The Cannes Film Festival is the most famous of all the film festivals. For the newcomer, the festival and market atmosphere at Cannes can and often does more resemble a circus than the single most important annual international conflux of major stars, directors, international sales agents, bank executives and film business entrepreneurs. For the experienced Cannes attendee, however, the frenzied environment is more likely to produce an adrenaline rush than an anxiety attack. Consider using and/or modifying a number of these techniques to navigate other film festivals as well.
1. The Pinball Method
Perhaps the whole point of your Cannes trip is the sheer number of face-to-face business opportunities you can create. The market and festival offer such a range of companies, dealmakers and personalities that a well-planned and executed Cannes stay can benefit your operations for years to come. For the budding dealmaker there are two basic philosophies when trying to make the most out of your trip. The first is “the pinball method,” which means allowing yourself to roll with the action by putting yourself in places -- be it the MTV party, marching the steps of the Palais at the hot premiere, taking drinks at the bar at the Majestic, moving through the crowded halls of the Carlton Hotel and its many sales offices, dining on bouillabaisse at Tatou while people-watching, belting out a Karaoke tune at 4:00 am at La Chunga, or perhaps mixing with dignitaries at the Toronto Film Festival beach party -- where at each venue you will literally bump into the people that you need to get to know or catch up with. Remember though, Cannes is a marathon, so pace yourself.
2. The Mohammed Method
A second approach -- allowing “the mountain to come to Mohammed,” if you will -- has been perfected by Cannes veterans like Buckley Norris and Brian Kingman of AON/Albert G. Rubin Insurance, and literally consists of taking a table at the Majestic Hotel bar, across the street from the Palais out on the patio, and simply sitting there...all day long and well into the evening. Eventually, every person who you want to meet, you want to do business with, or who you want to catch up with, is going to pass through the Majestic Bar, and, if you’ve set the stage properly, will sit down at your table. Of course, the bottles of Perrier, the chilled champagne, the playing cards, the backgammon board, and a recognizable bevy of attractive performers, associates or executives help reel in future business contacts.
3. Have A Plan
As glamorously casual as Cannes may seem to an outsider, the successful insiders always go into each year’s session with a set strategy in place. Always have a plan. It certainly helps to make a list (and if possible, prior to Cannes to set meetings with) -- the appropriate sales companies, the producers, the actors, the directors, the distributors, the bankers, the financiers, and the insurance guarantors that you need to meet to make your project a reality.
4. Put It In Writing, But Be Brief
Further to this goal, and regardless of what you’re pushing, have something in writing. Make it short, make it smart, and whatever you do, do not bring a treeload of scripts or a boxload of tapes of your completed film to hand out at Cannes: nobody wants to take it, nobody wants to carry it, nobody has time to read it or view it, and nobody wants to have to pack it in their luggage when they pack up to leave. Instead, be prepared to pitch your project or completed film on the spot and hand somebody one or two pages with the critical information (synopsis, attachments, estimated budget or glossy one-sheet with artwork of your completed film and the like) clearly presented. Then follow up with a script or tape stateside. Nevertheless, if you do have a trailer, some sales agents or distributors will take the time to watch (but not carry back) a 2 or 3 minute trailer of your completed film
5. Remember: Sellers Are There To Sell
The international sales agents at Cannes are there to sell movies to buyers, not look for new projects, and unless the company has a special acquisitions department, they usually don’t have the time or the focus to hear pitches until very late in the market when the key foreign buyers have left, perhaps during free time at the end of the day, or early in the day. Don’t pester sales agents for meetings to pitch a project or completed film. Instead, be flexible, and take a meeting when you can get one. Nevertheless, make sure you follow up with them at after Cannes.
6. The Pavilions: Where To Meet & Greet (And Rest Your Feet)
Of course, to pitch and to meet, a newcomer needs to know where the action is in the first place. We recommend spending time at the American Pavilion, the German Pavilion, and the various European Pavilions, and taking the opportunity to meet other filmmakers, directors, writers, producers and the key international dealmakers who are becoming more and more a force in the independent world. You’ll also run into agents, managers, lawyers -- they’re all there. The Pavilion circuit runs numerous panels on everything from film financing, to the a roundtable of French directors, to digital filmmaking techniques and a one-on-one conversation between Roger Ebert and Harvey Weinstein. With non-stop events, the luminaries who attend Pavilion programs run the gamut. The other advantage to the Pavilions is their status as the office away from home for so many Cannes attendees. Of course, you’ll want to take full advantage (for a nominal fee at the American Pavilion) of the meeting tables, computers, mailboxes, Internet access, telephone services, fax machines and other business services which may prove essential when a deal pops up out of nowhere and requires immediate action. It also doesn’t hurt that at the American Pavilion the Starbucks, Seattle’s Best or Peet’s Coffee (or whoever is the sponsor for that particular year) -- and accompanying insider chit chat -- is top drawer. The availability of the trade papers and the L.A. and New York Times and a constant stream of information also distinguishes the American Pavilion: keeping connected to what’s going on both at the Festival and in the business in general is the key to Cannes.
7. Casual And Comfortable
And while we’re on the subject of Cannes essentials, here’s a note on attire: make sure you have great (comfortable) walking shoes or sneakers for that matter. Cannes may be the one place on earth where everybody still walks everywhere, and, obviously, footwear becomes important. Dress in casual clothes, except for the evening premieres and official black tie dinners, and make sure you bring a tuxedo or gown that actually fits comfortably. Don’t wait until you get to Cannes to try it on. The shops on the Rivera are tres cher.
As a side note, make sure you make friends with the concierge at the Majestic Hotel and tip him often. The Majestic is right across the street from the Palais and you will inevitably have your briefcase, your handbag, your dress shoes, your marketing materials, or something that you may want to leave at the concierge’s desk. You definitely don’t want to be walking up the red carpet of the Palais with a bulky suitcase. The gendarmes will embarrassingly refuse to let you enter in front of all the paparazzi and TV cameras.
8. The Hotel Du Cap
A trip to Cannes is not complete without several stops at the Hotel Du Cap, but bring plenty of cash, as they accept no credit cards. Be sure to schedule and make reservations for lunches and late night rendezvous at the “Du Cap.” This is where the major players play. The A-level industry movers, be they producers, directors, stars, executives, bankers, or sales agents are all there. Make friends with the Du Cap’s Maitre D’ and tip him generously so that you are given that strategically placed sunny table when you want to be in the sun next to this year’s hot director and a shady table when you want to be in the shade near the starlet who is protecting her complexion.
Cannes in general and the Du Cap in particular follow “European Time,” with the serious action starting at Midnight and continuing until 4 am or 5 am each morning. Even deep into the night, it has become increasingly difficult to gain access to the Du Cap bar. A new technique is to arrive early for dinner and spend the entire evening once you’ve gained access. When you run into a connected colleague, it’s always a good idea to have him put you on the bar’s invited guest list, or in the alternative, bring enough francs to “tip” the gendarme at the gate.
9. Make Friends With A Publicist
Cannes being a world most visibly driven by hype and heat, it is the Cannes publicists who rule the Festival, control the A-level events, the private black-tie dinners, the guest lists and the other hot tickets. While there is usually a lot of pressure on these hard-working professionals to find tickets and place settings for unexpected additions to the entourage, sometimes they really do have extras. Be particularly nice to any publicists you meet and you might get lucky.
10. Bring Your Entertainment Lawyer
Wherever you go, add one more important party to your entourage. Always make sure your entertainment lawyer is at your side at all times. In addition to the key business contacts and introductions that your entertainment lawyer is likely to furnish, negotiations at Cannes tend to take place everywhere, and you never know when that napkin will become a deal memo, and you don’t want that ink to smear. Enjoy Cannes and make it a successful and profitable trip for your career.