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May 4, 1999 2:00 AM
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FESTIVALS: MIPTV, where Meetings and Mimosas Mix

FESTIVALS: MIPTV, where Meetings and Mimosas Mix

by Michael Lee



[A two-part dairy on the TV Conferences, MIPDOC and MIPTV, held in Cannes last month. Part I followed Prague-based outsider/filmmaker/journalist Michael Lee schmoozing through the affable crowds of Cannes's MIPDOC with Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle" packed in his new vinyl MIP bag, while struggling to find the right connections to fund his own documentary; Part II, MIPTV where the harder work is to be done.]


The enormity of the inside of MIPTV's central core, the Grand Palais actually soothes me. Its catacombs of booths are open, but a lot of people aren't here yet. There's a whole week ahead, and still a relaxed feeling. Problem is, they're relaxed because they're organized and know exactly their schedules. The executives I'd hoped to find from the bigger channels are mainly off somewhere at meetings, out in the sun probably. I leave messages that I don't expect to be returned.


Bruce, the Australian producer, enlightens me: "I have friends here who don't have time to have lunch with me because they're totally booked. Old friends. People are already arranging their meal plans for next year's MIP. It's almost better to FAIL to see people. Because then NEXT time, you remind them: we missed each other. . ."


For an extreme independent, the best way to approach MIP may be simply ambling and gathering, a Debordian stroll up and down the aisles, treating it like a world's fair, soaking up info, plucking biz cards and catalogues.


It also turns out to be a good way to meet, accidentally, some of the same people you've decided not to bother finding -- and others you never would have thought of. You linger too long at a stand, and boom, they ask YOU what they can do to help. You describe your project, and, if they're not the right person, they're setting up an appointment if at all possible, filling a just-opened crack in a schedule that, if you'd written ahead of time, you probably weren't important enough to enter. At MIP, just showing up truly is the bulk of the battle.


For instance: the friendly woman at the Filmkontakt Nord/Dokument Nordsk booth tells me sorry, they only service Nordic directors, but introduces me to her colleague Anita, from the European Documentary Network, an umbrella for European doc makers much like the IDA for Americans. I meet with her boss. They're co-organizing a conference in late June in Munich; and paying for attendance by Central and East Europeans, and they're short Czechs, Slovaks, and southern Slavs. I promise to get them some names back in Prague; they promise to give me their extremely useful catalogue of all major buyers of docs. (For more info on EDN and the June congress, check out their website at http://www.dox.dk)


Our meeting is in the special top-floor lounge for "The Marketplace," a consortium of small European distributors and production companies organized by the MEDIA program of the EU. It takes up two floors of the Palais and is a great clearinghouse for a US extreme independent looking to work with Europe. But I have to finish getting my proposals printed; I will make my rounds here tomorrow.


MIPTV officially opens tonight at the Martinez. The bash blows out everything that's come before: six rooms, at least 49 savory foods and 16 dessert items; in the big hall in back, a Steadicam operator shimmies his Beta through a Brazilian drum and dance troupe. Only as I'm preparing to leave this extravaganza do I run into Marianne, the MIP organizer I met yesterday at the CANAL+ luncheon, and her friends: Stephan is an indie French doc maker, Victoria, a distributor. We don't talk a bit about work. We gorge and blague. More mimosas.


Much later, at the quiet piano bar of the Carlton, Marianne suggests I meet some other friends at the MIPTV news, which produces a full color magazine of around 180 pages each day, announcing hot deals, full of photos from the poshest parties and features like, "Asian Markets Fuse in Perfect Marriage," and a dense section called PROJECT NEWS. She's friends with the two top editors, who, she says, are great guys. "Go and tell them what you're doing, and maybe they'll do a story on you." Hmm.


Tuesday


A reporter from South Africa also might do a story. He needs a local angle and is finding very little here, so my ground-up efforts might be the trick. Of course, I'm encouraging him as well. He's entertained by the idea of me, later, writing this article about him writing about me writing. He too, it turns out, is a spy, a journalist trying to find support for his own doc.


After this morning's fiction Bourse -- another free breakfast, I stop by the French ARTE booth (a French/German/Spanish broadcaster and co-production company and my biggest target) with my new shiny full-color proposals, but discover that Thierry Garrel, the head of docs, has left for Paris an hour ago. But I can talk to Marthe Verteux, the doc buyer. Don't bother with an appointment, they tell me. She'll be at the booth all day tomorrow. I leave a proposal and hope.


Marianne later tells me Garrel had been sitting next to me at the fiction Bourse. Lesson: go through the catalogue carefully; memorize the photos. And go to your main targets, first (duh!) as soon as possible.


The South African buyer doesn't show at our noon appointment. I pop my credit card into the phone and end up leaving a message in another hemisphere. At Discovery, I drop the page off for heavy hitter Chris Haws, who nobody has seen all morning. Nobody at CANAL+ either.


I climb the steps to the MEDIA program. I stop at MTV -- no, not that one: "We had the name first," American-born Sandra says of the Danish company that can't do much with my type of show (http://www.mtv.dk). Patty at Absolutely Independent (abs.ind@inter.NL.net), a Dutch umbrella for independent producers, thinks my project would be perfect for Dutch station NOS. She also reveals to me the MEDIA program's secret heart: half-hourly group meetings running all day every day with buyers at the most important channels in the world. Just this morning, I've missed YLE and YLE 2, ARTE, Film for the Humanities, WGBH, National Geographic. . . In this case, my ignorance is not my fault. At the MEDIA counter, they don't want to let me see a schedule -- only for registered participants.


After the MEDIA's open symposium "Arts Programming: Funding, Content, the 21st Century," I run into my South Africa buyer, who apologizes profusely -- she arrived about five minutes after I left, she says. Still pessimistic about arts in general, she asks if I can leave her a proposal - out comes one, freshly minted - and she says she'll write. Behind her is Haws, who thanks me for leaving him the proposal page before disappearing into the surging swamp.

Wednesday


Finally I learn too late: DON'T drop stuff off. Even most of the people I meet face to face don't want me to leave them with proposals. Everyone tells the same story: truckloads of stuff to be driven back home, at least three weeks before they'll see it. Mail it to me when you get back, they all say, I'll read it sooner. Email it.


The conference is more about dissemination than delivery. As Bruce points out, it's mainly a forum to discuss projects that have already been proposed beforehand. "They get the stuff ahead of time. Then here, they can meet you and ask questions about it."


I stop off at ARTE - Verteux is in meetings back-to-back-to-back. They interrupt her and tell me to come back in fifteen minutes. But when I return, she's already gone to lunch. "Her last meeting's at 3," the receptionist tells me in her lovely French. "She flies to Paris at 4. Try 3:30."


I rush by MIPTV news and introduce myself to the editor, telling him I'm Marianne's friend and she said I must meet him. He asks what I'm working on. I tell him about my doc and assignment. "Well," he says, "sounds like we should do a little article on you. Can you come back at 3:30?" We agree on 4.


Making my last stagger through the MEDIA floor, I run into Jean from "tv files," a year old service which beams trailers for independent producers by satellite to subscribers worldwide. Seems like a pretty good way of advertising projects at a relatively low cost, though in our conversation I get the feeling they're shooting high and are concerned with independent folk mainly as a stepping stone to the bigger money. Still, worth checking out: http://www.tvfiles.com


Back at ARTE, Verteux is nowhere to be found. I wait and wait and finally, ten minutes to four, she shows up and WE ACTUALLY SIT DOWN. I pitch the project, she asks questions, and then says she needs much more: can I send her and Thierry a detailed script, and some of the footage?


At my interview, I'm the beaming optimist.


On my way back inside the emptying Palais, I walk almost straight into Steven Rosenbaum, head honcho at New York's BNN. I recognize his name from last November in New York, when I called BNN about my doc - we talked on the phone for less than a minute, but that was enough. He vaguely remembers me and the film. He's very interested in my experiences here as an extreme independent.


"It's a positive development," he says. "This place used to be dominated by the big American companies. There was no room for independents at all. In just the last three years, you've seen a tremendous shift in emphasis toward Europe, toward smaller companies."


He gets around to asking me about my doc, how my trip was, how things have gone for me here. I lament the disinterest of American stations in foreign stories. "It's true," he says, "but it's funny, because it's not what the viewers want anymore. They're very globally poised, especially the youth." He tells me about a class he was teaching at Columbia, where a top executive from one of the big three networks came and was roundly trounced by the students for his Amero-centric policies.


Our conversation shifts to the Internet and Steve's ideas about how to use it to finance and market smaller films, especially video docs. "You drop it straight online, into a catalogue, broken down by topic, of as many films as you want, with information constantly added, very up-to-date, web links, contact info, of everything that's out there looking for funding and viewership." And once Internet integrates more fully with TV, which he is certain is imminent, it will revolutionize the way this whole business is done. "True independence will be much less difficult."


He too asks me for a proposal and to send some footage. "Here's how it works: there are about ten people I like to work with, and once I look at what you have, I'll know if any of them will go for it." If I can get a major music figure in America to go to bat for me, he says, someone like Paul Simon - who already promoted to success South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo - or Whitney Houston as an introductory host, it's sold. "That's how it works in the States."


My last official stop is distributor Tapestry International, who I also talked to in New York. Karen remembers me vaguely. I tell her about Steve's celebrity advocacy angle and mention Black Mambazo. "I can help you get them," she says, "That much I can do, definitely." They've just acquired a doc on the group. She takes a proposal and asks me to send a sample.


I meet Marianne's friends, Stephan and Victoria at the giant booth for French independents. Stephan's company, Ardeche Images, focusses on less commercial docs. They'll be running a festival in August in the countryside near Lyon for indie docs, no business, all art. He invites me, but I'll probably be shooting in South Africa.


With Stephan and Victoria at a beachside party, I run into Haws again. I follow him out and beg one last time, I'm an outsider, ANY help. . . He asks about our South African friend. I relay her friendly pessimism. "Well, she's the one, she should know."


He tries to hail a cab for La Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant, for a party. Don't bother, I tell him, it's just a few blocks walk down; I saw it yesterday. "Thanks for that," he says, and turns into the wind to go.


I find myself quietly psyched at the face points. I also realize in that one way, I now know Cannes better than this extreme veteran. Whatever happens next, the brief week has changed me. I'm not quite as independent anymore. I reach into my bag, finger the unopened Debord, head back inside, and order us another round of mimosas.


[Michael Lee is a filmmaker and writer based in Prague.]

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