An independent filmmaker’s strategic guide to working the Cannes Film Festival

Cannes marketing materials

I’m a New Orleans-based writer-director working on a follow-up feature to my movie laundry day. In 2021, I hooked up executive producer Corky Kessler and raised money to attend Sundance for the first time (I know, I know… late) with him as my de facto host. Of course, Sundance was canceled at the last minute, and I lost a lot of money and what I thought was a hope of being around people who can help my new project, drink musicbe done on a substantial budget (my first seven-figure film).

A few months later, a colleague asked me if I was going to Cannes. Never having considered this as an option, I sneered but out of curiosity asked on Twitter. Director Editor and producer Scott Macaulay replied, “Apples to apples, going to Cannes is cheaper than going to SXSW” and walked me through the intricacies of festival spending. Free admission…if you qualify. To my amazement, I qualified. With the remaining money, I was off to Cannes! I wanted to attend the Market specifically and meet foreign salespeople and financiers. The goal was to understand their needs and see if (down the road) my project can meet those needs.

I prepared a pitch deck, a poster and a sheet. I also tried to complete “ripomatic”/”sizzle reel” but ran out of time. (It turned out that I didn’t need any of that at the festival itself, but I was glad I finished the material and was waiting at home when I got back, exhausted.)

For the first time, I used three strategies, each a version of the “brute force” / “turning every stone” approach.

First, I spent the previous month digging through Cannes’ Cinando database, sorting through relevant people and finance companies, and cold-contacting with an introduction to myself and the project. This allowed me to have about 15 appointments scheduled.

Second strategy: meet financiers at the Market. It was an instant failure because from day one it became clear that the Market is where the sellers are, not the buyers.

The third strategy was to attend as many parties and mixes as possible and meet people. On Day 3, I ran into a friend, Ben Weisner of Vanishing Angle, and he explained to me that the financiers and sales agents had moved into the hotels looking for balcony banners. This revelation allowed me to pivot Strategy 2 to a new approach:

– take pictures of all the balconies of the hotel.
– research each company. Sort by relevance. Get the list of staff so I can visually identify people when I enter the offices.
– go to his office. Ask to speak to the boss/owner. Give them a verbal pitch, then ask them what they would need to be interested.

Surprisingly, this approach allowed me to have one-on-one interviews with the owners or bosses of 12 out of 16 companies, because they were right there and I only asked for a few minutes of their time. I guess it must be a unique type of event in Cannes. During these meetings, I learned a lot about overseas sales financing, the myriad models of corporate financing, and which companies are relevant for which project scenarios. For example, company X only makes the last third of the budget, company Y only co-finances when a film is half-financed, company Z will finance up to 50% of the budget in exchange for the video rights at residence in England, etc. and to infinity. After the interviews, I wrote the main takeaways on their business card or catalog for further processing.

I made sure to get direct contact details for each of them so if/when I return I won’t have to deal with middle managers or gatekeepers.

Overall the best prospects for short term funding were the relationships I met while socializing – having Corky there was very helpful in this regard – although the Cinando meetings resulted in two very solid.

My mantra is, “A few high-quality leads are better than a lot of low-quality leads.” Considering Memorial Day and the short week after it, I waited two weeks to start tracking, and used that time to prioritize leads. So now I’ve been following and using the wait to implement notes on my script and think about the millions of funding scenarios now laid before me. My top priority is to protect the integrity of the project, so I’m assembling a team of New Orleans producers to manage relationships with these potential funding sources. Only time will tell how this all plays out, so fingers crossed.

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