He looks me up and down and decides he can trust me. Perhaps it’s the innocence of my friendly smile and Pennsylvania-bred blue eyes and blonde hair, but more likely it’s the unnumbered, half-finished glass of champagne he twirls under a shady, tented terrace with the backdrop of the Mediterranean waves crashing to shore a mere 15 feet behind him. My watch shows that it is just after noon on yet another beautiful, cloudless day in Cannes and the crowds are slowly coming to life again.
“She says to me she wants ticket to big screening,” he regales in a thick French accent in his capacity as head of marketing for one of the major sponsors of the festival. He’s referring, of course, to the fact that even if you have a badge at the festival, you need to know someone in order to scrounge up a ticket to the evening red carpet screenings. This evening it’s for Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces. “But she doesn’t say one word to me in French when she ask. Not one word!” he exclaims, his eyebrows raised, the very slight trace of a dignified, nearly invisible snarl at the corners of his mouth. I work up the courage to respond with my own limited French. “Not even ‘Bonjour!’ or ‘S’il vous plait?’” I ask incredulously.
“No,” he responds emphatically. “So, you know, I uh, I can’t find tickets,” he chortles and takes another swig of champagne. And alas, the French stereotype is still alive and well: If you can catch more flies with honey, you can catch more Frenchmen with your simple mastery of basic, conversational French.
The Cannes Film Festival, though very international, is of course, at its core, very, very French. One need only to make the short road trip out to Hotel du Cap Eden Roc (Hotel du Cap for short) in Antibes (on JFK Boulevard, nonetheless) to witness the star-studded display of French perfection—from the cuisine, to the interior decorating, to the landscaping, to the style. The stars who grace the red carpet of Cannes every evening are ushered away from the crowded, noisy Croisette to the peace and opulence that is the Hotel du Cap. It is here you find throngs of paparazzi posed perilously on rocks jutting out over the sea, holding their breath, their telescopic lenses aimed at various boat prospects in the hopes of catching the money shot of Quentin Tarantino or Brad Pitt in an unguarded moment of leisure.
Harvey Weinstein, clad in blue jeans and an untucked, pristine white button-down shirt, brushes past me in the lobby as I wait to be seated for lunch. A voice from behind me pipes up. “Hi, Harvey. I’m Pat Kaufman, the Film Commissioner of the State of New York, it’s good to see you,” Kaufman says as she walks briskly toward him. He smiles and shakes her hand, swiftly and cordially, moving on to join his brother, Bob, clad in a T-shirt and blue sweatpants, at the corner of the all-glass windowed dining room, while a nervous assistant sits perched on the edge of a chair nearby, talking animatedly on her cell phone.
The Weinstein brothers are surrounded by white-jacketed waiters in sunglasses (the glare of the sun on the water is awfully bright) wiping away crumbs and tending to other diners, such as myself (opting for a very modest selection from the scrumptious, eye-poppingly-priced menu) as well as a few other tightly pulled and manicured women. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that the Hotel du Cap abandoned their cash-only policy.
This is the Hotel du Cap Liza Minnelli walks in front of leisurely while talking to the camera in Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter’s 1980 documentary with Rex Reed, The Diary of the Cannes Film Festival (hailed by Roger Ebert as the best documentary “ever” on the festival) and it’s the one Brad Pitt and George Clooney posed in front of for numerous magazine spreads prior to the release of Ocean’s Thirteen two years ago.
“I can’t talk physically in terms of how Cannes has changed—perhaps it is less glamorous than it used to be,” says 50-year show business veteran Mark Damon, CEO and chairman of Foresight Unlimited, a former child actor turned Oscar-winning producer of such movies as Das Boot, Beyond the Sea, The Upside of Anger and Monster. He has recently finished a remake of Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, starring Michael Douglas. “I remember at the beginning almost wherever I would go, whether it was a cinema presentation or not, you would almost always dress up. It’s become far, far more casual, except for the red carpet. Outside of that, the biggest change is in the film market and the use of distributor contracts to help fund films, which are becoming less and less available to us,” he says thoughtfully, turning to the reality of the current market.
“Certainly, films will be released digitally and prints will disappear over the next five to 10 years. We all hope that video on demand (VOD) will become a revenue source far faster than it has been as the DVD market comes down. VOD has not gotten anywhere near close to making up these losses. I think we will see a diminution of DVD and video over the next years, possibly disappearing entirely. We’re seeing a diminution of cinema-going and theaters as young people become more and more used to their viewing experience being on small screens and in bits and pieces. The whole cinema-going experience of seeing something on a big screen with an audience has less and less of an impact on young people. There are so many changes happening so much more quickly than we anticipated. I can’t prophesy; I can only hope that me and my company keep up with it and stay ahead of the curve, on the cutting edge,” Damon shares.
Max Wiedemann, one of the Oscar-nominated producers of the German film The Lives of Others, along with his partner Quirin Berg and their company Wiedemann & Berg Productions, has several film and television projects in development, including Männerherzen, Friendship and Faktor 8. Wiedemann is optimistic about the future. “You can download pretty much every song on iTunes now, but there’s still a radio,” he points out. “I’m quite confident. Because in times of crisis, film has proven that it is, in fact, almost crisis-resistant. Sometimes it does even better if times are worse.
“There is a new generation of filmmakers,” Wiedemann continues. “Historically, if you take a look at the development of German films, they desperately tried to be different than American films, avoiding common storytelling structures which Americans had already proved worked for an international audience. Now, the new generation of Germans who have grown up with American films do not have these problems anymore. We grew up with Star Wars and Back to the Future and we love these movies. When we see all of these movies, we do not automatically become American, but we do automatically accept that they prove that there are rules that work for an international audience. If you take a look at the last 10 years, you can see that there are more and more films coming from Germany that work in the international market. I think it’s just the beginning,” he says candidly over a table on the lawn of The Grand Hotel.
The formula for success continues to remain the same for Damon. “I go with a lot of research, taking into consideration where the demographic of the picture is, what will be the marketing tools to interest them. I rarely start a picture if I cannot see how it’s going to be marketed—if it’s not clear to me where the audience will be. Outside of that, so much of gut comes in. I’ve learned over the years to trust it. If you have a decent instinct and you have a lot of experience that has served you well in the past, you’ve got to go with your gut, as long as you keep up with what’s going on in the world. It’s too easy to fall back on what’s been done in the past and what has succeeded in the past. The world is constantly changing and as soon as you lose touch with it, you’re finished. The gut doesn’t pertain. So you have to keep it small,” he laughs, gesturing to his own trim form.
“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I weren’t in this business. My entire life has been dedicated to motion pictures. What gets me excited is finishing a picture, delivering it and seeing, on the first day it opens, that there’s a line around the block of people waiting to get in,” Damon says, his eyes sparkling with youth. And that’s exactly the scene you see every single night in Cannes at The Palais. Lines down the block and around the corner, spilling onto the streets, hopefuls holding up signs in various languages and broken English, desperate for a movie ticket.
“There are no new rules,” Damon remarks. “Tastes are constantly changing. That which made an independent film successful 10 years ago—the same parameters apply today. It has to be something unique and different, something that grabs you and keeps you involved as you’re watching. You have to be moved by it. You maybe have to be educated by it, enjoy watching it… great successes have all of those elements. You cannot predict when you’re going to make a movie that the final product will have all of that, but what you can do is make sure that the script you start off with at least has that potential. The producer has to have the vision to bring it to a successful conclusion while worrying about financing, distribution, marketing, how to take care of the director who always has big fits of doubt during the shooting of the picture, the actors who need to be consoled, the composer, the editing, the crew. You have to make sure that the train ends up in the station intact and as timely as possible,” he concludes.
I leave his offices and step out into the beaming sunlight. As I stop briefly to pull my sunglasses out of my bag, I am nearly run over by other moviemakers and producers rushing up and down the sidewalk, all eagerly making sure that their own trains are running on time. MM
Ashley Wren Collins is an accomplished actress and writer living in New York City. She welcomes your comments and thoughts at email@example.com.