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Doing "business" in Cannes

It’s that time of year when everyone (it’s not everyone btw) heads to Cannes Film Festival to schmooze, sell their films, make loads of money and party on yachts. When people talk about filmmaking being glamorous, this is it. Cannes is glamourous.

The SubMotion team have been lucky enough to attend the festival twice and so I thought I’d give you my honest and unfiltered view on our experiences. Please note, that my version of events will differ quite considerably to that of say Cate Blanchett or Tom Cruise. Incase you were unsure.

Rewind back to May 2019. Our first short film Sylvia had been selected to screen at The American Pavilion Emerging Filmmakers Showcase ** (rolls of the tongue seamlessly) or AMPAV as it’s become known - and quite frankly, we were buzzing. We’d had a great run on the festival scene since Sylvia hit the circuit in the previous October and we felt like fully fledged filmmakers. Netflix would probably be tracking us down on the red carpet, it was going to be quite something.

On our first day, I arrived at the festival in the morning, fresh faced and keen, and I’d planned to attend lots of talks, film screenings, workshops etc. I was definitely there to do business. I didn’t know what business that was, but I was a film producer, doing business in Cannes. The first trip into the Marche de Film was quite an experience. The market is a huge trade show with row after row of stands, crammed with posters of films ready to be sold by distributors and sales agents. My first thought was, “Oh my goodness. EVERYONE in the world is making films”. My heart sank if I’m totally honest. Here’s us, celebrating a short film, which suddenly felt like such an insignificant achievement within an industry, I was now seeing, was monumental.

By 9pm that first night, I came to the decision over the most delicious pizza and wine, and much to my own relief, that I had in fact, no business to do. Our “little" short film was screening, I was going to revel in this glory with our wonderful team and have a great time. Moments after this decision, a beautiful women accosted me in the toilet of the pizza restaurant, kissed me hard on the lips and welcomed me to Cannes. Oh wow, so this is how it goes.

The poster for the screening of short film Sylvia at The American Pavilion Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at Cannes Film Festival.

For the next 4 days, we watched amazing films, met wonderful people, soaked up the buzz of the celebs and paparazzi, and said yes to any and every party invite that came our way. I realised, the best business to do in Cannes, is meet like minded filmmakers with a passion for films. After one particular evening out drinking champagne with a group from Russia, Jolie Lennon, the lead actress of Sylvia and I, ran around putting promotional postcards for Sylvia’s screening the following day, in every bathroom, bar and outside restaurant table we came across. Indie filmmaking comes with an indie filmmaking marketing budget, which equates to exactly zero pounds. Whether it was this or not, but we had a full house for the screening the next afternoon and even went on to win the award for Best Film. We partied hard and flew home planning the next film. The crowded oversaturated corridors of the Marche de Film already a distant memory!

Fast forward now to 2022, and our second short film Maximus had also been selected to screen in competition at the AMPAV, and we were heading back for our second Cannes visit. But this time, I had a plan.

We had our first feature film script written, a beautiful treatment and we were on a mission to sell our debut feature film. I emailed every distribution company and sales agent that I thought would fit the film, and also larger production companies who would consider a co-production. I was overwhelmed that 85% of my emails were replied to, kindly, honestly and encouragingly. Compared to the advertising world where 99% of emails are ignored, I was amazed! Before long, I had a full calendar of meetings in Cannes.

Finally, I had business to do.

This was a new side to Cannes I had not experienced previously, and felt far more personable and community led than the stark halls of the film markets. Sales agents and distributors take over hotel suites, meetings rooms, corners of bars and cafes, conducting meetings and re-connecting with the industry. All our meetings, be them fruitful or not, were positive, encouraging and above all, honest. We received great advice about the next steps to take in our filmmaking journey, and I learnt a huge amount about the essential combination of a great film, but also, great business.

Of course we partied, propping up the bar at the Grand Hotel and the Petit Majestic, (which looks and feels like a grotty student bar, but attracts huge crowds that spill onto the street until the early hours and is THE place to be), and Maximus was hugely well received! But this felt like a much more grown-up version of the festival from my first visit, no violation in the bathrooms or Russian bar tab, but more about personal growth and education.

Two days after returning home from Cannes, our first feature was optioned by a much larger production company we’d chatted with at the festival. Sadly, it was released again just 6 months later due to another similar film hitting the market. This series of events , from the festival highs to the bad news phone call in your back garden in Norfolk lows, optimises the immense rollercoaster of filmmaking - huge ups, crippling downs - but yet we always go back for more!

If you ever get to go to Cannes, it is an experience I would strongly recommend, but don’t take it too seriously. We had great fun dressing up in black tie and evening dress at 8am for a 10am red carpet premiere screening. The only place you can walk along the French Riviera dressed to the nines before breakfast without anyone batting an eyelid!

I have since been told, “Oh god Rach, no business gets done in Cannes! You need to go to Berlinale for that.” Well, you live and learn!

For those there this weekend, have fun and play safe!

**Now, short film filmmakers listen up. This small, emerging talent film festival happens within the American Pavilion at Cannes Film Festival and it is by far the best way to get yourself to Cannes. That is, if you have not made it into competition within the official Cannes competition (which is extraordinarily difficult to do!) You get your accreditation to attend the whole festival, enjoy the buzz of being in a competition and The American Pavilion Showcase lasts for much longer than just the Cannes week. Director, Monika Skerbelis runs events worldwide for a long time after the festival has ended and is the BEST advocate for new talent.


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