Live From Cannes: Piracy, Studio Beyond and Avi Lerner


In the second it takes to wipe persistent flakes of the croissant I wolfed down for the snack substituting for my breakfast, I divert my clipped pace in the direction of the trash can I spot thankfully just outside the Louis Vuitton on the Croisette. As I dispose properly of my pastry wrap litter before running to my next interview, the tres chic Cannes Film Festival badge-necklaced woman crossing in the exact opposite direction a full twelve feet away from me clucks her tongue noisily and disapprovingly. While I realize my decision to multitask—eating the croissant while making sure my tape recorder is set to record in the right place while walking in the most efficient of New York City manners—is a particularly gauche necessity of the moment, it is clear she’s berating me in unabashed disgust. Not for my exhibition of a sheer Americanism, but for my advance audacity to get in her way.

The festival is winding down and people are tired. Even the long, inanimate, stationary row of two- and three-tiered step stools the paparazzi use to leverage themselves and snap photos of the stars entering The Palais for press conferences and red carpet appearances are locked. As if abandoned, to the gate by the boat dock, and somehow managing to look sorry and forlorn. The continually picturesque scenery does little to lift the glaze that has fallen over the eyes of most industry festival-goers here to do business.

One need only walk through the endless emerald green-carpeted market in the basement of The Palais, with scores of movie posters advertising unmade or unsold motion pictures in every language to witness static faces in giant pictures that seem to be mocking you, silently whispering, “You don’t know what you’re missing…” A lot of the individuals manning their respective booths have wan expressions and seem in desperate need of a manual that will give them a step-by-step guide to put one foot in front of the other for just a few more days. Thank goodness for the Nespresso stand two floors up, where the free espressos flow forth all day long.

Avi Lerner, co-chairman of Nu Image and Millennium Pictures and producer of more than 230 films, including Righteous Kill, Mad Money and The Black Dahlia, is currently in development on a Sylvester Stallone project and in post-production on Solitary Man, with Susan Sarandon, Michael Douglas and Mary Louise-Parker, among many other films. He has the dynamic combination of undeterred passionate energy, optimism and experience gained from a history of success.

“The film business is the most difficult business in the world,” says Lerner pointedly. Yet he finds the enthusiasm to keep going, often taking in nearly eight movies a weekend to stay on top of his business and in the know. “To me, it’s all about creating something from very little from an idea. From the idea, you make it a story. From the story, you make a script. From the script, you develop it with the storytellers—the director and the cast. It’s the best thing in the world you can do. You get up, something happens to you and then you get excited and you live like this day by day,” Lerner muses.

“It’s as if all the bullshit has faded away and what you’re left with is the real thing,” says Jason Kliot, referring to the relationship between the current world economy and its effect on the movie industry (and, more specifically, the Cannes Film Festival itself). Kliot, co-founder of Open City Films with his wife, Joana Vicente, is an Oscar-nominated producer of many films, including Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Broken English and Redacted.

The biggest concern on Lerner’s mind seems to be the much-buzzed about piracy. “Governments around the world do not protect distributors buying movies for their respective countries. Children are not educated—they don’t realize that if they’re downloading the product, they’re really stealing the product. Parents don’t tell the children that it’s stealing. It’s out of control. Nobody does anything about it. The judge is ignorant and does not understand it’s stealing. People are stealing a product that cost millions and millions of dollars to create. This is the biggest problem independents and studios are facing.”

“Piracy is killing the DVD market,” fellow producer Lati Grobam emphatically chimes in. “They need to do something about it. We can’t make such expensive movies if people are going to steal them. If that happens, you can’t pay the actors and you can’t pay the crew, so what’s the point?” she argues strongly.

Equally aware but unphased by the woes of the industry, Jasmin Prosser has chosen the Cannes Film Festival to launch her new company, Studio Beyond, of which she is the CEO. A Croatian-born, formally-educated lawyer and moviemaker, Prosser’s vision for her company slowly germinated when, after flying to Los Angeles (she was based in Europe at the time) to meet with her agent at CAA, she was told her agent would not be available to meet for 10 days. Thinking about the expense and futility of sitting and waiting in a hotel room for days on end, Prosser picked up the phone and asked the assistant to speak with her agent, announcing, succinctly, “You’re fired.” This promptly resulted in Prosser immediately being blacklisted. “I didn’t know you never do that,” Prosser demurs. “I was coming from Europe and didn’t know the Hollywood rules,” she confesses. She stayed in Los Angeles for some time, where she met many talented moviemakers, actors, producers and editors.

Studio Beyond is a modern attempt to eradicate the barriers and limits of moviemaking through the creation of an on-line community for moviemakers and producers, both independents and those who are studio-based. From the comfort of their own homes—and minus the expense of a business flight or sold-out screening—moviemakers and composers can upload their work, while distributors, sales agents, producers and executives can search for burgeoning talent worldwide, all for a respectable and modest annual fee. “We have everybody in one place, one click away. We are creating win, win, win for everybody,” Prosser says. “There are so many lives we can facilitate with this.”

Studio Beyond partners with Movie Portfolio Fund, an international investment fund focused on a diverse portfolio of Hollywood feature films and helmed by executives behind the blockbuster success of such hits as Casino Royale and Erin Brockovich.

It’s encouraging to see that optimism does indeed prevail, even in the face of the exhaustion over the relentless pace of Cannes. After many successful meetings over the past week, head of production at Screen Yorkshire, Hugo Heppell, and directing-producing husband-and-wife team David Connolly and Hannah Davis of Mansion Pictures took a respite to stroll the old stomping grounds of Yves Montand in St. Paul and dine in Antibes. Refreshed, they stumbled back into Cannes well after midnight, already looking forward to getting back to work in Los Angeles and returning to Cannes in 2010. MM

Ashley Wren Collins is an accomplished actress and writer living in New York City. She welcomes your comments and thoughts at ashley@ashleywrencollins.com.

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