networks and other independent distributors–both domestically and
Studios and other domestic and international distributors
have come to rely on IFP’s steady flow of product to help fulfill their demanding
release schedules. Through representing filmmakers and their films as well as
producing their own content, IFP has been able to provide a steady flow of
pictures that consistently and repeatedly find their way onto the tops of
industry sales charts. In addition to maintaining a core focus in global
feature film distribution and production, IFP is rapidly expanding to other
areas including transmedia and branded entertainment.