Support for Oz filmmakers at Cannes

The Screen Australia Office in Cannes

The Screen Australia Office in Cannes (top floor)

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

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8 Responses to “Support for Oz filmmakers at Cannes”

  1. Xav 21. May, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    The other thing with having an ‘office apartment’, as opposed to a stand, is the point that it converts back into a flat at night, saving a fair deal in costs…

  2. Charlie 24. May, 2010 at 5:36 am #

    One government snout in the trough supports another government snout in another trough.

    What the hell is ACMI doing at Cannes anyway – Lets travel and party at the tax payers expense. Oh yeh, baby!

  3. Brian Wilson 24. May, 2010 at 7:18 am #

    Maybe it would have been helpful for Encore to do a bit more research into the situation before publishing David’s piece. Sure it’s great that Encore is giving voice to the variety of opinion in the industry (and it does heaps of other good things as well) but government entity bashing isn’t the most positive way of going about things.

    No doubt David has made a big investment in getting himself to Cannes – and good on him for doing so – and it’s unfortunate that he’s had a disappointing experience but it could also be a great learning experience that doesn’t have to include learning to hate Screen Australia. And a good article by Richard who has no doubt been through a myriad of frustrating episodes in the film world himself.

  4. Karel Segers 24. May, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    I went to Cannes nine years in a row (haven’t been for a while) and the Screen Australia (then AFC) office has been at the same spot since human memory.

    It makes a lot of sense: it’s a great location only 3mins walking from the Palais and the space is 10 times nicer than anything you could get (in those days) behind the official walls of the Marche.

    How exactly SA acts to its clients (i.e. us, the ozzy filmmakers) changes slightly with the personality of the people running the show. I was never blown away but never disappointed either. The latter is an achievement in my view at a place and a time like Cannes.

  5. Richard Sowada 25. May, 2010 at 4:31 am #

    People that know me know that I’m in no way a supporter of all things government – and that ACMI receives no Screen Australia funds so we’re not scratching backs there.

    I’ll be discussing what it is that ACMI does and hopes to do at places like Cannes in my Cannes wrap later this week, but as a quick response we attend a range of other important film fests nationally and internationally. Just because it happens to be in a sunny far off place does not make it unimportant or easy work.

    As part of the global creative community and an active participant in such an international industry, it’s central we attend activities like this to promote what it is Australia does in the industry, what Victoria does, how we all as screen artists relate to its history, present and future and how we continue to program the venue in the most relevant and dynamic way for all audiences.

    We’re a long way away from a lot of things in Australia and unless we show our willingness to be part of one of the most important annual gatherings in the film community then we’re letting ourselves down badly. You can’t write a book unless you know how to read – and that’s a big part of what we do there….read the environment and translate it to Melbourne audiences. The continued success and growth of our program here at ACMI indicates we’re reading it reasonably well I think.

    If people think working at that place is what you see in New Idea…well there’s nothing I can really say – although you do see that. There’s no question it’s an amazing place and there are some very enjoyable experiences but hard work does not (have to) = misery. Whatever anyone may think of Cannes, it’s the epicentre of the film industry, should ACMI and Victorian audiences be at or be able to access the centre?

  6. Charlie 27. May, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Hey, is that true..”ACMI receives no Screen Australia funds”. What, no ScreenOz money for anything ACMI does?? None at all!! Not even for any events held at ACMI, where the money may be passed on to ACMI for venue hire or parties? That’s a real shame and a suprise if that is the case. Well, if ACMI doesn’t get ScreenOz money, I bet it is trying too though!

    “we attend a range of other important film fests nationally and internationally”, well that’s nice for some, but I hope you don’t catch a Metro train to get there, or use a Myki ticket, cause they don’t work – but maybe that is a problem for us moviegoers stuck in Melbourne – not international jetsetters being part of the “global creative community “. Give me a break.

    Glad that it seems to only way for Victorian audiences to access “the epicentre of the film industry” is by ACMI being at Cannes – guess there are no other MIFF, SFF, AIFF people or no Australian buyers there at all.

    A question: if nobody from ACMI went at Cannes would it really make any difference to what happens at ACMI in Melbourne? Come on, be honest!

    One the other hand, if the money was spent on o/s travel was spent on improving the cinema seats, wouldn’t that be of practical bottom-line benefit to Melbourne movie-lovers?

    And another question: Did anyone from SA – or associated with ACMI, or other Govt agencies – mention the David Gould post and that it seemed a little unfair on SA before you decided to send off you own epistle? Just pondering that one!

    (and by the way, thanks moderator for allowing a little discussion).

  7. Ro-mac 28. May, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    Well said Richard, a fair and balanced piece.

    Charlie you’re coming off as slightly obnoxious and hysterical. While there may be some valid points in your comment, it’s buried under the vitriol and irrelevance (myki!? Long bow there matey). Just because you’re on the Internet doesn’t mean basic decorum should go out the window.

    While we all might envy a trip to Cannes, I don’t think you’ve put a convincing case against our local, yes “taxpayer funded”, representatives leaving our sea girt island to connect with the international scene. And yes, I think most certainly makes a difference.

  8. Charlie 29. May, 2010 at 5:53 am #

    Hey Ro-Mac, yeh, well maybe Myki is a bit of a long bow, but the point is to query Vic Gov’t dollars being coughed up to pay for apparent junkets with little or no demonstratable benefit to the taxpayers (a cliche i know).

    Cannes is a bugger of a place at festival time, so there is no envy involved from this punter. Good luck to all in attendance – mind you the reports of over 300 aussie producers there makes the mind boggle. What is that about?

    But matey, the point may have been — pondering what the Flinders Street cinema bookers were doing at the so-called film industry epicentre and wondering if the money could have been better spent!

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