Ina Petersen - An Interview with IVA's Founder & CEO
A celebration of our100th Global Spotlight Interview Series!
In this special Global Spotlight Series edition, meet IVAs multifaceted and innovative executive, whose in depth knowledge and understanding of the ever-changing global media and entertainment marketplace has had an everlasting impact on everyone she has worked with. She began her career as a young intern in Hollywood, building her way up through the talent agencies, before then launching her own successful company in 2017 with the mission and vision to help support global creators and tell stories with strong universal messaging which can appeal to global audiences from all corners of the world.
How did you come up with the concept of IVA and how do you think the company differs from the rest?
The idea for Inner Voice Artists (IVA) came to me during a walk in Central Park, New York City. Little did I know that I’d end up relocating there from Los Angeles shortly thereafter to actually put this crazy, or maybe not so crazy, idea of mine into action by launching my own global company. And to give you a proper answer to how it “suddenly” hit me, I will need to provide a bit of context.
Coming from the film financing and sales division at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), I started noticing that in 2019 the media and entertainment marketplace was starting to stagnate domestically here in the US in terms of growth and numbers. Unless it was a massive Marvel, ensemble movie or a piece of content based on major IP with an already established or embedded fanbase, it was getting tougher to hit those numbers that would provide everyone involved with an ROI. Simply put, the domestic content marketplace was becoming less consistent and less sustainable. But thanks to the streamers, via the interconnectedness of technology, and a still avid international audience, the numbers were actually thriving overseas.
After having studied the numbers and market performances in great depths, the writing on the wall became very clear to me - the future was global. I remember even saying this as early as 2014 and firmly believing that we would be seeing much more global content in years to come, especially due to the continuous rise of technology. I ealy on noticed that there wasn’t really a hands-on, multifaceted company in the US that successfully focused on representing storytellers (writers, directors, producers, etc) from around the world, and a company where the focus was as much on non-English-speaking content as it was on hybrid or English speaking.
When I say successfully, I mean a company that truly has a cultural understanding and awareness of how different marketplaces work around the world. Like I always say, “you can’t go all American when doing business in the Nordics” just like “you can’t go all Nordic when doing business in the US”.
You really have to know the parameters under which you’re operating and thus adjust your sails accordingly to earn trust and thus generate results. Having a global, multicultural background myself, where I’ve lived in different countries and being multilingual, has certainly been extremely helpful in regards to gaining clients and identifying global content and other various opportunities that have strong potential to travel and become successes in multiple territories, including the US.
It’s also important to not solely have to depend on US decision makers. Instead, if it’s a Spanish piece of content or a Swedish piece of content we have the ability to flip projects to local producers and buyers with whom we have strong relationships. We also have the ability to take certain projects, especially the smaller ones that we know won’t get made in the US, and get those made through the international film and television institutes which is what is referred to as global co-productions.
When did you decide you wanted to create your own company?
I decided this in 2017 when I saw that the media and entertainment industry was changing rapidly, and how no one seemed to really be catching on fast enough in the US, especially when it came to the representation side of things. And the ones who were, weren’t necessarily going about it correctly. Because the biggest and important feedback I noticed, from many who are my clients today and who are big names overseas, is that every time they signed with a local US representative that nothing really happened for them. They were simply names on a roster put there to make the representative look good. That is something I wowed that IVA would never become – an impersonable place where people feel like they are nothing more than just names on a roster. It’s in everyone’s interest that the clients are working and that they feel happy and protected. For a representative, the client has to come first just like the audience on the studio executives’ side has to come first.
At IVA, we also fight the good fight when it comes to working with attorneys and ensuring that creators’ IP and rights are protected and not exploited. You’d be surprised how far behind the film and TV industries are when it comes to contracts. It’s actually frightening. We are in an industry that’s going hand in hand with technology, and if some lawyers and business affairs executives don’t want to acknowledge that in a more effective manner, then some of them will be left behind and more importantly it will be at the expense of the client. All one really has to do is to look no further than the music industry, and just be reminded that before Netflix there was a Napster and Spotify. Have we learned nothing from the music industry, especially when it comes to streaming revenue and the importance of protecting a creator’s IP and fees? I see so many similar parallels from the music industry starting to happen more and more on the film and TV side. Again, this is another big reason for why I started the company and why I think we’ve been successful in this space. That’s in addition to the beforementioned skillsets, and the fact that we have our own different method of how we go about introducing people to studios, streamers and everyone in between. Call that method “the secret sauce” if you will, but, like McDonald’s, we can’t reveal the recipe.
Tell me more about the obstacles you faced when creating your own company.
Being a young woman in what still very much is an industry dominated by older men has not been easy, but at the end of day, the only person I need to prove myself to is me. Just like I only compete with myself. I know, and I am confident about, the expertise and valuable skillsets that I bring to the table, and if someone is intimated or threatened by that then they’re probably not someone I would want to collaborate with. I also remember in the beginning that people in the US were, for whatever reason, skeptical and confused about the term “global representation and content”, which I still don’t understand why that was the case since some of the most successful storytellers throughout centuries have come from other countries. I grew up in Spain listening to Meryl Streep speaking Spanish in her movies and when I went to Germany, I watched Bruce Willis films dubbed in German, and in Scandinavia I had to watch “Friends” with subtitles. Maybe it’s had something to do with people in this country not having wanted to stretch themselves outside of their own comfort zones? We’re thankfully noticing positive changes in this attitude since then. I remember people in 2017-18 trying to box me, because I didn’t fit into one category alone. To them, I wasn’t a representative focusing on “just US film”, or “just US TV” or “just this or just that”.
I think one of the most dangerous words in the English language is the word “just”, because it is so limiting. And in today’s marketplace, where it’s more important than ever to collaborate globally and be a multihyphenate, one will find themselves being left behind if they “just” stick to that old school mentality of “picking a lane”. Change and great results are only achieved if one dares to look outside of the comfort zone. Even my clients don’t want to be limited anymore to what they can work on, create and where hence neither should we as a company. In the end, life’s too short, and we should all be supporting and building each other up through team work and generate opportunities around the globe, and across multidisciplinary areas.
You’ve worked with a lot of big names and companies in the industry, are there any that you haven’t collaborated with yet that are on your “dream collab” list?
There are actually two people. First, there is Taylor Swift. Apart from being the best songwriter of her generation, talk about perseverance, persistence, dedication and standing up for yourself in a patriarchal system. Her response to when they sold her music catalogs was nothing short of brilliant, and I would have absolutely done the same. She is changing that industry for the better with each strategic, loophole move she makes. Also, when she signed with Universal Music Group in 2018, she signed the contract with a stipulation which positively affected thousands of artists under the label, saying that “UMG must promise to hand over to artists, on a non-recoupable basis, a portion of the windfall from its Spotify shares in the future”, meaning it won’t count against the artist’s advances. In her new contract, she also made sure she will own all of her own master recordings from now on. That means she’ll own the copyright on the recording of any music she makes, which in turn means that she’ll have more control over where her music is used, and she’ll get a bigger cut of the profits. A lawyer might tell me, “Well she is Taylor Swift and she can do that”. Those answers are such cop-outs and silly excuses. A creator is a creator, and IP is IP. And when it comes to protections of creators’ rights, I’m not saying someone who’s just starting out should immediately be receiving the same upfront fees like Beyonce. Instead, I’m referring to the language of rights, each creator should have those rights protected fairly and equally - it shouldn’t matter who they are. Speaking of parallels between music and TV, last year I read about a very inspiring and groundbreaking deal for Michaela Coel’s Emmy Award Winning show, “I May Destroy You”, where she initially passed on Netflix because they wouldn’t agree to give her a percentage of ownership in her own show. Instead, she went with HBO who had offered to give her a small ownership percentage. Although the percentage may not have been that big, I still consider this as a major win. And it was so badass and forward thinking of Michaela to fight, for herself as the creator, to get that. By her doing and achieving that moves the needle in the right direction for other creators, including upcomers, as well.
Going back to Taylor, since she has such narrative and eclectic music catalogs, I would love to find ways to collaborate with her by going through her songs and find those which can potentially be made into a TV show or film. Since her songs are filled with narrative storytelling, I see that as a fun and new way into IP that isn’t always the standard book or magazine article but instead a song. She clearly did a fantastic job by directing her hit song, “All Too Well” last year as a 15-minute short film which has garnered over 65 million views on YouTube. Call me crazy, but I think there’s something bigger there to be explored and I would love that opportunity because I respect her as an artist, business woman and champion of equal pay for women.
Second, I would also love to collaborate with Amal Clooney. I know she is not directly involved in the industry per se, but she is a leader when it comes to the areas of social justice, international law and human rights. These are all pressing fields I’ve always cared deeply about ever since my college days.At Harvard, I studied under an incredible professor and mentor, the late and renowned physician and anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer, who taught me that the fields of medicine, international law, culture, governments and human rights are all interconnected. And Amal is a woman whose clients as an attorney include Nobel Prize laurates, founders, presidents, prime ministers, journalists.
So much of those incredible people’s works inspired IVA to launch our own youth inspired and social justice driven music and content festival called in 2019, YouthMundus, which was centered around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs). It was a four-day festival which took place in Rome, Italy, and where we ended up partnering with numerous international NGOs, including the UN. Each of the four days was themed and for our first festival edition we decided to focus on climate change, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and mental health awareness – all of which are tied together by the fundamental notion of equal human rights. Amal’s work is incredibly inspiring, so one day to get the opportunity to collaborate with her on a similar project would be wonderful. As was the case when putting together YouthMundus, I would just shut up, listen and learn from an expert who continues to inspire me from afar with all the incredible work she does.
It isn’t often you get to interview a CEO. Can you tell me more about your day-to-day life?
I feel I’m like a train conductor whose responsibility it is to steer the train in the right direction, making sure we make the right stops towards our multiple destinations and minimize any potential turbulences along the way. My day to day is varied. It can range from having to do 4am calls with international clients and buyers, to evaluating / running numbers on what projects have the highest likelihood of success globally to identifying new partnerships, to scouting new clients, to attending festivals and markets (hence lots of traveling involved), to making sure my team has the proper tools to perform their jobs successfully, to communicate priorities effectively, to ensure that we are efficient with our time, as well as other people’s time, and that we work smarter not harder, etc. I also read a ton of books as well as both local and global trades. As they say, “knowledge is power and you never stop learning and improving”. The days are long, but they are also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.
What goals do you hope to reach with your company?
I would start off by saying that so far, we’ve definitely far exceeded the goals we had when we first started. We started an innovative, and a different type, of global management and advisory company and completely from scratch. And all women led. We’ve had people refer to us as being “The New Hollywood”. Another nickname we’ve also heard a lot has been “The United Nations of Entertainment” since we work so much with different countries and cultures. Or my personal favorite, “Media & Entertainment Anthropologists” due to our cross-cultural awareness and understanding of global marketplaces and working closely with people from other countries. We had zero clients when we started in 2017, and today, we have close to 40 clients and have brokered and advised on 100 + global deals. YouthMundus' success led us to organically create our Global Spotlight Magazine during the pandemic, which now includes over 220 articles, and with this being our 100th Artist Spotlight Series. As of today, we have thousands of subscribers.
Recently, we underwent a company valuation by a major Wall Street firm which is a position I didn’t think I’d find myself that quickly in when I started IVA five years ago. All of that is to say that I think we will always be identifying new goals as we continue. Hence, we will never stop reaching, challenging ourselves and finding new mountains to climb. What I will say is that I’m very proud to see IVA staying true to its original day 1 ethos, and that is “to create more opportunities for underrepresented stories and voices from around the world across media and entertainment”. It’s great to see people recognizing that, and also making IVA synonymous with the term “global” and approaching us and our clients with strong and lucrative opportunities.
I hope that IVA will continue to be a catalyst when it comes to championing for clients’ contracts, and ensuring that their rights are protected and that they’re fairly compensated for the work that they do. I’m not afraid to ask questions. What’s the worst someone can say? No? For some reason, there are some attorneys who seem afraid of asking questions in fear of looking silly to the other party. One would think it’s a lawyer’s job to ask, no? I find this quite strange. My motto is: Always ask. And if a lawyer is too scared to do so then I will go ahead and ask, but I will also gently remind that lawyer that if I ask and they say yes to me, then that lawyer who refused to ask is unfortunately fired. Again, the client has to come first, and egos need to be dropped.
And what about the industry itself? Can you tell me about your experience as a woman in the entertainment industry?
I think it’s slowly changing for the better, but still there is a long way to go. There is so much talk and noise in this industry, but less action. I’m an action-oriented person so I expect to see real, tangible results. We need to put more women and people of color in leadership roles. That’s just a fact. As RBG would say, “women belong in all places that decisions are being made” and so do people of color and people with disabilities. Until those in power start walking the walk instead of talking it, meaningful change won’t be achieved.
As a woman in this industry, and having run a women led company for the past five years, I’ve definitely experienced the misogyny where older men sometimes think they know best. And for whatever reason, they can’t seem to put their egos aside to do what’s best for the mutual client involved, or their own company, and actually acknowledge that they may not know something or even acknowledge and rectify their own mistakes. I have no problem admitting when there’s something I don’t know. There’s not a single human being who has all the answers and expertise. However, I do not like to be silenced when I know I’m right about something in a contract or deal, but the person on the other end is still too consumed by their ego than to put the client first. And I will advise every woman to never be afraid to ask questions, raise concerns and stand in their own power.
What do you want to say to those who have supported you along the way throughout your career?
It may sound cliché, but it’s the simple truth: THANK YOU. My parents instilled in me an incredible work ethic and strong value system that I try to adopt in everything I do. They are my mentors. RBG reminds me in many ways of my mother. Ever since I was a kid, she always used to repeat “Honey, you can marry the biggest billionaire in the world but always make sure you have your own pocket, and that you are included in rooms where decisions are being made”. I have never forgotten that. And as my hippie and incredibly intelligent father would say, “There are not many problems without solutions. So, keep moving, figure it out, surround yourself with quality people, and always make sure to have an upbeat soundtrack along the way”.
I always advise my clients to make sure they understand their contracts properly before signing anything. I never want anyone to come to me five years down the road and say, “shoot, I should have asked for that”. And that is why in this industry it’s super important to have the right representation who is going to fight and win for the client in order to ensure that, again going back to those rights, that those rights and any additional language are properly carved out and already included in the first deal the client signs.
I am also incredibly grateful that I had a partner in crime when starting the company and our festival initiative, and her name is Dijana Stupar. She has known me my whole life, and in many ways is like my big sister and voice of reason. So, thank you, Dijana, for putting up with my tenacity and believing in me even when I’m trying to run 150 miles an hour. I love you, Dijana!
Lastly, I want to give a major-shout out to the 100+ interns we’ve had throughout the almost, past five years. It’s kind of incredible looking back at everything from this reflective perspective. From Emerson to Harvard to NYU Tisch to Columbia to USC to UCLA, the list is endless – thank you to all the college counselors who entrusted us with helping shepherd their students’ dreams and aspirations. The success rate with interns has been incredible, with some of them having gone onto Disney, others to NGOs, some becoming my clients and others my employees.
Thank you all for supporting our vision and mission with IVA. We couldn’t do any of this without you, and we are eternally grateful.
Let’s all keep inspiring and empowering each other. It’s only together that we can achieve great things and make a meaningful difference in our world.