I understand there’s a robust discussion going on in Australia about the representation Screen Australia provides to filmmakers on the ground here in Cannes, sparked by David Gould’s piece in Encore online.
Whilst David’s piece makes some good personal observations, what it actually does is open a wider discussion about people’s expectations of Cannes, how it works and how to make the most of it.
David seems to be getting it right under his own power which is great – and that’s what it takes to do the deals. However, I don’t think all of the observations are accurate in relation the context of Cannes and how Screen Australia or filmmakers can or should operate here (or anywhere).
This is a hardcore and intense business environment. It’s not about hand-holding and can be a mighty steep learning curve. I reckon I speak for everyone in saying the mistakes you make in this sprawling environment in the first year, you never make again, here or anywhere – but you have to make them and discover your own way. But the onus is on the individual to make it work by research, analysis, organisation, trial and error, and quick thinking.
There are three ways to do business in Cannes. One is on the market floor, the other is off site in the hundreds of apartments that line the main drag – The Croisette – and the third is in the international village right behind the market.
The market floor itself is a circus filled with hocus-pocus, gaudy ‘step right up’ imagery, self-importance and 15-minute meetings. It is in no way a place for relaxed or expanded discussion. Like the visual material all around, it’s about ‘the grab’ and it’s difficult to find any level of sophistication – a broad brush stroke, I know.
On the other hand, a ton of business is done on the market floor and there are some great people dotted throughout. But overall, it’s a confusing hodge-podge that lacks a logical layout and means you never quite know where you are. I’m constantly reminded of the line from The Magnificent Seven when Chris informs the Mexican bandits that the walls are built to keep them in, not out.
Screen Australia are in the off-site group. They have an office here on the Croisette. It is indeed located on the 8th floor of a reasonably conveniently situated apartment block. It has been there for many years and people who have been to Cannes more than once know where it is. It’s sign-posted by very large banners hanging off the terrace (see accompanying photo) and right across the road from a beach where many parties take place.
Across the street is one of the busiest cinemas in the festival that has queues running around the block. It is no different to the hundreds of other offices that exist outside of the market floor on the Croisette and is actually easier to find than many.
Access is by two lifts – one goes directly to the 8th floor, the other to the 7th. Yes, you can go to 7th and walk, as David finds some irritation with, but you don’t have to. Given the speed and capacity of all the lifts in Cannes, it’s often better to walk anyway.
The office is a good hub and usually buzzing with screen types. It’s no smaller than most – in fact it’s a very pleasant and sometimes impressive place to do business, check emails, drink coffee and hook-up. It hosts around 9 activities (I think) that embrace sales agents, festival directors, screen agency heads, distributors, producers and more. I’ve been to three activities there this year and managed to run into the Director of the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival and the heaviest hitters of the Australian distribution scene just in the lifts or standing around looking informal.
The thing about this place is you have to be organised. Each time I have been to the office, all the Screen Australia (and other agency) reps have been locked in meetings with local and international industry types – and like any conference or convention, if you want to meet when it suits you, you gottta line it up in the weeks prior. It’s just what you do.
It’s a shame David didn’t get the opportunity to meet a Screen Australia rep but it’s tough off-the-cuff and he’s highlighted something all filmmakers not experienced with the convention/festival circuit should heed.
As to SA not being on the market floor, there are many, many sales agents (in fact some of the biggest like Pathe, Celluloid Dreams and Wild Bunch) who, like Screen Australia, have an office rather than a stand (it even sounds better!).
Many of the other offices are located in more difficult locations (you ought to try and find the Wild Bunch office!) and many are within stones throw of the SA site. So what they have chosen to do is not out of the ordinary by other national cinema representative bodies.
Should Screen Australia have a stall on the market floor? Well that depends on how best to spend government cash. It would take at least another 2 people to man and arguably (obviously) come to the same result…notwithstanding the capability of hosting functions for 200+ invitees and providing a consolidated base for all Aussies and a known and central meeting point for internationals.
It is a shame, as David notes, that some producers could not access some of the functions and meetings at Screen Australia. They are very valuable and a considerable level of research and effort goes into them, but again this is about organisation. Invitations go out early when you register and you need to RSVP. Like any function, it is subject to capacity and you just can’t hope to get in when you arrive – Cannes (like any place to do business) starts a month before your arrival.
I do acknowledge though that there are more ‘select’ functions, but the same applies to many functions here and there’s certainly enough from Oz and other companies to make some good connections.
In any case, the connections David seems to be making are ace and he’s doing it in the real world and that is tough, so hats off.
What Screen Australia do though can’t be all things to all people and can only ever hope to just scratch the surface here but if used as the right tool, that space and expertise can be a mighty good friend.
– Richard Sowada