Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chronicles 8 - Cannes 2002 here we come!

May 2002

I Cannes-do this!

The Cannes film festival is the biggest and most glamorous film festival in the world.

There are various, parallel universes of activity taking place almost simulataneously in Cannes.

On one level you have the producers pitching their projects to financiers, sales agents and distrbutors.

You then have sales agents who are there to sell flms to distributors from all over the world via screenings or face-to-face meetings in their offices.

Since you only have a limited time, and some people only come for a few days then, you try and squeeze in as many meetings as possible and very often you will hear people say that they haven't been to see one single film in the whole festival. In Cannes 2005 I don't think I ended up seeing one single film!

Then you have the celeb-worship-cult fest. People who's sole purpose is to stand around for hours, camera in hand, outside hotels and the Palais waiting for that elusive in-the-flesh celebrity sighting.

All the film companies are based in the hotels (or in the Palais). In order to gain access to the hotels you need a badge. You also need this badge to access the Cannes market in the Riviera, essentially a big hall full of sales agents/production companies/distributors selling their films.

Once you've shelled out the few hundred euros for Canes Market accreditation you get given a big thick book which contains names, addresses, phone numbers, (even cell numbers), photos of sales agents, distributors, producers, financiers, agents etc.

This is a great resource. You also get information on their projects - whether they are in development or production or completed, who's attached, the budget etc.

Now, importantly, this information is available a couple of months before the festival begins. This gives you time to send out the emails and make appointments. Do not, I repeat, do not go to Cannes without a strategy and without booking appointments beforehand. If you arrive in Cannes with no meetings you'll find yourself merrily bouncing into the Miramax (or the Weinstein company) suite asking whether you can speak to their 'development' or 'acquisition' executive. Be warned, it won't be Harvey Weinstein or even his development/acquisition executive sitting in reception - it will be a gatekeeper. Usually a good looking female who has been warned of your impending arrival. The response will be a stock, "He's in screenings right now and he's on a very tight schedule but if you'll leave your business card or a message he will get back to you". No he won't. He will NEVER get back to you. He's got bigger fish to fry.

Luckily in 1997 I had traveled to Cannes with absolutely no knowledge of the film business or what a producer does and already made my experiences of turning up in Cannes with not one single meeting booked. With a bit of chutzpah we managed to get a few meetings but I didn't want to go through all that stuff again.(I'll post these experiences in another post since they formed the basis for this rom-com project).

As the Scouts motto goes - Be Prepared!

March/April 2002

I spent this time preparing for Cannes. I created a brochure with my company logo on the front. The brochure contained summaries of all my projects which consisted of a mix of animation and the rom-com projects. I had a page on each project and some blurb about myself along with the animation guys I was working with. It gave the impression that I was a fully-fledged production company with a full development/production team. In reality, it was just me working with a few mates, albeit talented ones. Still, it's all in the presentation and the package looked good.

April 2002

The last thing I wanted to do was arrive in Cannes with no meetings. People's diaries are pretty damn full in Cannes. At least the people you are interested in meeting up with anyway. There's no use emailing these people a few days before the festival begins. They've already hit the ground running.

Now prior to the email campaign I had a bit of luck. I'd spent about 2 years travelling around Europe and had built up a substantial bank of reward points with Paris Hilton's daddy's hotel. Now, even though I was Diamond status, which means a guaranteed booking even if the hotel's full, normally during the film festival it is impossible to book a room on reward points, but, through some administrative error I slipped through the net. This was fantastic news! I was going to spend 10 days in the Hilton on the Cannes croisette for nothing. Completley free of charge! This meant that I could announce that my production company would be 'based' at the Hilton hotel for the duration of the festival. I would come across as a real player. Things were going smoothly.

Cannes email campaign - May 6th 2002

That's the beauty of a journal. Since I started this on April 2002 the chronicles become more detailed. I started the email campaign rather late - 11 days before arriving in Cannes. Nowadays I start emaling about 3 weeks prior to arrival. This gives me time to chase up people via the phone if they don't respond to my emails.

I formulated an email, aiming to connect with a broad mix of UK and German production companies, sales agents, distributors, financiers and regional funding bodies. It went well, the emails started flooding in. By the time I arrived in Cannes on May 17th 2002 I had about 30 meetings lined up.

I was still on a learning curve. I'd read a few books on film production and had a basic idea of what I needed to do. Basicaly, producing a film is a fairly complex process and I saw my film as a co-production, possibly with Germany. I was searching for a co-producer, UK or German or both.

May 7th 2002
I already have 3 meetings set. In the meantime I was finishing off a treatment for one of the animation projects for which I had a 2 minute teaser animatic and a storyboard. I was also preparing all my verbal pitches and creating a synopsis for each project in the brochure. My new visiting cards were being printed. I also managed to get a line producer to read my rom-com project and give me a rough idea of what the budget would be. This was good. Almost everyone asks what the budget is.

May 16th 2002
Spoke to female agent. She didn't really 'get' or like my plays or animation projects. Bottom line. She's interested in the rom-com but wants to see the rewrite.

May 17th 2002
Flew from Paris to Nice. Arrive by taxi at night to the Hilton. Saw Emily Watson on the plane in the biz class cabin and in the biz class lounge. I'm a legend in my head! I feel like it's all 'happening'. Like I'm a 'player'. Well, the film business is based on illusion, after all. ;-)

May 18th 2002
Hit the ground running. Met a UK prod. co., a producer-for-hire, a French producer and France Television Distribution.

May 19th 2002
Met a UK financier and a regional German film fund. Tried to secure apointments with other contacts.

May 20th 2002
Met a number of regional film funds. On hindsight, in the meetings so far, nothing ever manifested but I had read that going to Cannes as a first-time producer was a great way to learn about the film business, so, I was definitely learning how to put projects together, where the money was, building up a netwrok.

Before I left for Cannes, people were telling me that they were sure I'd got there and 'sign a big deal'. I've since learnt that it doesn't work like that. It's a slow process of network building and gathering allies. You don't do that in one festival.

The week continued with various meetings with the heads of German regional funds - so called 'soft' money. I started realizing what I needed to get together. A director, and before approaching the German funds I needed UK money first and I needed a German producer.

At a certain point I started to get the feeling that this wasn't really getting me anywhere. I was info gathering. I could have got a lot of this info from the regional fund's web sites. it was all very nice to sit on a yacht with the Isle of Man fund but in order to get a taste of their money I needed a detailed budget, a director, talent attached, other funding in place. This producing thing wasn't going to be a walk in the park.

Just as I was reaching the point where I thought I was wasting my time I met with an older French distributor/producer. He gave me some advice, he said, "Never, ever, ever, give up. Just keep on going." He was in his 60's and he ran his own sales/production outfit so I took his advice and kept on going.

May 22nd 2002
A positive day! I met my future UK co-producer, (although I would only know this 4 months later).

This is how it happened. I was still hustling away. Trying to pack out my schedule and get as much coverage and meet as many people as possible. I had my trusted Cannes guide in hand and flipped through the book, found a producer who seemed to have good connections to finance and phoned his cell phone, (which was in the guide). He said that he'd like to meet me. We met in the Majestic hotel. I pitched him my rom-com and he seemed to like the idea and I handed him my brochure. It was a very brief, but positive meeting.

I also had a very posiitve meeting with a German animation company. The development executive loved the childrens TV animation project I pitched to her. That meeting also came out of me flipping through the guide and phoning the CEO of the company in Germany. He said, "That's exactly what we're looking for, go and see these people and tell them I sent you". I got the appointment and it went really well. Well, in the sense that it gave me the illusion that things were 'happening'. Shortly after Cannes the bottom fell out of the German film market, companies went bust, this development executive left the company and I never managed to set this project up.

May 23rd 2002
I met with more financiers, (UK tax funds), UK sales agents, a UK producer, a German sales agent and producer. More meets and greets that led to nothing. Well, okay, I was learning, and, I was doing a lot of pitching, sometimes 3 projects in one meeting. It was good practice. I was geting good at being, 'good in a room'.

May 24th 2002
Had a very positive meeting with a development/acquisitions executive from a German production company based in the UK, Germany and Los Angeles. She loved all my projects, especially the animation projects.

The one that got away!
Okay, allow me to digress here for a moment since these chronicles are mainly focused on the rom-com project. This was the first of many, close shaves. After this, very positive meeting, I sent the development exec. all of my projects which consisted of my rom-com, 2 animation projects and my very first co-written script.

July 25th 2002
So two months after my pitch meeting in Cannes the dev. exec. phones me back saying that the rom-com is too close to the business, the first co-written script is a hard sell, the feature animation didn't really work for her BUT she wants to make a live-action feature out of the childrens TV animation project. Great! She wants to pitch it to her boss and she'll get back to me. Fantastic! I start contacting a few US agents saying a development deal is in the works and manage to get their interest. Read on.

Monday 5th August
Walk into work. Check my emails and I see an email from the female agent I've been talking to who tells me this same company who is about to possibly commission me to write a feature has gone into liquidation! The first of many close shaves!

Back to Cannes - I continued pitching a number of UK production companies, film council etc. Met a UK producer on the last day of the festival. We got on well and I went to lunch with his family on Sunday. I watched a couple of movies, About Schmidt and 24 Hour Party People. Relaxed.

Monday 27th May

Flew back from Cannes. Spent the next week or so sending out follow-up letters.

June 21st 2002

Get an email from one UK producer saying that he would like to option the rom-com. He hasn't produced a feature before so I'm not so sure. Still, encouraging!

June 24th 2002

Receive another email from this same UK producer. He read my other co-written script, said it was very well written and wants me to offer me a write-for-hire contract. Great! Well, not really, nothing ever came of this.

June 25th 2002

Phoned the one-man-band UK agent. He thinks the rom-com is 'super'.
Despite the encouraging news I was feeling pretty down. I felt that I'd entered a post-Cannes 'radio silence' phase. No news from most of the major companies I had pitched. I didn't really have anyone with any 'clout' behind me. See Chronicles 7