Summit ’14: Passion looking for Canadian content

As the Realscreen Summit kicks off today, Maria Ishak (pictured) - Passion Distribution's recently appointed VP of sales and acquisitions for North America - tells realscreen what she is looking for, with an eye towards Canadian partnerships.
January 26, 2014

As the Realscreen Summit kicks off today, Maria Ishak (pictured) – Passion Distribution’s recently appointed VP of sales and acquisitions for North America – tells realscreen what she is looking for, with an eye towards Canadian partnerships.

Ishak, who was most recently Passion’s senior sales manager – working with the markets in Pacific Rim, France and Italy – now heads up the distribution company’s business in North America, working out of a New York City office.

She says she will be heading to the Summit “with two hats on.”

“Our main objective is to see what’s out there in terms of content,” says Ishak. That wish list includes returning series and formats that have a unique spin to them, she explains, citing Firecracker’s documentary on urban free climbers for UK pubcaster Channel 4, Don’t Look Down, as an example of a relatively unexplored subject.

“The problem I find in this industry is that when you’re looking to find programming, there are a lot of copycats,” she says. “The minute something comes out and makes a lot of noise and is successful, a lot of them come out and saturate the market.”

Ishak says she looks for comedy, but that it can be a double-edged sword, since humor is sometimes unique to a particular region. “The format of the comedy show can be interesting and can travel well, but I am a bit wary of finished tape.”

She is also seeking out blue-chip documentaries, which sell well internationally. “There’s a lot of reality out there; it still sells and we’ll always look at it, but there’s a lot of it out there. Unless it’s something unique and outstanding, we’ll put it on the back-burner. It might not be top of my list,” she adds.

Ishak says PAssion is interested in deficit funding, focusing on projects in all stages of development, post-production and finished programming.

“With a U.S. producer, if we come in early enough we can work with them to retain their rights. We can put money on the table ahead of them going into that network meeting and they can say, ‘here’s some money for international and that’s off the table and we can focus on the U.S.’”

The second focus of business for Ishak is tapping into the Canadian market. At the Realscreen Summit, she will be trying to reach out to as many Canadian producers as possible.

“We have good strong relationships with broadcasters in the U.S. – Scripps, Sundance, OWN, et cetera – and we work a little bit with the Canadians, Paperny being one company we work with,” says Ishak, “but we feel that to grow the company now and tap into new producers and content, [Canada] is something we want to focus on.”

She adds that a bonus for Passion is that Canadian producers tend to keep their international rights and their content sells very well into the U.S.

“We want to go out there and push the Passion brand, to make Passion a big name for producers to reach out to us, to be the first point of contact when they’re in the development stage and see us as an extension of their company,” she sums up. “We’re very much looking at growing our relationship in that territory.”

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.