Sunday, May 26, 2013

Surviving Cannes - and how to do it in style...

I came back from Cannes on Wednesday night but it says a lot that it took me until today to finally find time to email/otherwise contact everyone I met. And then it took ALL AFTERNOON. That's how many people I met in Cannes.

And that's not me having a boast about being Irish and being a gabbler - although I am. The world's most unsociable person could go to Cannes and come back with a wad of business cards and DVDs.

This is how it went down - and at the bottom you'll find my tips for surviving Cannes. Because make no mistake, it's about survival. And not dying from exhaustion/scurvy/vintage wine poisoning...

Saturday evening, when I arrived, was not the nicest weather. We flew into Nice in the middle of what seemed to be a Category 5 storm and monsoon rain poured down as I got onto a bus and headed for Cannes. Then me and my waterlogged case had to find a taxi to Mandelieu, where I was staying (more on this later) and finally, a taxi back to Cannes. That sounds easy, except it meant calling for a cab in French.

Now, my French is okay. Functional. I was able to make myself understood no problem in person, but phone French was beyond me. I gave taxi lady my address but got only shouted repeats of, "Je ne comprende pas". Tried every possible pronunciation of the address. She finally yelled, "Pah!" in a very French manner and hung up. I tracked down a French person and asked them to call me a cab...

I got to the accreditation office at the Festival De Palais in Cannes by six thirty to pick up my pass, but they were closed. After an unpleasant flight with about a hundred screaming toddlers and no food, and a journey full of rain and misunderstandings, this seemed like a harsh end to my Cannes intro. Would I be able to do anything that night, apart from heading to a bar and downing Ricard? Was I going to be a badge-less Cannes pariah? Would it EVER STOP RAINING? I came the closest I ever have at a festival to going off and having a little cry. Then I remembered that a. I was in Cannes, b. I'm way too old to be defeated by French administration, c. crying is for wimps and d. the Film Board party had free booze. I schlepped off down the promenade to a very, very wet marquee by the beach and sure enough, the lovely Film Board lady on the door waved me in.

Inside, there was an apocalyptic feel. The CEO James Hickey was giving a speech with pounding rain as a soundtrack and huge waves crashing on the beach right behind his head. The whole tent was sweating, as if it could see The End. All I could see out the window was a pair of huge Dr Eckleburg eyes that someone had set up down the beach in honor of The Great Gatsby. Everyone was reacting to the apocalypse as Irish people always do, i.e. talking up a storm and getting pissed.

After several hours of good craic (and making some decent contacts), I went off to the Majestic Hotel to meet American screenwriter and producer Diana. We'd never met in person (only online during a recent online pitching class) but she and her British producing partner Andromeda are top ladies and within half an hour I felt like I'd known them and their friends for years. I managed to make a tit of myself by approaching Liam Hemsworth, who was standing by the bar in full tux, for an autograph. His huge minder told me that Mr Hemsworth wasn't to be disturbed. Mr Hemsworth drank a beer entirely on his tod and beat a hasty retreat, trailed by the man mountain....

That was Saturday. I got back to my accommodation in the wee hours and it was still raining like someone had opened a massive water balloon right over the Cote D'Azur. But the next morning was cool and showery. That's the kind of weather I understand.

Sunday was my first proper day, so I hotfooted it to the Palais, got my festival pass - Finally! Precious! - met my friend from L.A. Sarah and went up to the Short Film Corner. Sarah is an actress, writer and director and also had a film in the Corner. Basically, the way the Corner works is that you network, meet other filmmakers, drink a lot of free Stella and coffee and if you can get a spare booth, watch some short films. Or you can arrange a screening room and show your move to a whole bunch of people at once.

Sarah's director had arranged a screening so we watched her movie (The C-Gate - check it out!) and chatted to everyone in sight. Then it was off to the Pavilions for a orgy of free wine, free snacks and cultural crash courses. Every country - or at least every country I could think of - has a Pavilion, which is a marquee down at the Cannes marina where they spend the festival promoting their country's films and trying to encourage collaborations and co-productions. It costs a  jaw-dropping million euro to rent a Pavilion for the whole festival, but if you don't have one, you're out of the game. If you want your country to be a movie player, it's mandatory!

But I can assure the Irish public that your tax euros are going to a good cause, and not just towards feeding free Guinness to free-loading filmmakers. Actually, everyone I met over there had only good things to say about the Irish Pavilion, partly because it's friendly and inclusive (unlike the U.S. one, which charges 30 euro just to get in) and partly because of the amazing free wi-fi. It was my favourite place to hang out in Cannes.

Each country's Pavilion is like a little snap shot of that land. So the British Pavilion has excellent free tea but terrible food. The Italian one has INCREDIBLE food (the pulled pork!) and wine. And it's v. stylish. The Russian one has knockout vodka cocktails. Etc.

Sunday was a long night. We did the Pavilions until the last one finally kicked us out, then we went to the Grand Hotel and met a bunch of British filmmakers, plus some from Montreal (typical Cannes stuff, in other words). Then it was on to the Carlton Hotel.

The Carlton is the maddest hotel with the most insane clientele I've ever seen, and I've been to L.A., Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Most of the men look like Bond movie villains and most of the women can barely walk under the weight of silicone in their lips alone. The fish tank in the bar is full of what look like piranha. Everyone's wearing about two grand's worth of designer gear. Dizzee Rascal was there rocking black tie. All you had to do to have a good time is sit in the bar and laugh at the madness of it all and at the super-rich getting down and dirty to French rap.

We did sneak into a private party in a secret room further into the hotel (my friend's a good actress and blagged us in). This seemed to be a party entirely for mega-wealthy French people who all know each other and who always come to this particular party at Cannes. The champagne flowed and the guests did what (I assume) millionaires always do at parties - stand around a piano and sing along to Beatles and Queen numbers.

I finally got to bed at nearly 7am, but after a very small amount of sleep it was back up for Monday...

Monday was the first day I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. Cannes is huge, spread out and can be really confusing. But now I had my pass, I knew where everything was, and I'd already met a LOT of people. Full of optimism, I went up to the ticketing area and tried to get tickets for one of the red carpet galas, but I'd already left it far, far too late. I'll give a tip below for how to avoid this sorry fate - it IS avoidable. But then again, red carpet events are, like, way overrated. The only one I really missed was the Liberace movie (which everyone agreed was excellent). So after another day of networking with other filmmakers and sampling the free drinks and snacks of the world, I queued up to see Ruairi Robinson's new movie Last Days on Mars.

Robinson is a friend of a friend and I'd heard that this was a sci-fi movie shot on a relatively low budget in Jordan (doubling as the red planet). It looks amazing, with production design far above the average and a pretty top-notch cast, too (Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai and Johnny Harris). Schreiber and Harris are both playing against type and it's nice to see Schreiber in particular play a nice guy for a change. The tension and scares are well handled and the packed audience (I was the fifth last person into the theatre) seemed to really enjoy it. It's just a shame that the scares in space genre is already so full of classics - any new film inevitably suffers a little in comparison.

I had a (relatively) early night on Monday. Well, 2am. Tuesday, I was super focussed and spent most of the day in the Short Film Corner meeting people and watching short movies. A lot of folks I knew or had met had already started heading home, so I was forced to mingle solo. But this was good - it forced me out of my comfort zone and meant that I met a more varied selection of people.

I also took a turn around the film market, where Hong Kong actioners are on sale along with arthouse future classics, TV specials and bargain-basement B movies. All of film is here, the best and the worst. A Japanese film called Shield of Straw (sounds a bit like a more kick-ass version of 16 Blocks) was making big waves - the screening tickets for this one were hard to track down. The three best B-movies on sale, based on title alone, were FDR Bad-Ass (Barry Bostwick as a machine gun-toting FDR), Squirrels (horror movie with killer squirrels) and Sharknado, starring Tara Reid and Ian Ziering (tagline: "Enough Said!"). It seems to be about sharks... and a tornado. Nope, no idea...

I went on one last tour of the Pavilions and it turned into a night out that went on and on and took in a visit to Cannes's worst (but cheapest) bar, the Petit Majestic, and a midnight visit to a creperie where about ten people ate galettes at a table in the middle of the street. I was out with a bunch of friendly Italians, a Sri Lankan DoP, and at various times, a Romanian, a few Americans and some South Koreans. And somehow, we all communicated. It was the sort of night out you could only have in Cannes.

On Wednesday, there was only time for one last amazing petit dejeuner and a last minute meeting with a filmmaker at the Irish Pavilion. But even on the bus on the way to the airport and on the plane on the way home, I was still meeting people and hearing stories about making movies. Half of the people on the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin were coming from the festival.

In short, if you ever get a chance to go to Cannes, GO! You'll have a ball. Your liver and your digestive system will take a hit, and you might want to take out a personal loan, but it will ALL BE WORTH IT. Trust me, I'm a screenwriter. We never lie.

That said, here are my essential tips for managing to stay sane in Cannes:

  • Firstly, aim to arrive on the first Friday and get out of there by the Wednesday after. Your body will be begging you to leave by then and a lot of the bigwigs will have left anyway.

  • Stay in Cannes. Stay in Cannes. Seriously. Otherwise it will cost you a fortune to get in and out, especially at night and because...

  • All the prices go up in Cannes at festival time. It's very, very expensive. The top hotels will screw you for 18 euro for a glass of wine and 10 euro for a beer. It's madness. So have a big breakfast, make use of the Pavilions' hospitality and just accept that you're going to be living on olives and bar nuts. And champagne, if you blag your way into the right parties...

  • The minute you arrive, book into one of the gala screenings. Failing that, show up the minute the box office opens in the morning. For any non-gala screening, arrive at least forty minutes (preferably an hour) early and queue up - you should get a ticket for most films this way.

  • If you have a short film in the Corner, make contact with buyers before you leave home and set up meetings with them in Cannes. If you forget to do this, you can leave messages for them while in Cannes but it may or may not be possible to get a meeting. They're busy people.

  • Carry a dress and heels with you at all times in case someone gives you a gala ticket at the last minute. I had an evening dress that was light and easy to throw in a bag. If you're a guy, wear a tux and pretend you're James Bond. That won't be hard in Cannes, which looks just like a spy hang-out should.

  • If you have any high school French at all, resurrect it. It's hard to get around outside of the tourist traps without some of the lingo. If you don't have any French, at very least learn how to say hello and introduce yourself. Oh, and get used to the kissing - the French kiss on each cheek (Paris and the north) or three times (Provence and the South). There's a lot of bouche-ing.

  • Be nice to everyone - and have a great time!!! Au revoir and bon chance....


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