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CANNES DIARY

BY RICHARD PRESS

FILMMAKER RICHARD PRESS AT CANNES.

A week before I leave for cannes to participate in L’Atelier du Festival, the co-production market of the Cannes Film Festival, I receive an e-mail from the festival reminding me to bring my black tie; without it I will not be allowed to ascend the Red Carpet for the competition screenings. Then, as an aside — a whisper of the protocol to come — they add, “And don’t wear white socks.” I think they’re joking, but in a flurry of good-natured e-mails I’m assured that more than one unfortunate fashion “faux pas-er” has been forced to turn around and head down the steps in sartorial shame.

Soon after my arrival in Cannes it becomes clear that the festival doesn’t shy away from the whole truth of the movie industry. Rather, it embraces and celebrates the glamour, the commerce and the art of filmmaking in equal measure. It’s a heady, over-the-top mix that makes my 10 days at the Atelier an intoxicating carnival.

I’m one of 18 international filmmakers whose projects have been invited to the festival, all expenses paid. Our films are on the verge of being made; we all have a polished script, the commitment of a first producer and partial financing. The Atelier is intended to get us over the final financing hump and into production by organizing meetings during the festival with potential financial partners: distributors, sales agents, international co-producers and the elusive and coveted equity financiers.

In its second year, the Atelier has already proven successful. Seventeen of the first year’s 18 projects have been funded and are in either pre- or postproduction. Amazing results, but still, I try to approach it with a Buddhist mind-set, as I’ve already suffered plenty of the ups and downs of the financing roller coaster.

The Atelier is located in one of several temporary pavilions set along the water. A spacious outdoor patio with tables and chair shaded by umbrellas is where my meetings will take place. Over six days — seven meetings a day — I will meet with 42 potential partners who have requested a meeting based on a beautiful catalogue that includes a synopsis of my film Virtual Love, a director’s statement and pictures and bios of me and my producer, Lydia Pilcher, who is also attending.

Bleary with jet lag, Lydia and I are presented with a schedule of our week’s meetings, which are set at half-hour intervals. Our first, with a German acquisitions company headed by Paul, a charming Frenchman, is typical of most meetings. We exchange business cards, and then Paul describes his company, which this year has two films in competition, and some of the many impressive films in its catalogue. Feeling that we’re a good fit creatively, we move on to discuss Virtual Love.

Like everyone we’ll meet, Paul has requested the meeting because he liked the synopsis of my movie. But he read it weeks ago, and, typically, the story is not fresh in his mind. So it is up to me to pitch it to him. This is not something I like doing, nor is it something I feel I’m very good at. (I’m great once a person has read the script — then I can talk about the movie ad nauseam — but selling it from scratch? Oy.) But it goes well enough, and he offers us the possibility of a foreign presale or co-production. Because the U.S. doesn’t have production treaties with foreign countries, in order for us to receive, say, German state funding we’d need to shoot part of our film there. Virtual Love is a true story and takes place in Los Angeles and New York, locations crucial to the story. So our only option for co-production is for us to do our post outside the U.S.

On our second day I confess to Lydia that I know I’m doing a less than stellar job pitching the film and that I hate doing it. She explains that I’m really selling myself, that these investors have nothing else to go on except me as the director. Also, she adds, “you’ve spent three years of your life on this project — clearly you love it. Why wouldn’t you want to talk about it?”

It’s a “light bulb” moment. She’s right. I have a talk with myself, and for our next meeting, with Anne, the head of a British film company, I try shifting gears. I decide to talk about the movie as if I were telling a friend an amazing story over dinner. To my surprise, Anne is leaning in closer as I talk. She gets tears in her eyes. She is emotionally involved because I am emotionally involved. Because of this change in my presentation style, our ensuing meetings become easier and the connections between everyone at the table stronger. Lesson learned.

Over the course of the week different financing scenarios present themselves. Do we want to do post outside the U.S., and if so, where? Munich, Rome or Seoul? Do we accept a large equity offer (which came out of a meeting on a yacht owned by the investor) even though the terms of the deal are not the best? Which foreign presale situations are best? Or do we wait?

My meetings take on a hypnotic rhythm and I get into a groove, though near the end of the week my fellow Ateliers and I greet our morning meetings bleary-eyed behind sunglasses and clutching coffee. It hasn’t been just work and no play.

We are all feted and cared for by Georges Goldenstern, the director of Atelier, and his colleagues — Catherine Jacques, Cecile Campbell and Cyrille Imbrosciano, who not only coordinate our meetings but get us tickets to screenings (I see nine movies), invites to parties and generally ensure we have a good time, which means staying out late and smoking cigarettes even if we don’t at home.

Even Cannes’s over-the-top reputation does not disappoint: A meeting on our third day is scheduled with one producer, but with him are two hulking Tony Sopranos: cigars, the clothes, the swagger. They enter the Atelier friendly but manic, looking like they’ve been up all night.

Lydia, trying to get a handle on the situation, asks “So...how did all you guys hook up?” “We met last night at a party!” says the producer. “I told them about Virtual Love!”

Tony No. 1 pulls out Variety and flips to a full-page color ad of an upcoming horror movie with his name as producer above the title. He looks at me. “This is my movie,” he says. “It’s got script problems. Take off your sunglasses and look at me!”

I do.

“You’re a serious writer!” he says. “I can see it in your eyes. I want you to rewrite this script. Anything you want, anything.”

His partner nudges me from the other side. “Do this for us and we’ll produce Virtual Love. Meet us later on our yacht,” he says, pointing vaguely toward the harbor. “We’ll work out the details.”

Now I’m creeped out, imagining being beholden to these guys for the rest of my life. Later, recovering with a bottle of wine on the terrace of the Carlton Hotel, I find it impossible to talk because throngs of people are screaming and climbing the railing like in The Day of the Locust, trying to catch a glimpse of the X-Men stars in the middle of a nearby photo shoot.

Lydia and I head back to New York. On the plane I pull my script from my backpack — the first time I’ve looked at it in weeks — and marvel that this is what all the fuss has been about. With the financing presented at the Atelier, we begin piecing the financial jigsaw puzzle together, hoping it will bring this dormant embryo to life.

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