Springtime In France: The Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Festival

Marche du Films

For the production community, May calls to mind one thing.  Not spring.  Not graduations.  Not even Mother’s Day.  That one thing is Cannes.

Cannes is the type of event that strips the “wheat from the shaft.”  When I first joined the Variety sales team as a coordinator to Henry Deas, Director of Markets and Festivals, I was told Cannes was the “biggest event of the year” for Henry, and that I’d be lucky if I made it through alive.

Anyone interested in film or filmmaking has an understanding of Cannes: a festival and market flooded with "A" list stars where films such as “Pulp Fiction” can usher an emerging filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino into pop culture history.  However, there’s a lot more to Cannes than just the glitz and glamour.

What could be so difficult about Cannes?  Cannes can make or break a production company’s chances.  Many clamor for the opportunity to attend Cannes but aren’t really well-prepared for what comes after the commitment to participate.  Two festivals later, I can tell you: preparedness.  Whether you are taking meeting after meeting on the Croisette or toiling in an office anywhere else in the world, it is best to be aware of all your resources, have complete access to all your contacts, and have a back up plan for your back up to keep operations running smoothly .   Additionally, knowing how to keep oneself awake, alert, and completely resilient to an assortment of emotional distress will aid your success rate.

Other stumbling blocks I noticed included technology: fax lines aren’t always available, modems were down, scanners and printers were not shipped over.  Man-power is another: graphic artists spread around the globe weren’t keeping to the same time zone and where unreachable when needed.    Extra state-side marketing people weren’t allotted for, and last minute film screening additions or changes of venue announcements weren’t made.  Senior executives have been known to use their minimal Photoshop skills to develop ads, feeling something flawed and rudimentary was better than nothing at all. 

Those companies with experience have developed ways to meet the challenges head-on with Cannes.  The first step for them is understanding what they’re dealing with.

“Cannes has been the major international film market for decades,” said Caroline Stern, VP of International Distribution for Cinemavault.  “An increasing number of international events and markets have been popping up around it, but each year, Cannes becomes more and more important.  This is still where the buyers spend money. ”

Cinemavault is a Canadian distribution company that’s been participating in Cannes since its establishment in 2001.  However, the company’s history at Cannes reaches back into the 80s under a different incarnation.

Elephant Eye Films, a New York based production and distribution company, is preparing for their second Cannes.  Yet, like Cinemavault, Elephant Eye Films has a history of Cannes involvement through the various senior staff members.

“The Cannes market is the most influential market.  Buyers that don’t participate in Berlin or AFM will be at Cannes,” said David Robinson, Partner of Elephant Eye Films.

“So much business closes at the last minute,” said Shaked Berenson, COO of Epic Pictures Group.  “We make a point of starting to prepare for Cannes far ahead, at least six to nine months before the festival.”

Epic Pictures Group, a Los Angeles based distribution company, is also heading to their second Cannes, and has executives who have been attending Cannes for many years.  Their approach to the market is to follow buying trends and present material from their theatrical line that fit those trends.

“We keep our fingers on the pulse to best help our clients at the market and festival,” said Berenson.

Ruby Rondina, VP of Marketing and Publicity for Cinemavault, begins preparing for Cannes in January.  One of their tactics for success is presenting information to their clients and buyers prior to the market.

“We start rolling out our major Cannes premiers in February with announcements in the press and other publicity.  We like to meet with potential buyers and update them before Cannes,” said Rondina.    Throughout the year they will look at their products in pre-production and look at upcoming acquisitions. 

Because Elephant Eye Films is a production company as well as a distributor, they have to be mindful of a film’s development.

“We keep an eye on our films all year round.  Films have to be at a certain stage for us to consider presenting them in the market,” said Kim Jose, Partner of Elephant Eye Films.  “We have to be aware well in advance of what films are ready, and who is attached.”

Both Rondina and Stern agree that the biggest frustration Cannes brings is “you don’t always get the decision as soon as you need” in regards to screening times and locations, or if a film will be screened at all.  This adds to the difficulty of marketing and advertising at Cannes.

“I work closely with clients to get material developed when they don’t have a specific person," said Berenson.  Robinson and Jose have a graphic team that’s become accustomed to last minute rushes.  Space is allotted for any late additions and the team communicates about needs so rush jobs may be accommodated.  “Rob Lyons, our trailer cutter, comes on board at the last minute and produces excellent work for us,” said Jose.

Cinemavault uses local printers in Cannes and regularly relays material via FTP from Cannes to their headquarters in Montreal to stay on top of strict deadlines.  Their overall approach to marketing is one of balance.

“Too many emails sent out just become spam.  We don’t want our buyers to become desensitized,” said Stern.  “Everything we send has to be purposeful.  We send full product guides to key buyers, prior to Cannes, so they may review this material before the market.”

With a tough economic global climate, one wonders what the effects will be at this year’s Cannes.  Aside from close review of the products they represent, it is market business as usual for Cinemavault, Elephant Eye Films and Epic Pictures Group.

“The economy is not so good this year,” agreed Berenson.  “But for a company that has the right type of product and good quality, the sales will still occur.”

When May 13th rolls around, I will be missing the two weeks of making myself available literally 24 hours a day for advertisers needing help with their graphics, or graphic artists trying to understand requested changes, or speaking with people as far away as Australia who are working tirelessly to promote a feature.  I’ll miss the challenge of remaining calm and helpful when a last minute screening causes ten people to scramble in ten different directions.

“The Cannes market is one of the best opportunities in the world for an independent film, but it’s also the easiest place for a film to be lost if not promoted fully,” said Stern.  Adds Rondina, “Do your homework before you go.”

Class dismissed.  Au revoir, mes amis, et bon chance!