Cannes Film Festival Experience

Before embarking on my summer internship, I recently spent a little over two weeks in Cannes, France at the Cannes Film Festival. Below you’ll find a number of details on the experience. I realize this post is extremely long: it was primarily created for family and friends. Becuase this is a public post, I’ve decided to delete a few of the funnier stories from the trip. While the Cannes Film Festival trip is different from typical Darden GBEs, 1.5 units of credit are available for participating in the trip and completing a final assignment. As detailed below, 10 Darden students participated in this program of approximately 125 students. If you have any questions about the trip after reading this, feel free to contact me.

The program I participated in is Darden-sponsored and run through the American Pavilion (to quote the website, AmPav is a communication and hospitality center for the thousands of Americans in Cannes during the Cannes Film Festival). Apart from having a tent at the festival where Americans come to meet, relax, check emails, etc, the American Pavilion has relationships with sponsors (film companies) and places business students in mini-internships during the festival. The Business Program (with internships) had about 30 students enrolled, with the Film Program, Culinary Program, Event Management Program serving as the other major programs. The program had a total of about 125 students (including 10 Darden), most of whom were undergrads / just finished undergrad.

We all arrived a few days before the Cannes Film Festival started, and spent the better part of two days in orientation, getting to know Cannes and learning more about our experience. The better part of the second day was filled with panels on the experience (in a hot theater at a local college no less): listening to other students, it was there that I really got an impression for how different some of these birds were. A lot of “It’s all about me” questions. The film students, particularly, are aspiring producers, directors, etc and love to pepper professionals on the panel with very specific questions (does a marketing executive know which version of your short film, the 12 or 18 minute version, would interest professionals better? Answer: probably not). My favorite panel also featured four program “alumni” back for a second year, that sat on the stage and basically bragged about which celebrities they’d seen the year before / how cool they were. These kids had clearly never seen Workaholics: maximum one fedora per group. This fashion rule would be violated on numerous occasions by AmPav students throughout the trip.

At this point I thought we might be in for a long few weeks, but in reality after these few days of orientation I rarely saw the film-focused students: the Darden group certainly became friends with many of the social undergrads (many of whom, like Darden students, find the film industry interesting but aren’t dead-set on a career there). After the first few days there were less formal events to attend; most interaction came when groups decided to meet at this bar or club for the night. The program also features mentors, mostly younger college professors or 30-something film professionals; like the gung-ho film students, we rarely saw the mentors after the first few days. The Darden group was a little surprised at how scattered most of the mentors were.

After orientation, my schedule in Cannes became consistently frantic. I would typically work from 10am – 4/5pm in Cannes (more on that below), try and catch a late afternoon / early evening film in Cannes, then go out for dinner and drinks until 3am on average. Towards the end of the festival I tended to get out of work a little earlier and cared a little less about seeing a movie-or-so a day, so was able to fit in afternoon runs and beach naps before evening fun. Throughout the trip, I was constantly trying to juggle learning as much as possible about the film business, seeing movies I wanted to see, getting the most out of the Cannes nightlife, and sleep.

We all stayed at the Maeva apartment complex in Cannes La Boca, a 15 bus ride or 35 minute walk into central Cannes. Living spaces were definitely really tight, but we did enjoy balconies with beautiful views of the Mediterranean. The complex is right across the street from the beach, which was also fantastic. Water was a little chilly and the sand area is underwhelming (only about 10 feet until the water), but I can’t complain. I was especially a fan of runs on the beach, when my schedule allowed. The weather over the 15 days was pretty mixed: tons of beautiful days, also around four days of miserable rain.

Cannes itself is a pretty small, really upscale town. As you come into the town from the west, you meet the first set of tents, part of the international village I believe, where each country would have its own version of the American Pavilion. Next comes a giant complex called the Palais. Across the main street is a hill that leads to up to a sweet castle and old town, a small winding street (peds only) filled with perfect restaurants where you can sit outdoors. Behind the Palais are docks filled with giant yachts. Never went on a yacht. Moving past the Palais and the rest of the international village, you continue along La Croisette (main street along the beach) and start to hit the strip of classic, classy hotels. I think the most sophisticated is the Carlton (if you want to look it up; penthouse suite at 32k euro / night), while the Martines and Majestic are a little trendier and attract more actors. The Grand is another hotel used a lot for business meetings. Across the hotel side of La Croisette are beach clubs, incredibly chic places that serve as restaurants during the day and events spaces for exclusive parties during the evening. Zane and I made our way into one beach party one late night, but it was nothing special: often times the truly exclusive celebrity parties are on giant yachts or up into the hills of Cannes, filled with large estates.

Cannes is one of the glitziest and most glamorous towns I’ve been in (tons of Italian cars, everyone is really good looking, people dress like it’s New Years – I wore suits out most nights). Like any students would, we did a pretty good job of scoping out the cheaper bars in Cannes, which meant maybe 6 or 7 Euro beers. Depended on the night, but bigger nights would usually be spent at VIP Room, which didn’t open doors until midnight and had people still coming in at 4 / 5am. First night at midnight, we’re coming in from a movie, go up to the bar and order four RBVs (red bull vodka) for the group: costs me 100 Euro. Absolute woof. As a result we didn’t buy any / many drinks at the club, which meant that leaving at 3am (sleeping at 4am) we were still in good shape to wake up at 8:30am and go to work.

The Palais itself houses the biggest theaters (the Lumiere is the largest theater with 2,500 seats, and huge red carpet leading up to it) and several floors (think huge football fields or investment banking trading floors) of the marche / marketplace, where mostly smaller film companies set up booths / offices to hold meetings. There are also a few restaurants, conference halls, etc within the Palais, including a free espresso bar sponsored by Nespresso, which is filled with beautiful young-twenties French women. Think I may have been one of their better customers (because I was always short on sleep . . . ). Many of the larger film companies set up offices in the hotels or apartment complexes nearby.

One thing I didn’t realize was the role of the marketplace at the Cannes Film Festival: the big film festivals serve primarily not as places to see films, but almost as trade shows where parties get together and primarily buy / sell distribution rights to films. I’d come in expecting most of the attendees of the festival (not necessarily business professionals, just most of the crowd) to be soft, annoying people that love to talk about themselves, how artistic x / y film was, etc. There’s a good quote from Ari Gold in Entourage when he says, “I hear that every film in Sundance is the best movie ever made.” In reality, most of the people I was exposed to were sharp business professionals in Cannes primarily to complete a number of transactions in a short period of time. Film business professionals were definitely dressed a bit more casual, greeted each other with kisses on the cheek (at least male / female), and clearly put a lot of emphasis on reputation / networking: otherwise , the level of professionalism, tenacity, etc didn’t differ much from other industries I’ve been exposed to.

I interned for two weeks with Fierce Entertainment, a small firm that acts as an intermediary between international buyers and primarily domestic sellers. Fierce basically leverages their network and connections with film companies to ensure that their clients (international buyers, usually working out of their home country) will get a look at distribution rights and won’t get taken advantage of with terms. The company also keeps an online database that (a) stores historical statistics on prices and parties that purchase distribution rights, (b) provides IMDB-like descriptions of films coming to market (and the status of the rights of those films), and (c) script coverage for new potential films. In the U.S., distribution rights are generally sold later in the game, i.e., post-production. If it’s a major studio, rights are generally retained. In international markets, rights are sold much earlier, usually in the packaging pre-production stage where a script, director, key actors may be in place, but there are still pieces to fill. Once commitments from international buyers are obtained, this helps film companies obtain financing from banks in order to enter the production phase. Most of the internships through the program feature a lot of manual labor / assistant work, but I ended up getting pretty lucky with my role: I split my time between (a) attending meetings, (b) reading scripts and writing up reviews, both a synopsis of the story and commentary on potential film sales, (c) updating the database with the daily trades (Variety and Hollywood Reporter are the major periodicals), and (d) watching movies screened at Cannes (not part of the competition at Cannes, but rented out by film companies so that buyers can watch and bid on films where rights are still available) and writing up some commentary. Very enjoyable experience, and I really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the business.

For celebrity spotting, general rule was I saw A-listers from behind a rope or as they moved into a car (Brad Pitt from way afar, Bill Murray, Ray Liotta, Bruce Willis, LMFAO, Sean Combs (maybe he’s a B-lister), etc) and B-listers would be out at the club (Didier Droghba (soccer star), Paris / Nikki Hilton, Tara Reid, Calvin Harris, a Black-eyed Pea (not Fergie or Will-i-am), last two people DJ’d at VIP Room). I probably care a little less than some about seeing celebs (not am not trying to be self-righteous here, just a comment), but it’s still cool to see these peeps.

While tons of films premiere at Cannes, predictably the most sought-after premieres are the more marketable films with bigger stars, directors, or have a reputation for being amazing films (either have premiered at a prior film festival, like Beasts of the Southern Wild at Sundance, or just have a buzz about them, like Rust and Bone). The biggest films are shown in the grand Lumiere theater and require a ticket, while all other major theaters (including the Debusey, with 1,000+ seats) simply require patrons to arrive early enough to secure a seat. We received tickets to the Lumiere movies through an excessively complex bidding system run by resident American Pavilion filmmaker and scalper Pip and his moronic team of five film students. They of course did not use a computer. I ended up attending one or two evening screenings at the Lumiere that required a tux, and a bunch of day screenings (I caught either at 8:30am or late afternoon) where no dress code is enforced. Apart from the Pip system, extra tickets were always floating around the film companies we all interned at, particularly the Weinstein Company. Each major film is shown around three times at the Lumiere, so you could usually find a way to see a film you were really pumped about. I came in pretty blind at which films were playing, and relied heavily on the advice of others on which films the group was going to try to attend, etc. Sue me.

Watching the evening premieres at the Lumiere is an exciting experience: the big stars go down the red carpet first (with a ton of sleezy paparazzi around) before the gates open up to the patrons that have tickets for the event. Once inside, I personally find it pretty cool to watch a movie in the same theater as the stars and director of the film. The crowd is also pretty into the film: as the film starts, the same thirty second introductory Cannes film festival message flashes across the screen. For the kickoff screening we attended, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, the crowd went really wild for it. Below I’ll detail a list of the films I ended up seeing (in each bucket, order is random):

Films that are absolutely amazing, i.e., in my Top 20 films I’ve ever seen

  • Rust and Bone: French film starring Marion Cotillard, the woman from Inception and maybe most beloved French film star. Love story between a woman that loses her legs (the rust) and a gritty, underground fighter (the bone) who continues to screw up his life. Story is set in southern France, including Cannes. Amazing soundtrack.
  • The Hunt: very dark Danish film about a man innocently accused of child rape. Less about uncovering the details of the investigation as it is a tale of how the town turns against him. Extremely grim for most of the film (though the crowd gave a big cheer in the middle of the film when some favorable evidence is revealed).
  • Silver Lining Playbook: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Deniro. Set in Phili, story of the strange friendship between BC and JL, two really screwed up 20-somethings that gradually turns their lives around. JL is from Winter’s Bone among other films, absolutely amazing young actress, and it’s pretty cool to see her dominate scenes with established actors. I attended an early screening: film will be out in November in U.S.

Films that are great, would recommend people see

  • The Sound of My Voice: tempted to put this into the first category. A couple is determined to expose a cult in San Bernardino Valley, where the leader (beautiful blond woman) insists she’s from the future. Mostly about the psyche of the leading actor who starts to believe in the cult throughout the film. Short film but great ending, many bone-chilling scenes.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild: really artsy film about a group of stragglers that live isolated on an island outside New Orelans, whose lives are turned upside down when (I believe) the levy breaks from Katrina and their community is flooded. Led by a 7ish-year old child actress who is absolutely amazing. Dynamic between her and tough love father had a few people tearing up.

Films that were entertaining and solid films, probably worth seeing in theaters:

  • Paperboy: starring Nicole Kidman, Matty McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, others. Two brothers (McConaughey, Efron) are determined to get a con (Cusack) who has not received due process out of jail. Also about love story between young Efron and older, white trash Kidman. A few disturbing scenes in this one: I’ll leave it at that.
  • Mud: Matty McConaughey again, Reese Witherspoon, two young 15-year old bucks. Two youngers are determined to help McConaughey reunite with Witherspoon, set in Arkansas.

Films I didn’t particularly enjoy:

  • Djeca (Children of Sarajevo): A teenage brother and 20-something sister in Sarajevo. Boring.
  • Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, bunch of others) is growing obsessed with himself (just my opinion, but he’s tracking the M Night path where every film is getting worse).
  • Won’t Back Down: Maggie Gyllenhal and Viola Davis are angry parents at an underperforming Pittsburg school and just won’t take this anymore. Wooo.
  • James Cameron’s underwater project: I saw a promo (approx.. 30 minute, marketing the film) of this documentary and boy does it look bad. I wish I could try to make my bizarre pet project into a theatrical release (Brian Cramer, Adventures of Costa Rica anyone?)

Films you know and love

  • Jaws: saw this on the beach in comfortable lawn chairs and blankets. Steven Spielberg introductory video was a nice touch. Beautiful night. Crowd was definitely into it (biggest cheer was the famous line where Roy Schneider sees the shark and announces, “We’re going to need a bigger boat”). Only if Cannes had allowed vino on the beach could this event have been better.

1 Comment

Filed under First Year Experience

One response to “Cannes Film Festival Experience

  1. Alex Biahun

    Great post, Brian. Made me pause the video I was watching to finish reading it.

    Best of luck with your internship.

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