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Put it Where the Sun Don’t Shine: A Report from the Cannes Market

Put it Where the Sun Don't Shine: A Report from the Cannes Market

Put it Where the Sun Don’t Shine: A Report from the Cannes Market

by Sandy Mandelberger

While golden sunshine bathed the Croisette, the legendary thoroughfare
that is the main artery in traffic-clogged Cannes, the forecast inside the
hotels was considerably more gloomy. Inside the offices of film sellers
gathered here for the world’s largest film event, the sunshine mattered
little. Even the crush of thousands of buyers, journalists, film festival
representatives and producers could not hide the fact that the international
market is going through a rough patch. For film sellers, Cannes is their third
lackluster Market in a row, after the disappointment of MIFED in October
and the American Film Market in February.

Experts point to a few contributing factors. Certainly the financial
crisis in Asia, the largest market for genre and commercial pictures, is
contributing to the downturn. The number of Asian buyers registered in Cannes
was down almost 50%, and those that did arrive have far less to spend. With
film prices always determined in dollars, the devaluation of currencies in
Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and other Asian territories saw prices
plummet. “We’ve had to reduce our prices by more than 40% from last year”,
one prominent film seller said, “We hate to do it, but we want to maintain
our relationships with our Asian clients for when the economic situation

A slowing of the expansion of satellite television and the saturation of
the home video market worldwide has cooled the need for buyers to fill an
unquenchable pipeline for new product. Especially hurt are the genre and
commercial pictures in the $1 to $3 million range, which are the mainstay
of many international sales companies here. This has also affected the
ability to pre-sell projects for all except the bigger budget films with
well-known names attached.

The most glaring trend continues to be the supremacy of name talent as
the single most important factor in buyers’ decisions worldwide. Buyers are
demanding marquee recognition (by Hollywood or New Hollywood talent) in
even modestly budgeted independent titles. “It’s a bit cynical to say”, quipped
one foreign sales pundit, “but if your film doesn’t have Bruce Willis or at
least Parker Posey, you are definitely in trouble in the international market.”
Luckily, there are still exceptions to this rule (most notably the positive
international buyer response to “Happiness“, the newest film from Todd
Solondz; “Slam“, Marc Levin’s Sundance Grand Prize Winner and “High Art“,
directed by Lisa Cholodenko). However, the Hollywood star system has
reincarnated into a downtown version that has become an indispensable part
of this buyers’ market.

And still the indies, both American and international, fight against the odds
and do their distinctive thing. For Ann Boehlke, the producer and star of the
low-budget comedy “The Scottish Tale,” that meant orchestrating a publicity
stunt while wearing a wedding dress with a 400 foot bridal train held by over
30 volunteers. Her procession in the middle of the road of the always-crowded
Croisette stopped traffic for over 15 minutes, and got Boehlke prominent
coverage in the trades and even the Los Angeles Times.

German producer/director Michael Chauvistre decided that the perfect way
to promote his film, “Rent a Santa Claus” a satirical documentary screening
in the New German Cinema section of the market, was to dress in a Santa Claus
suit and a bikini and ride a bicycle up and down the Croisette, handing out
presents to young and old alike. His ingenuity got him noticed by the local
papers and filled his two Market screenings to overflow capacity.

Not that all indie producers need go the way of the Gong Show. Deborah
Twiss and Todd Morris, a New York producer and director team who presented
their cult film “A Gun for Jennifer” in the Market two years ago, returned
with their new project, “The Dream Killers” They encourage independents to
come to Cannes, even if they don’t have a sales agent. “The contacts you make
are incredible”, Morris enthused, “For us, it’s like a family reunion of friends
from all over the world.” Their repeated presence on the Croisette not only
has re-established their contacts but has the added benefit of “free drinks
from bartenders all over town who remember us from last time”.

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