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Cannes Survival Guide

Posted: Tue, 28th Aug 2007, 10:41am

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Simon K Jones

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Every year armies of filmmakers from all over the world descend upon the French coastal town of Cannes to promote their latest work, whether it be the latest Hollywood blockbuster or a tiny independent. It’s a difficult and cut-throat environment, with everybody jostling for space and attention.

The FXhomer known as PDRG attended the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and lived to tell the tale. It all sounded very exciting, so we asked him to divulge some essential survival tips for anybody that’s planning to go in 2008...

Why go to Cannes?

Cannes Film Festival is the biggie, it’s just had its 60th anniversary, everyone goes, and it’s a bit of glamorous fun. The films ‘in competition’ tend to be rather arty, and our French neighbours do a splendid job encouraging you to see and experience a lot.

However Cannes is not just a film festival, but also a huge film market (where films get bought and sold), and all the distributors are there – and if you’re lucky they’ll see your project to evaluate it. Who knows, maybe you’ll even sell it!

How early do you have to start planning the trip?

You need to plan at least a couple of months ahead to make sure you get your ‘accreditation’ (festival pass). Accreditations are not handed out willy-nilly, you have to be able to prove you’re in the trade – they don’t want the place littered with star-struck tourists when it is, in fact, a trade show for doing business! I’ve seen people turned away from even buying day-passes.

Finding places to stay can be difficult too – or at least finding comfy and close places to stay is near-impossible! Hotels in Cannes itself only take 11-day bookings at above-average prices during the festival, but there are places in neighbouring towns always available, it just comes down to price/comfort/convenience. I stayed in Nice at a perfectly decent hotel and commuted in (30 mins) by train.

Plan ahead, see what you can find – if you find a real bargain, can I bunk with you next year?

Can anybody take a film to Cannes, or do you need to apply officially?

This is where the ‘accreditation’ comes in. If you can’t get one, don’t bother going as you can’t get into anything. The place is very busy but very secure, your pass gets checked maybe 30-40 times a day if you keep moving around. You could ‘take a film to Cannes’ without an accreditation, but you’ll never get anywhere useful, so don’t bother.

If you want an accreditation you need to have a project. Great news is that the Marché (the market part of the festival) have a new initiative, the ‘Short Film Corner’ which will get you two accreditations for €75, allowing you into almost everything, and a few people might see your film, too. Rather than being screened on a cinema screen, people can view your film on one of 30 cubicles on-demand. The organisation and presentation is flawless, but you still need to convince people to see your film, and this is the tricky bit. The SFC is by far the cheapest way in.

How do you get people to notice your film?

The Short Film Corner is a screaming match of competing posters and postcards, and the screening booths need to be booked a day in advance. In fact, the whole festival/market is so busy, getting noticed at all is a miracle. It seems the more popular films to view had plenty of promo items, but were predominantly short (4 mins long, etc). There’s a real mix of good and dreadful in the SFC, so being short means you have a better chance of being viewed (and maybe sold)

Carry postcards with your project on with you at all times – they should explain how and where and why someone should go to see your film. If anyone shows interest, give them a card – they already have thousands, but you never know, yours might grab their attention. Take at least 500.

What's it like to be in Cannes during the festival?

Cannes during the festival has a great atmosphere, very, very buzzy and exciting. It’s rather overwhelming when you realise that at any moment maybe 40 films are showing and you can go and see almost any of them – how do you choose? You build up mounds and kilos of paper and glossies and postcards and so on, which you lug around, and occasionally recycle, but you can read through all the mags and paperwork and get a rough idea of what’s on. You also play it by ear, drop in and see what you fancy! All the screens (even the temporary tented cinemas) are very comfortable and cool – you can always get some sleep if you want to during a screening of a dull film.

Interestingly, lots of people walk out after 15 mins of any film (even the good ones). These guys are the Acquisition Agents (essentially they’re the guys who report back to distributor bosses saying ‘you might like this one’) and they have so many films to see they will only see 15 mins max of each feature in the market. If you haven’t caught their attention in 15 mins, you’ve no chance!

The city is very busy with chancers and tourists hoping to catch a dose of glamour – they hang around outside the barriers looking for things to take photos of. The Croisette (main street) becomes unbearably busy for the premieres (every day at 7 and 10 pm – those red carpet moments for Hollywood Studio blockbusters which aren’t in the competition, they’re just paid promotional slots by the studios) – mostly tourists but lots of amateur paparazzi taking pics of the backs of peoples heads, etc. This is when you’ll value your accreditation allowing you to take sneaky back routes!

Cannes is an expensive city – if you can’t afford €75 for an accreditation for a short, just don’t bother going at all, it’ll break your bank. Hotel bar prices are around €8 for a glass of wine or a coke (that’s over a fiver in GB£, or US$11-ish). And it is HOT – the kind of hot where standing still makes you drip, so you’ll be glad of all the air-con in the main festival/market/hotel areas

What did you do while there? Did you get a chance to see other films?

Cannes is both exciting and dull – there are so many films at any moment you can easily spend all day watching films of varying qualities from all over the world, but I found I peaked quite quickly. There are some public and some private beaches – the public ones are full of gorgeous young things (male and female), while the private ones in the Festival compound are far quieter and more relaxing. Alas a yacht had sunk and leaked fuel, which kept people out of the water in the bay. The hotels on the Croisette are nice places to have a drink and watch the stars go by (if that excites you), but don’t forget your accreditation as you won’t get in without!

The best film I saw out there was ‘Kings’ – an adapted stage play, not sure if it was acquired (I’d hope so). The worst was ‘The Man from London’ – wow, how to make a 15 minute film run on for 2h15! Beautiful cinematography, but talk about s…l…o…w…!

If you’re star-struck, keep your eyes open – I saw plenty of big names (from both sides of the camera) wandering around, although almost entirely within the festival areas and private parties, avoiding the melee outside and making the most of not being hassled all the time – as a member of the ‘trade’, you’re expected to play it cool – and don’t bother Tarantino with your script, I saw someone try whilst he was sneaking out the back entrance of a hotel and he wasn’t impressed.

You can get into most things with your pass, but the sponsored studio and festival slots are out-of-bounds unless you have a specific invitation and are dressed in black tie. The sight of lots of penguins sweltering and begging for invitations to see some of the US premieres is pitiful – be smug, rise above it, and go and enjoy the aircon instead

As a side-note, the organisation for the festival and market is brilliant, it is perfectly stage-managed to ‘keep the dream alive’ and to keep us buying tickets to some fairly average films. Those red-carpet moments we see – the same ‘stars’ have been in the self-same building for a few hours already doing press meetings and conferences, then they get changed, go out a side door, get into cars, get driven to the front, wave on the carpet a lot, then into the building and again out through a side door (not watching the film) and back to the hotel/yacht/chopper! The industry knows how to market itself, it really does.

Any essential survival tips, or anything you'd do differently in retrospect?

Next time I plan to attack Cannes slightly differently, but it’ll depend on having a lot more money! If I could stay in Cannes town itself, I would – I had so many networking party invites I couldn’t take up as they started just when I had to train it back to Nice, and I couldn’t pull an all-nighter. I would take a feature to pitch in the market if I could, and I’d watch different films – I’d spend more time choosing and being selective.

I am happy to know my way around now – it took me 3 days initially to get orientated fully in the hubbub. There are cheaper (by Cannes standards) places to eat in the backstreets, but still expect to pay London restaurant prices. Water and coffee are available for free inside the festival area if you know where to look, and there are occasional 1-hour free beer events in the SFC – they tend to be carnage though, so scrum down!

If you’re hoping to meet someone from FilmFour, Artificial Eye, etc. and do a deal on the spot, bear in mind that they’re not interested in meeting UK talent when they’re in Cannes – makes sense as they’ve got the whole world’s industry reps to meet in one place. In fact, go to Cannes, but go without expectations – there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy it, remember it’s all a charade and veneer of glamour on top of a market not unlike the NEC on the sea! And then come home and boast and gloat to your filmy mates – there’s no other festival in the world with quite the same mix of glamour, business and possible chance encounters…enjoy it!
Posted: Tue, 28th Aug 2007, 5:19pm

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Nice guide! Sounds like you had a good time biggrin

However... "The FXhomer known as PDRG". Are you planning on changing you name to ?! wink
Posted: Tue, 28th Aug 2007, 6:57pm

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Arktic wrote:

Are you planning on changing you name to ?! wink
Pffft! Excellent wink Instead I'll be "The Producer Known As ' '", it's more understated, enigmatic, and my name will appear in every sentence in every language (including this one...)

Everyone in the trade should go at least once in their's a circus, but it's a bit of fun too smile
Posted: Tue, 28th Aug 2007, 7:19pm

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Force: 9531 | Joined: 24th Sep 2002 | Posts: 3964

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Nice report! Cannes sounds pretty weird, people who've been and then reported back have always had mixed feelings about it. Some have said they felt completely swamped whilst others come back with positive news only to then report nothing has come of it, and they've merely 'wasted' money.

Good to hear you survived pdrg wink I was planning on going this year as Skin Deep was accepted into the short film corner but after reading many things about the SFC I decided not to have it shown there (it seems more like a cattlefarm). I did however receive a nice personal email from one of the members of the selection board regarding the film (as it hadn't made it into official selection and they recommended the corner!), which was nice!

Hopefully see you there next year though? smile