The Cannes Film Festival and market are the highlights of the film calendar each year, with an epic number of events, screenings, parties and meetings crammed into a little French town over the course of eleven days. To give Cannes first timers a few pointers, over the past few months I have been contacting a large number of Cannes Film Festival veterans.
In the end, 575 film professionals gave their advice, with a combined experience of 4,478 trips to the Cannes film festival. In addition, I ran a few research projects to look at what the data and statistics can tell us about how to do Cannes right.
I’m grateful to everyone to took the time to share their thoughts, advice and tips.
I asked my respondents when they were planning to attend, and the results showed that the first weekend is the busiest.
On Sunday 15th May 2016, the Cannes film festival will play host to 83% of all the people planning to attend the festival. If attendance is the same as last year, then this will mean 9,584 participants in attendance.
A major reason professionals attend the Cannes market is to sell distribution rights for their film(s). These rights are bought by a small number of attendees (1,834 in 2015) who have the official ‘Buyer’ classifications, usually illustrated via a purple stripe on their market pass.
As time in Cannes is short, producers and sales agents do all they can to reach buyers. And the data suggests that one thing they can do is ensure that they’re attending right from the opening of the market at 9 AM on Wednesday 11th May, when the ratio of buyers to attendees is at its most favourable.
By contrast, those primarily going to Cannes film festival to find projects to finance tend to arrive later. The most favourable financiers to attendees ratios are to be found on Monday 16th, Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th May.
Spend a bit of time ahead of your trip to get familiar with some of the terms people use in Cannes conversations. Here are a few to get you started…
By looking at the sentiment of comments provided by respondents, I am able to examine how various sectors of the film industry feel about the festival.
Filmmakers have the best things to say about Cannes, with almost three quarter providing only positive feedback. By contrast, half of those working in distribution said positive things, while the other half were entirely negative.
Here are some of the ways my respondents summed up the Cannes film festival…
Some descriptions of the Cannes film festival were rather more poetic…
I always describe Cannes as 10 days of Friday nights and Monday mornings. You rarely get to bed before midnight/1am but still have to be up and at ’em at 8am the next morning. Days are spent running up and down the croisette multiple times, meeting with sales agents, devouring the trades, queuing for screenings, watching a plethora of either barely watchable films or films you love but ‘aren’t commercial enough’, elbowing your way into the Palais, arguing with officials, dodging tourists and all the while hoping you’re going to find that one gem that will make the mad expense of attending the festival worthwhile. Days generally end with a glass of Rose on the beach comparing notes with colleagues as the sun goes down. In a nutshell – the busy, boozy, sleep-deprived business of film.
There are three sides to Cannes – the screenings, the business and the parties. Although they each have their own ecosystems, they all require careful planning and preparation. Every year, a number of websites and Facebook groups track which parties are upcoming. In 2015 this included The Wrap, Tracking Board, Cannes Party Guide, as well as various PDFs being passed round on Facebook and by email (here are some from past years – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
I asked my respondents about the best events in Cannes, and the most popular parties are hosted by the following organisations…
Naturally, the more popular a party is, the harder it will be to get invited. So what can you do if you’re without a ticket but want to get it in? Here are some tips from my own experience and from my respondents…
I feel it incumbent on me to point out that no matter how good you are at blagging, the majority of times you try to enter an event without a ticket will end in disappointment. Being found out and / or turned away can feel pretty crappy and doesn’t make you look too good to those nearby. That said, it’s an important part of the Cannes experience and so if it’s your first time at the Cannes film festival then you should try it at least a couple of times.
One of the best things about the festival is that it brings together film professionals from all over the world. For just over a week, almost anyone who’s anyone in film is hanging out in the same buildings. A few quick and dirty networking tips…
One of the legendary Cannes film festival hangouts is the Petit Majestic – a place that defies explanation and logic. It’s a backstreet in Cannes which has dirty plastic white chairs and tables and is crowded and loud all night. Sounds appalling, right? Despite this inauspicious description it’s a vital part of the Cannes grapevine. It’s where people go before they head off to their events, it’s where they return to once they event is over (or if they got turned away) and it’s where people go when no other place will have them.
Many first-timers hear about the Petit Majestic but fail to find it (or worse, find it once and never again). So here’s the address: Bar Majestic, 6 Rue Tony Allard, 06400 Cannes, although it’s probably easier to just remember that it’s ‘behind The Grand’.
The popular press may portray the Cannes film festival as a place where everyone is at film screenings but the truth is slightly more mundane. When I asked my respondents what Cannes meant to them, networking and meeting people ranked higher than watching films.
Cannes meetings are often short (typically under 20 minutes), frantic and more about meeting people than negotiating the finer points of complicated deals. There will be time after Cannes to discuss the smallprint so during the festival it’s more about getting to know each other.
Many meetings are arranged in advance, and the busiest folk will have their diaries fully booked before the festival even opens.
Below is a word cloud showing the words used by my respondents when asked what the Cannes film festival meant to them (the most frequently used words appear the largest).
The International Village is a long line of tents and pavilions along the beach, most representing national film commissions of countries around the world. They provide support for native filmmakers and advice for foreigners considering filming in their country. Almost all the pavilions are open to Cannes film festival attendees, so it pays to have a look around the International Village early in your trip to get your bearings.
British attendees are notorious for spending their entire trip inside the UK tent with other Brits who work in the same postcode as each other. As one respondent put it…
Skip the UK Film area as the English in particular are a rather insular bunch
The one exception to the open-pavilion rule is the American Pavilion which charges between $150 and $900 for access, depending on which benefits you want to pay for. 39% of the people who bought AmPav membership in 2014 have an annual income over $200,000 (and interestingly only 57% were American).
You’ll be walking around a lot, so if you’re not wearing something comfortable then it won’t take long for your feet to start to ache. The dress code during the day in Cannes is quite relaxed, with everyone acknowledging that it’s hot, tiring and you have meetings all day. As the sun sets and the parties begin, the dress code changes. Comfort is out and glamour is in.
Last year the press gleefully reported that women were being turned away from red carpet screenings for wearing flat shoes. The festival later denied that this happened, but it’s certainly true to say that guests at the 7pm and 10pm festival screenings are expected to be in their finest.
The official guidance says…
Black tie/evening dress is required for gala screenings. For all other screenings appropriate smart dress is sufficient.
The town of Cannes is a pretty small place, with a permanent population of around 74,000 people. The festival draws so many people that the population almost triples to a peak of 210,000 people. Interestingly, only 30,000 are accredited attendees and 5,000 are accredited journalists, meaning that over 100,000 of the people in Cannes during the festival are waiters, security guards, tourists, pickpockets and hookers.
This inevitably puts a strain on the accommodation options, which leads to exorbitant rates. The best places are snatched up pretty early and a number of my respondents said they booked as much as six months ahead.
During the day, the vast majority of travel is achieved on foot as the Palais, cinemas, hotels and pavilions are all close by. The nightlife is a little more spread out, meaning you may need to use a taxi or one of the hotel shuttle buses. Traveling to and from Cannes, however, takes a little bit more planning.
One of the nicest things about Cannes is that it takes place in the early summer in the south of France. As a result, its not uncommon for people to get sunburn just running between meetings.
The average temperature during the Cannes film festival over the past decade was 17.7ºC (63.8ºF).
Over the past ten years, it has rained on 29% of festival days. The worst year of the past decade was 2012, which the Hollywood Reporter described as having a “London feel” due to the “rain, thunder and howling winds”.
With so many people dressing to impress, it’s no wonder that the festival is a popular target for thieves. Criminals range from everyday pickpockets right up to organised jewel thieves.
During the 2013 Cannes film festival, thieves stole £650,000 worth of jewels and just five days later a £1.6 million necklace was also pinched. A few months later, an armed robber got away with £89 million worth of gemstones from a Cannes hotel (the same hotel featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch a Thief).
Your first Cannes trip will be the most surprising, exciting, confusing and overwhelming of all your trips to Cannes. Hopefully, the first time you go, you’re there to get the lay of the land (rather than trying to sell your project on your first trip), so use this chance to experience all that Cannes has to offer. Here are a list of things I think everyone should try to do in order to have the full Cannes film festival experience…
A common bit of advice was to chat to people who have gone before. This starts way before you get on the plane as preparation is key to get the most out of the Cannes film festival.
Thank you to everyone who shared their views with me over the past few months for this article. If you spot something wrong or missing then please do drop me a line or add a note in the comments below.
See you on the Croisette!
Occasionally, the quixotic way the film industry functions brings up strange questions. For example, in the research above, I referred to the people who provide finance for films. There are two possible words for these people – financers or financiers. If we are to be pedantic (and what else would we be on a blog like this?!) then the subtle difference between the definitions matter.
According to Grammarist.com…
A financer is someone who provides money for a particular undertaking.
A financier is a person or organization whose business is providing, investing, or lending money. In other words, a financier makes a habit of financing, while a financer might do it only once or occasionally.
When we apply these definitions to the film industry then we have a grammatical stalemate. I would say that the vast majority of people who provide money for films would see themselves as financiers but after having invested and not made their money back they would be better described as financers.
So should I use the expectations these people hold, or the expected reality that is likely to occur?
I decided to be generous and use financier, due to the fact they have not yet lost their money. It’s Schrodingers Cash, in that the money is both ‘invested’ and ‘wasted’ until you check the recoupment paperwork, at which point it’s most certainly ‘wasted’.
About Stephen Follows: Stephen is a writer, producer, film industry expert and runs a production company in Ealing Studios, London. He publishes weekly film industry research projects every week at www.stephenfollows.com.
Copyright © 2016 Stephen Follows. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.