It is more difficult than I expected to think that, merely three days ago, I was still at the Cannes Film Festival. Everyone had told me how it would be overwhelming, and that it would open my eyes to 'what the industry is really like', but I didn't feel that way at all. For me, the scariest part was the plane journey there and back - having never left the United Kingdom, or been abroad.
Having Neil Oseman with me as my own personal tour guide definitely helped. This year was his 4th in Cannes, so he knew the layout really well (as soon as he got his bearings), and for the most part we could avoid the hours getting lost, which I would've inevitably spent if I'd gone on my own. As a fist-timer, I found the best thing to do was basically to shadow Neil, to act as a sort of personal assistant him as he went about his meetings (most of which I proudly arranged myself). Even when he discussed the projects I wasn't involved in, I learnt a lot, as I always do with him. As they say, two's company.
Also, having had Neil - and other industry professionals I've worked on - constantly hammer home that Cannes is basically a buyer's market for produce, that element of it certainly didn't come as a shock. What's more, having spent a fair few evenings over the last year selling tickets in my local cinema, I'd become accustomed to seeing films as faceless items to sell. When it comes down to it, every film is sold in the same way - the paper the tickets are printed on are the same, just the name and the screen number change.
For the whole of my time at Cannes, I just felt relatively calm (or at least my version of calm). In the UK, when I often have to do whichever job pays the bills - as most people do - I am haunted by a sense of unceasing restlessness; a constant nagging feeling that there is something else I should be doing which would be a better use of my time (not just things I would enjoy more but things which would help get me 'out of the gutter' quicker, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde). When I was at Cannes, that nagging ghost disappeared completely, and I felt a constant sense of blissful contentedness. Right then and there, I was in the very best place for myself, doing the thing I absolutely should be doing.
So, what did I learn from the whole affair? Well, there are countless useful guides out there, including the one which Neil and his wife Katie got me for my birthday, but here's a few tidbits I learnt which probably won't appear in any of them.
TIP ONE - THE FESTIVAL BAG
As I show you in the first of our video diaries from the trip (above) everyone who has a festival accredation gets a free Cannes shoulder bag when you collect your badge. Whilst this is a lovely souvenier, and although it carries the covetted Cannes logo, it is batch-produced to cover all the people which recieve them. The inside of mine was frayed by the time I left the country, but that's not the important point - the main problem was the strap. It is made of a cheap, synthetic material which starts to scratch your shoulders raw as you fill up the bag with all the brochures and guides you collect (which are not only useful while there, but also make great mementos). The hot weather meant I always had my shoulders out, and these started to look sunburnt after the first day, purely from 'strap rub'. Neil (who had a version of the messenger bag from three years ago with him) had thought to bring a padded attachment for his strap, which let it sit on there comfortably.
TIP TWO - THE SHORT FILM CORNER
Ashes was at Cannes as part of it's Court Metrage/ Short Film Corner, which is a great way for a lot of people to have their film at Cannes (over 1000 films were available to view in this section through a sort-of in house Vimeo service, and the selection process is a million times more lenient than that of the In Competition section). However, this also means that standing out amongst the masses is even more difficult in this area, and if you go down to the 'corner for Happy Hour, you will be inundated with bright young faces giving your flyers and imploring you to come into a hot little screening room to watch their film.
On acceptance to the 'Corner, you are advised to bring a poster for your film. I wasn't sure where it would go but ordered one A3 poster nonetheless. Well, let me tell you, bringing one poster is pointless. The 'corner is literally coated in posters. If you get there on the first day, you may get a good spot, but it will undoubtedly be covered over by at least five other posters by the end of the first week. On the flip side, get there a few days in to the festival and there won't be an inch of wall space left (and don't be tempted to put yours up on the official banners like I did. This will be taken down within 24 hours, and the Cannes officials won't take the time to find anywhere else to put it. Your dreams of flash advertising will line the bottom of an official Cannes dustbin).
TIP THREE - NETWORKING
As with many British visitors at Cannes, we often took refuge in the UK Pavilion. When there, I didn't have to butcher the French language in my poor attempts to order food, we got free tea (thankyou TeaPigs!) and there are free talks for those who can arrive quick enough to get a seat - one of which was a talk from Clio Barnard and the makers of The Selfish Giant. However, you can be tempted to spend all of your time there, and apart from the odd official who is based in there (such as Brodie Pringle, locations manager for Creative Scotland, who got me on the guest list for their party), this means you'll mostly end up networking with people who are just like you - bright young things from England with films in the Short Film Corner.
Whilst people like this are good to meet (some of them have quality films to show, and meeting these people can lead to collaborations on future projects), if you want to try meeting people with more power in the industry (and by this, I mean money) then you have to try the European Pavilion. It is bigger and quieter, and lecture free; the difference is like comparing your local pub with a trendy cocktail bar. The people in there do not need your business, and so will not be as hospitable. This is the land of the cream-blazer crowd, and we were two 'crazy kids' in a Primark dress and geeky movie T-shirt, respectively. But you need to try your luck; whilst people in other areas will pretty much throw business cards at you, you need to show that you actually mean business before people here will even admit that they have cards. And the fact that just showing the first few shots of the Ashes trailer - on my phone, of all places - was enough for an official to produce a business card, was probably the best experience of the week. Although it does make you wonder how much crap they've seen before...
TIP FOUR - FASHION
Lots of guidebooks state the wardrobe basics for Cannes: wear comfy shoes which will get through running from Pavilion to Pavilion; dress for a hot May (dear god, it was hot) but prepare for tropical winds and rain, and bring a jumper for catching a screening on the beach, because the winds off the ocean at night are icey; if you intend on catching a Premiere or crashing a yacht party (which we tried but failed to do), then you need formal wear and smart shoes - although anything goes on the beach parties. And I mean anything.
But there should really be a fashion guide for Cannes, because it turns out to be one of your biggest business assets. I decided to wear mostly white and cream, and stuck to vintage tea dresses to keep cool (plus some of these worked as both day and evening wear). These were the kind of thing where, if you wore them in the United Kingdom, you would look overdressed - particularly when the British winds yank your dress up and reveal your pants! But in Cannes, I blended into the masses - everyone wore white and cream, and little vintage dresses not only lined the streets, but also the shop windows. I had apparantly nailed riviera chic.
But, if you're trying to make a name for yourself, you don't want to blend into the masses. You want people to remember you as much as they remember the man in 18th century costume who juggles cats on La Croisette (according to Neil, he is there every year). Be bold; be experimental - you'll still feel comfortable in your own skin, because you're in another country, and you're in the centre of glamour and extravagance (at least, that's how the media sees it). And bright hair colours/bold styles alone won't be enough - although, as I said to Neil, my hair should've been redder, and his spikes should've been taller.
You need a gimmick in order to stand out. For example, if you have feathers in your hair - different ones every day - then when it comes to contacting someone you gave your business card to, months later, they will say "oh, you were the girl with feathers in your hair!" Then you avoid the embarrassing moment when you go to speak to someone you met last Cannes, and they've completely forgotten who you are (mentioning no names...!)
So, be original. And no, you can't do the feathers in your hair thing - that's what I'm doing next year!
p.s. to get Neil's thoughts from this year, and to watch all four video diaries from our trip, please read his latest blog post.