Welcome to the circus. Tomorrow, the Marché du Film opens its doors for the largest film market in the world. Over 11,000 attendees will flood the Croisette – distributors, sales agents, financiers, festival programmers and producers, all hustling for business, space, money and time.

How do you get people’s attention and make a great impression as an independent filmmaker? Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism. Here’s a few pointers.

First impressions matter.

Look the part. Like it or not, we all make value judgments on other people’s appearances. Look smart. Make some effort. I’m not saying you have to be in a suit if that’s not you, but people will take you more seriously than if you turn up trying to pitch a project in ripped jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt.

Respect the exhibitor’s space.

Sales agents will be set up in stands in the Palais and apartments along the Croisette, showcasing the films they’re selling. This is their office at the market. There will be trailers playing, posters on display, people talking at tables. Please don’t just walk in. Don’t interrupt trying to get someone’s attention. Don’t shout across the room.

A sales agent’s main priority at the market is to meet as many distributors as possible and close as many distribution deals as possible. I know you’re excited to pitch your film, but you won’t win any friends if you crash their meeting with Lionsgate. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.

There should be someone at the front who can take your contact details and possibly schedule a meeting if the  company is actually taking acquisitions meetings. They will want information about your film before they commit to a meeting. Time is precious in Cannes. There are hundreds of filmmakers just like you, but very few films that make the cut which are commercially viable.

Do some research.

Some sales agents and distributors will be a better fit for your film than others. Make a list. Find out their stand number. What’s the name of the contact person? Have you set up a meeting in advance? If not, ask to set up an acquisitions meeting.

Understand that a sales agent’s main priority at the market is to meet as many distributors as possible and close as many distribution deals as possible. They may not be taking acquisitions meetings at the market or only at the end.

It’s not personal. You’d want your sales agent to be selling your film at a market. You can leave your information and follow up with them after Cannes. Yes, it’s great to get a meeting, but keep in mind the sales and marketing strategy kicks in for a new film up to two months before the market it launches at. You’re building relationships and getting in position for the next market.

Schedule Smart

Thanks to my handy phone tracker, I can tell you I walk at least 18 kilometres every day at Cannes, up and down the Croisette taking meetings. Cannes is far from compact so make the best use of your time. You don’t want to schedule a thirty minute meeting in the Palais and then one immediately after over at The Grand. It’ll take you at least ten minutes to battle the selfie taking hordes and late is never a good look.

Google Maps is your friend. Stack your meetings in one location when you can. The ideal scenario is to stake out a cafe table for a day and get people to come to you. But beware of the inevitable inflated 10 euro coffees for the privilege.

Try to avoid the mystery meeting, where you’re wandering from table to table asking people if they’re the person you meant to meet. Photos in advance help but aren’t foolproof. Trying to match a Cinando profile picture to a real life person is like the worst date you’ve had on Tinder.

Establish your credibility.

Lots of first time filmmakers come to Cannes clutching a synopsis on a crumpled piece of paper expecting their genius to be recognised and money to fall from the sky. You can do better.

What have you done? Have your previous films been distributed? By who? In which territories? Who’s attached to your project? Writer? Director? Producer? What have they done? Confirmed cast? No-one cares about your fantasy casting. They want letters of interest.

What’s your budget? Is it realistic for its genre? How much finance do you have already? What tax breaks and credits are you taking advantage of?  Do you have a one sheet? Teaser footage? A polished elevator pitch, which you can adapt to your audience and their interest level? What makes your film different and original? What makes your film commercial?

We want proof you can deliver a quality commercial film, on time and on budget. If you walked into a bank, you wouldn’t expect to get a loan without establishing your credentials. Tell us why we should have confidence in you.

Have your film materials ready.

If you’re looking for distribution for a completed film, have your trailer online and one queued up on an iPad you can quickly show someone if they have a spare minute. Bring one sheets. A good one sheet will have your fantastic artwork on the front, synopsis with production stills on the back, with any stars front and centre, cast and their notable credits, director, writer, producer, and their notable credits, run time, language, link to film website with trailer, production company website and contact information, even a Vimeo screener link with password.

Bring screeners. Make sure your film title and contact information is printed on the screener disc or sleeve, or tuck your business card inside.

Follow Up.

Do what the sales agents do. Make yourself a meeting book. Bring along a notebook and a stapler. Get business cards of the people you meet, staple their card on a new page with the date, the content of your conversation, any action to be taken – send screener, teaser, script, chase up on screener feedback and when to do it by. Then execute. Send thank you emails. Wait two weeks after Cannes wraps up and follow up again. Know that many sales agents and distributors take time off after Cannes, so don’t be too anxious if there’s no immediate reply. Polite persistence will get you a long way.

Have fun.

Be passionate. Be excited. Smile. Talk to everyone. Be on time for meetings. Listen to criticism and feedback graciously. Wear comfortable shoes you can walk in. Bring stacks of business cards. Write notes on business cards you get – who are they, where did you meet, what did you discuss? It’ll be a godsend when you go through the pile at home.

Go to parties. Understand at a certain point in the evening, the Cannes calculus kicks in – you can have one more drink, or an hour of sleep. Choose wisely. Bring sunglasses and ibuprofen for the morning after. Watch some movies. Have an amazing time.

Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

Picture Credit: Festival De Cannes 2014

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