A Cannes-Do Attitude: A Filmmakers Mini Guide to Surviving at the Cannes Film Festival and Market.

As far as festivals, nothing tops Cannes” – Sasha Lane

The Cannes Film Festival in all its glory

Cannes; there are few things like it. It’s glitz, it’s glamour, it’s the biggest networking event in the world of film, it’s an experience completely unto itself and it is back fully this year!

It’s an industry event that defines the public perception of filmmaking; they used to say it’s a sign of absolute success in filmmaking if you don’t go to Cannes. We’re not kidding when we say that practically the entire film industry stuffs themselves into one mid-sized city for a week and a half every May; Cannes’ population triples for the duration of the festival. But for new filmmakers, it can be a daunting prospect to take your fest steps into the Cannes Film Festival and Market, no matter how important it is to your career prospects. It’s a lot of people, and a lot to take in – having an old hand to guide you on how to behave, to approach, to navigate the complicated social structures of the festival can be a lifesaver. Aren’t you lucky to have a whole bunch of old hands making a podcast for you, then? We’ve polled our hosts and guests about their experiences at Cannes – their triumphs, their tragedies, their tried-and-true methods for making the most out of ten days of chaos absolutely studded with opportunity. With their help, we’ve put together a little list for you – some “Dos” and “Don’ts” of managing, navigating, and getting the best you can out of the biggest event in film.

Contributors: Giles Alderson, Tori Butler-Hart, Matthew Butler-Hart, The Shakespeare Sisters, Chloe Chudasama, Dom Lenoir & curated by Huw Siddle.

Cannes in a nutshell

The setup of the Cannes Film Festival and Market really falls into three main categories:

The Film Festival – where all the stars and the paparazzi are, heading up the red carpet in fancy frocks and colourful tuxes. You can get tickets for these, but be prepared to enter a ballot or queue for hours. Plus, make sure you’re dressed to the nines – you can be turned away at the door!

The Market – A huge underground space spread over two or three floors with endless stalls selling and buying films. It’s like a giant indoor car boot sale full of new and old film posters and makes you realise you are one of many, many, many filmmakers trying to pop their head above the choppy filmmaking waters.

Events and Networking – Where most of the indie filmmakers, actors and creatives hang out and chat shop, share stories, pitch ideas, watch the latest talks, and meet new people. This happens all over the festival, from the coffee shops to the beach, to the boats (yes, you might be lucky and get on one of those), the villa parties, the many white pointy pavilions and everything in-between.

You can of course straddle all three of these, and dot between them over the course of the Festival, but you’ll need accreditation, a lanyard/badge with your pretty picture on it and plenty of energy as it’s all-consuming, knackering and wonderful all at the same time. If you’re going to brave that French sun in search of filmmaking success, what do you need to know?

Do Introduce Yourself to Strangers

You’re going to see so many people that you’ve never met before at Cannes; it’s your job to make sure that all those strangers aren’t people you’ll never see again. Cannes is film’s biggest meet-and-greet; people go there for the specific purpose of meeting other filmmakers.

So, meet them; be brave and talk to random strangers idling around, ask them what their favourite film is, see if you can convince them that you’re not wearing far too little sunscreen, get their business card (and give them yours) and make a note of something about them in your little notebook you most certainly should be carrying around with you. (or on their business card) Cannes is ten days of opportunity, and some of it will come simply from serendipity – set yourself up for those unexpected successes.

Shakespeare Sisters and friends at their first Cannes

Don’t Leave Things Until the Day

Cannes is an absurdly busy period. There are literally hundreds of things going on at Cannes at any given time, and they all overlap. That means if you want to make best use of your time there, you’ve got to plan things out well in advance, even the idle time for just chit-chat.

Figure out who and what you want to see, and when you want to see it, long before the festival’s even on the horizon, and get as much of it booked in advance as possible; a lot of places may need accreditation that you’re a serious member of the festival before they’ll let you in, too, which is extremely expensive and time-consuming to get done on-site. If you just rock up expecting to get into the big events with a smile and a wave, you’re very likely going to be sorely disappointed.

Do Bring Materials

One of the worst things you can have happen to you at Cannes is that you run out of business cards. You’ll be seeing an absolute sea of names and faces in your time at the festival – physical reminders of who you are and what you do are like gold dust for actually sticking in peoples’ memories.

Business cards, posters, maybe even commemorative gifts if you’re running a Market stall – always make sure you’ve got something on-hand to hand over to whoever you’re talking to that serves as a reminder of who you are, and what you stand for. It’s true for digital materials too; having a laptop or a tablet to hand that you can quickly pop open and play a trailer on can be oodles more valuable than talking.

Don’t Be Late

With all that planning going into setting up meetings at Cannes, and all that time management necessary to get the most out of the Festival, one of the highest insults you can give someone during the period is screwing with their timetable.

Don’t. Be. Late. It doesn’t reflect well on your professionalism, and it gives off a bad image regarding your respect for the people you’re meeting with. If the head of Warner Bros’ financial team wants an extra five minutes of your time in conversation, then OK, that might be a reasonable excuse, but if it’s anything less than that don’t be afraid to break off from whatever you’re doing so you can ensure that you’re getting to your meetings in good time.

Do Practice Your Elevator Pitch

Ah, the Elevator Pitch – “Can you express your idea effectively in the space of 20 floors in a lift?”. It’s an old, old trope, but it gets trotted out again and again for a reason; it’s useful, especially in an environment as time-limited as Cannes. You might only have a few minutes (or even seconds) of someone’s time to discuss your ideas – getting your primary points across succinctly yet effectively is a vital skill to successful networking.  

A classic tip from us? Avoid “X Meets Y” descriptions and their ilk; it doesn’t necessarily say good things about your capacity for original ideas, and for more cautious executives it can immediately raise questions about copyright and its infringement.

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

Cannes has a lot of upsides as a filmmaker – far more than any potential downsides could outweigh. But downsides it does have, and one of the bigger ones is encouraging a bit of a culture of exaggeration among its participants. Nobody wants to be the “little guy” in the group, at the bottom of the ladder in what we’ll be the first to admit is an incredibly competitive industry. There’s a natural tendency to overplay one’s accomplishments, and somewhat of a constant game of one-upmanship going on as you make your way around the Market and Pavilions.

As a result, it pays to have a fair bit of salt handy for pinched application to the stories you’ll hear people telling; it helps put things into a much more realistic perspective. In the same vein, don’t fall into the trap of overselling yourself, either – it pays to know what you’re worth, but the worst impression you can make is that you’re full of hot air.

Do Explore Internationally

Yes, we know you’re already in France, but that’s not what we mean. The best filmmakers aren’t just successes in their home countries, they’re successes all over the world; Cannes is your opportunity to start making the contacts that can lead you to that success.

Visit the pavilions, listen to the talks, and attend the networking for countries you wouldn’t even think about if they weren’t there in front of you right now – every session is an opportunity. Let’s be honest, one of the most useful things about having English as a language is there’s rarely a barrier, so talk to people! You might find they’re saying things you agree with.

Don’t Expect to Sign a Deal There & Then

There’s a pervasive stereotype about Cannes that while you’re there, you can fast-track the entire film pitching process, and go from the first handshake to ink-on-contract in just those ten hectic days. But the reality of things is that the only people signing deals at Cannes are those that have laid the groundwork long, long before, and are taking advantage of a perfect press opportunity.

Especially in your first few years going, Cannes is above all else a networking opportunity; it’s your chance to meet new people, and build bridges and relationships that will lead to further opportunities down the line. We’re all professional filmmakers – we all know how long it takes to get a proper film deal down, and what happens if you try and rush that process, so don’t try it!

Do Take Care of Yourself

There are two parts of your body that you’ll be using all day, every day in a place like Cannes; your mouth, and your feet. If you don’t take care of them, then everything falls apart.

Pack sensibly; make sure you’ve got a bottle of water with you at all times, there are plenty of refill stations around. Pack sunscreen; there’s nothing worse than trying to pitch an idea and having to winch every five seconds because talking aggravates your burnt face. Don’t forget to eat; there are plenty of options around, and if you want to be price-conscious you can take a journey into a beautiful French city all around you to find some cheaper fare. Pack. Sensible. Shoes. You might need a pair of heels or fancy Oxfords for the big events, but otherwise, you’re going to be on your feet all day, every day for up to ten days straight. Comfort, support, and the ability to still walk by day 7 are far more important than looking flash whilst you limp around in the midday sun.

Don’t Peak Too Early

Walking into Cannes for the first time can feel like you’ve walked into the world’s biggest party. Everyone’s loud, everyone’s chatting, everyone’s showing off, and once the day heads towards evening yes, everyone’s drinking too. The mark of a seasoned Cannes-goer is that they know not to indulge themselves too much, especially not too early in the Festival.

You can be there for a week, maybe more (though three to five days seems about the right amount of time to us)– you don’t want to be spending half of those days, especially the all-so-important openings days where connections are made, dragging yourself around feeling (and perhaps looking) like something out of Hammer Horror.

Some of the many White Pointy Pavilions across Cannes

Extras

When you have your accreditation and pretty little pass, you can use the Pavillions (on the beach behind the Palais de Festival), as a base. Each country has their own and the UK has all sorts of industry talks, most days. A good place to meet other filmmakers and have meetings, but it does get busy, so get in early. A lot of them also have events and the U.S has all sorts going on, but you have to pay per day if you’re not American. 

Check on Eventbrite for that sort of thing too. 

The Petit Majestique is a bar behind the Croisette that has always been a place to go for cheaper (by Cannes standards!), drinks and is a bit more casual. Handy for evening meetups. People have been going there for decades so it’s well known to film types, so a good place to meet people. 

The Grand Hotel is also a great place to meet but be warned people go there for meetings so expect to be moved on from tables if you hog them for too long (esp if you’ve not bought any of their expensive drinks)

Private Villa parties can be amazing. But do be aware they are often quite a way away from the main Croisette and will be a taxi ride there and back which certainly isn’t cheap. Sharing a ride with fellow filmmakers is one of the best ways to bear the load.

Well, there we go – a simple little guide to some small-but-vital ways to make your Cannes experience the best it can be! For our part, we’ve got Giles Alderson, Tori Butler-Hart, Matthew Butler-Hart, Dom Lenoir and Ian Sharp from our hosting contingent making the rounds at Cannes this year; if you see us, come say hello (and remember to hand out your business cards)!

If you liked this, do share it with your friends and if you have any more useful advice please comment below and we might add it to the blog. AND if you fancy a treat then take a listen to our podcast all about making films and how to actually make them yourselves on our home page.

Suggested Podcast listening:

Making Indie Films and Getting into Film Festivals with Justin McConnell and Avi Federgreen

Making meaningful award winning Films based on True Events with David Midell & Enrico Natale: The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

How to Fund, Package, Finance and Produce Indie Films with Helen Simmons

Sir Ian McKellen on Acting in Film & Theatre, Producing, Directors & his Career

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