Here’s ‘the Cannes experience’ from Xavier Rashid , former film journalist and publicist, festival programming/sales/acquisitions consultant, festival producer (the list goes on!) and, recently, founder of exciting new sales agency, Film Republic .
Could you tell us about the first time you’ve been to Festival de Cannes yourself?
My first time in Cannes was in 2006, when I was still writing for a few publications and programming. It was that year Ken Loach had won the Palme, and Andrea Arnold made it onto the scene. The first year at Cannes, for everyone, is something of a mayhem, and it’s easy to get taken over by the ambience, the screenings, the size, and the parties.
Your view/experience of the Marche du Film, Cannes Court Metrage and Cinefondation opportunities? Who should aim for what?
The Marché is the most important event of its kind in the world and at the centre of the Cannes’ reputation. Of course the festival is (extremely) important, but they screen very few films – the reason thousands attend is to buy and sell product.
Whilst the festival (screenings) and the festival as a whole is a huge driver of hype and selling prices, it’s still important for buyers to remain cautious in their acquisition process, especially when films are not green-lit. The Short Film Corner is a small scale of the Market, a fantastic opportunity for short filmmakers to meet, and also sell their product through the short film sales agents in the Palais basement. At the same time, it remains a ‘market’ all the same, so filmmakers shouldn’t consider it as a quality stamp when writing up their festival strategy.
Cinefondation is something I follow very closely through the year. This Résidence programme, which was set up only recently, is a training programme for new talent, split between Paris and Cannes – and then taking them to a number of festivals and showcases through the year. Some of the best filmmakers have come out of the programme, and annually you’ll see their titles (developed at Cinefondation) screening at A Class festivals – last/this year for example: Bonsai by Christian Jimenez (Cannes), Salsipuedes by Mariano Luque (Berlinale).
What are top 3 things that filmmakers often forget when preparing for Cannes? How should they be approaching it?
The obvious things filmmakers forget (and you do see this) is bringing enough business cards, comfy shoes (most of the industry spend their day walking up and down the Croisette to meetings/screenings!) and an umbrella (it rains in Cannes). Most importantly, I think a lot of attendees forget the point of Cannes – it’s a huge opportunity to get a lot of work done, a lot of sales sorted, a lot of packaging/financing agreed, and the majority of people from what I notice, only go for fun and for crashing parties.
I knew somebody last year who went around looking serious, smooth talking, pretending he was a producer with millions development behind him and a slate of titles near financed. They raked in party invites in the process and it was their opportunity to ‘feel’ special, and for a week live their dream of being a ‘producer’. The point is, there’s a lot of wasted opportunities in Cannes, and it’s key to stay focussed on your goals, whether it’s finding a co-producer, discussing incentives with commissions, or simply signing off with international partners.
Your ‘Cannes tips’ for first-timers?
My main tip for first timers would be go it solo as much as possible. It’s easy to fall into the crowd, and stick with your friends throughout the festival. If you take the UK Pavilion, it’s mainly brits, networking with brits – which to me defies the point of Cannes.
So by going it solo, I mean taking the incentive to meet as many people as possible, have as many valuable meetings as possible (it’s perfectly fine to set up impromptu meetings with key agencies/commissions etc. during Cannes), but also getting screening invitations (it’s difficult to get two tickets at the same time) like for the red carpet. When it comes to evening functions, and of course the parties, again it’s likely you would only have one invite (no guests), in which case you need to ditch your best friend.
When it comes to evening meals, I’d also recommend checking out places near the train station (extremely fast service and very good!). There are a lot of fancy restaurants leading up the hill in the old town (Le Suquet) – I’ve never had a good experience, usually paying phenomenally for below average dinners. But there are a handful of really nice ones (near the old town, but level with the Palais), usually with menu deals, which are great day and night and very reasonable.
Tell us more about Film Republic? What inspired /led you to set up your own sales agency?
I launched Film Republic at Berlin this year, with a humble sized slate of indies and art-house documentaries and fiction titles. My heart has always been in supporting newcomer talent and debut filmmakers, and before that I’d come from a festival and press background – but I felt a little disheartened seeing how a lot of times filmmakers were being taken for a ride, often by companies who had built their business on pretending to be there for them. So I decided to go solo to offer a better deal, reflected in an extremely transparent way of working – non-exclusive deals, very fair cuts, and now filmmakers holding onto their rights 100%, and signing off directly with buyers (which brings down costs, and means filmmakers see returns much faster). This isn’t a new model, some agencies do this already, and it really is a question of fitting the film we’re trying to support. You should see it more as a consultancy on behalf of filmmakers, rather than a traditional model. That said, it’s also a model that works well for established filmmakers, who (for all kinds of reasons) may have already secured commissioning/sales, and are looking for an agency to push other areas. In those cases, they’re usually high profile filmmakers, which is a great balance and very rewarding at the same time.
What, in your experience, have been the decisive factors for projects to ‘make it’ to festivals and marketplaces?
Film markets are paid screenings, so in that sense anybody can screen anything they want so long as they pay the fee.
Making it into festivals is a complex (but also very simple) process, which can be disheartening at times, but also fruitful if you understand how programmers work. In the case of Class A festivals (that is Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance) etc. you need to consider where programmers are finding their product. Of course most comes through as submissions (almost everything is submitted to a festival like Cannes), but the point is looking at where they actually programmed the film. It might be a film commission screening in Montreal, or a work in progress showcase in San Sebastian, or it might be top pitch at Rome. There’s a circuit of film industry events, almost behind closed doors, where not all, but a lot of major festival hits are sourced. Sometimes there’s a little lobbying involved, and discussing titles with the programmers, explaining why it should matter to them, why it’s important or groundbreaking etc, which is why I don’t believe simply submitting titles to festivals works.
What would be your Top 5 ‘Festivals to Enter’ for first-time feature film directors/producers?
Ironically the largest festivals in the world are actually those who take gambles and risks in screening first-time filmmakers. Festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Sundance and Toronto actually built their reputation on supporting new and unknown films from new filmmakers (as well as established of course), so if anything (if you play it right) you’re probably just as likely to be selected at a top tier festival as you would at a large city festival (whose programming mainly comes from other festivals). In the US, festivals like LA, Chicago, Seattle and Palm Springs are well known for launching films. Busan, Locarno, Karlovy Vary and San Sebastian are also fantastic festivals. Then of course you have ‘genre’ festivals, Fantastic Fest for horror for example, or Frameline for LGBT. In the UK Edinburgh (almost as old as Venice) has always been very well recognised for supporting new directors.
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Have a great week!
The Film Doctor Team
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