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ISA of the Day: Sam Blan of Inception Film Partners

Festivals
by Erin Grover
May 15, 2014 9:16 AM
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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.  

Sam Plan of Inception Film Partners
Sam Plan of Inception Film Partners

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 cultural barriers. 

Sam shares more about his partners, Cannes and his inspiration:

Who makes up Inception?

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 Gosling, Rabbit 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.

Inception Film Parters brings May the Best Man Win to the Cannes Film Festival
Inception Film Parters brings May the Best Man Win to the Cannes Film Festival

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 year? 

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.

Almost Heroes 3D from Inception Film Partners
Almost Heroes 3D from Inception Film Partners

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 civilization.

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 everybody else. 

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.

Inception Film Partners' Cannes Lineup:

Almost Heroes 3D
Making the Best Man Win
Breaking the Rules
Vanish
Sexy Criminals
1001 Bullets
Barefoot
G.B.F.

More about Inception Film Partners: 

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 internationally.  

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.

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