Guest Blogger Writer & Director Sean Rodrigo shares his experience taking his short film Nerds in Love to the Cannes film festival.
My Cannes experience by Sean Rodrigo
It is likened to the Football World Cup or the American Super Bowl. Cannes Film Festival really is the Olympics of Film, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the film world equivalent to fastest Olympian Usain Bolt to attend.
Last month I hopped on a plane headed for France to take my short film ‘Nerds in Love’ to the world. Like many emerging filmmakers, I see film festivals as a crucial part of my strategy to get my films seen, scrutinized and talked about – but Cannes is on whole other level.
Before I committed to booking flights and accommodation, I made it my mission to learn about the Festival, weigh up the benefits of going and convince myself the investment would pay off. I had a lot of preconceptions about where my film sat in the scheme of things and whether Cannes was really just for a certain kind of film – art films. The reality is that the Festival cataers for all kinds of filmmakers, with all kinds of films.
When I first arrived I have to admit the sheer scale of the Festival was very humbling: Cannes Film Festival attracts upwards of 15,000 registrations and there are people everywhere. The film market spans three large floors of the Palais and is crammed with movie posters from all over the globe.
My first impression was that my film was a herring in the Atlantic Ocean, but with each day the festival became more like home and the initial shock of Marcello Mastroianni’s face on a 50 metre high poster faded. Within the first three days I was able to focus on what was important to me at the Festival.
Here’s what I learnt and what worked for me (by no means is this a silver bullet to the top, just my impressions of the event):
Talk to everyone.
One thing that became obvious on the ground was that anyone can be a great contact. One of the things that was fantastic was that our hotel had a free shuttle bus into the Festival area, which proved a great place to meet financing executives, journalists and producers looking for projects. So it became a bit of a running joke, that meeting interesting or influential people was likely to happen in an Irish pub or while waiting for a cab home.
A number of people mentioned that they normally stay in high profile hotels like The Carlton, but this draws attention to them; staying in a lower-key hotel allows them to be more casual while at Cannes. The big hotels are known for their networking events at bars but are also full of people who are likely more important than you – a good example being when Sylvester Stallone and the cast of The Expendables decided to block the entrance of one large hotel with tanks.
We met some really great filmmakers who we went out to lunch with, and bumped into a number of weird and wonderful people who gave us invites to parties which led to meetings with sale agents, and on one occasion we were even invited to a party on a super-yacht. It’s all linked. People like dealing with people in social situations.
Cannes is for features
The French love short films, but the premier festival for short films is Clermont-Ferrand. At Cannes Film Festival in 2014 there were nine short films officially selected, and this year none of the films were in english. I learnt that unless your film is officially selected, people generally only care about your short film if it is a ‘proof of concept’ short or has a point of difference, such as that it has won awards, has a well known name attached or has an established audience.
Whilst the Short Film Corner is a great way of getting into the Festival, typically the corner is full of short film filmmakers and it’s unlikely that buyers will come down to the screenings.
This isn’t to say that all your hard work is for nothing. We met lots of people who were interested in comedy (my current focus), and some people were interested to see how I marketed the film with limited distribution.
If you do happen to have a ‘proof of concept’ short with the intention of making it into a feature, sales agents and buyers may be more receptive.
Narrow down your approach
It’s easy to think that carpet-bombing the market with your business card will hit that one person who loves the idea of your film. The reality is that like wine, film is subjective and people have different tastes. I found that this year the majority of film posters in the market were for thrillers, horror and hard drama – but a number of agents had posters for comedy or romantic comedy (my interests), and these agents were receptive to work in a similar genre.
The other thing to keep in mind is that not everyone at Cannes is interested in ‘art films’. I was surprised to meet people from all sides of the industry who completely canned (forgive the pun) some films in official selection for being very non-commercial and receiving unfavourable reviews. So even the films selected by the official jury were taking flack. The point I’m trying to make here is that there are a lot of people attending for the ‘Art’ but there is also a lot of focus on commercial films. There’s a place for everyone.
I received a warmer reception when I encountered people in the market who had similar films to the kind I want to make, and I found that nowadays almost every film has an Aussie face or connection, so being an Aussie was always a good icebreaker.
Note: Films in Festival competition don’t tend to make a lot of money. Only two in-competition films in the past five years have grossed more than $100 million worldwide. Nor do they win many Academy Awards; in the past five years, in-competition films have only taken home eight Oscars, out of 47 nominations.
What I learnt about features.
One of the best things about attending Cannes is that everyone is in one place at one time to promote their work. This gives you a rare opportunity to research what is selling, what trends are emerging and what sales agents/distributers consider to be important when it comes to a successful film.
The importance of marketing becomes pretty obvious when first entering the market, with hundreds of different posters on display. You can get a good feel for what has a healthy budget, who has known ‘names’ and who’s typically selling what. Based on conversations I had with filmmakers and sales agents, I concluded it is possible to sell or finance a film solely on a great poster and trailer. Some people have even gone as far as gaining financing off a pitch, a sizzle reel and a known name actor in a lead. So there’s an air of optimism about the market.
Now I’m not suggesting making or financing a film is a piece of cake, but after spending days roaming the market booths, the one thing that is evident is that people are making them, and no matter how bleak the market may seem in certain economic climates or countries, people are making them on all kinds of budgets, all over the world, and with very different audiences in mind.
Initially it was easy for me to think that Cannes Film Festival is a colossal giant of an event with very set avenues for fostering film, but I’m not sure this is the case. The whole experience introduced me to a world of different approaches to filmmaking and some fantastic people who really do love making films. The biggest take away from the event is that, whilst lots of people do very well making successful work, there really isn’t a solid recipe for making a film, be that a commercial blockbuster, an indy darling or an art house classic.
I arrived back in Sydney with the aim of returning to the Festival with a feature in coming years and an optimism that, however unlikely it might seem, amazing things really can and do happen at Cannes.
Sean Rodrigo is a Sydney-based writer/director. His short film Nerds in Love is a 12 minute romantic comedy which has screened at Flickerfest International Film Festival and St Kilda Film Festival and is currently playing on air on Comedy Central NZ. It was represented at the Short Film Corner (Cannes Court Metrage) at Cannes Film Festival 2014.
Also check out Sean’s (Australian) ABC News Radio National interview at Cannes