As the pandemic wreaks havoc on the entertainment industry and devastates the festival circuit, the Cannes Film Festival continues to be an open question. While festivals like SXSW and Tribeca have canceled or postponed their proceedings, at this writing Cannes still plans to announce its lineup in mid-April, even as France contends with a nationwide shutdown and the ongoing spread of the disease.
In the meantime, a contingency plan has begun to form. Since 1959, the Marché du Film has been the hub of the global film market for distributors, sales agents, and programmers that coincides with the 10-day festival. While the festival continues to resist firm decisions about this year’s festival, news broke this week that CAA was leading an initiative to create a virtual market that would replace some activity that would normally take place on the ground. At the same time, Marché head Jérome Paillard said the Marché had its own advanced plan for online screenings and meetings that would take place regardless of what happens with the festival.
The cheery 64-year-old, who has run the Marché for 25 years, called IndieWire from his home in Paris this morning. “At least the sky is blue today,” he said. In a detailed conversation, he addressed the current situation with the Marché and what he wanted the industry to know.
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What is the latest contingency plan if the Marché doesn’t happen?
We were in discussion with many companies about creating an online market. After the announcement from CAA, it makes sense that we also announce about what we are doing. Basically, the idea is to prepare for two different scenarios. We needed to have some new tools, and now we do. First, there is the scenario where the Marché happens in May. Obviously, many people will not be able to come, and we need to find a way for them to participate in the market anyway.
The main tool we’ve developed is the ability to have online screenings with the same conditions as physical ones, within the same window, with the same rules for access — if it’s only for buyers or festival programmers, it can be invitation-only. The one difference is that we plan to have two screenings online for one screening in the theater to adapt to the different time zones.
We already have a platform, Match&Meet, in which we are integrating Zoom. So when people organize a meeting, instead of the meeting in a booth, it can be online with Zoom. In this scenario, we would have much more live-streaming for the conferences.
And if the Marché is canceled?
In the second scenario, where the Marché cannot happen physically, then those first options with the screenings and the meetings can be done online. With that possibility, we could still have some screenings that keep the momentum going. It would be a screening schedule where people still have the necessity and urgency to really take the time to watch that film at that moment.
Cannes Film Festival
Are you seeing a lot of cancellations?
We don’t really have that many cancellations right now because people are waiting to know what finally will happen. Even if there is more uncertainty, there is still a small probability that it can happen, so people are waiting to be sure before they cancel. But we signed two contracts yesterday for some booths and we still have some screenings getting scheduled. It’s quieter than usual, but many people still think it can happen. Of course, the probability is really small.
How small does the probability have to be for the festival to cancel?
There is no reason to cancel until it’s a certainty. The Marché, of course, follows the decision of the festival. We are the same organization. We don’t really believe it would make sense to cancel the Marché if the festival happens. That’s really [Cannes director] Thierry Fremaux’s decision with the authorities. They are in constant discussions.
If the Marché were to happen, how would you be able to ensure people’s safety?
If that were the case, we would have all the rules and recommendations issued by the World Health Organization, having alcohol solution at all the entrances, checking temperatures at the airport.
Do you think the bigger companies still want to go?
Yes, actually. All the discussions we’ve had, including with the U.S. companies, is that if it’s set to go — of course, not at any price — everyone wants to go.
How do you feel about CAA’s efforts to create a separate online market?
We’re talking together. I was just on the phone with Roeg Sutherland [who runs the Film Finance and Sales Group at CAA]. From the beginning, we mentioned that we were willing to collaborate together. Of course, we will try to coordinate the two initiatives as far as possible. But I think everyone agrees that the most important thing is to give to the community and the film industry the best we can offer to help them to do some business in a time that is already difficult and will be even harder after a few months. So we really need to find the easiest way to save and promote business during that time. We all want to do this together, so I’m quite confident that we’ll find some very good way to do it.
Were you surprised that an agency would attempt to launch a separate initiative rather than working with you from the outset?
I don’t think we have exactly the same needs. For the agencies and some of the other big companies, what they do in Cannes is mostly to promote their projects with talents. That already happens at Cannes usually in private offices and hotel rooms, not in the screening rooms. So it’s something they usually do in a very private manner. So I understand for that privacy, they may want to be more in control. But for everything that is more like the normal market practices — the screenings, and that kind of presentation — that’s something I understand CAA is open to having a large collaboration on together.
What would your online market platform look like?
We will use a technology from Cinando. With Cinando, we have a very important streaming platform used by many platforms, like Toronto and Cinemania, which is doing an online version of its events now with the Cinando technology. So that’s really the encryption, the security, the rights management, the tracking of the viewings — it’s all based on Cinando technology. But we’re talking about doing a separate frontend that would have more of a big screening schedule for the presentation of the films. Everything will be based on Cinando technology.
How would registration differ?
It depends. People in Cannes will have their badges already. For those who aren’t, we are considering a strong 50 percent discount on the cost of the badge. That cost already includes a one-year access to Cinando, so those services are provided anyway. It’s something still in discussion, but we’ll find a way to make it affordable. The point is not to do business on that; it’s really at that specific time to offer the best service in the industry to help the distributors, sales agents, and platforms to do business only in the coming months.
Of course, one crucial aspect of the Marché experience is wandering around the main floor, talking to people on the fly, and attending events. How do you replicate that online?
If we’re in the first scenario where the Marché happens, it will be more by sharing. If we’re in the second scenario, if it doesn’t happen, for some of the events, I think it will be very difficult. We’re looking now at some alternatives. For instance, right now for all of the VR activities we were supposed to have some pitches of projects. We’re talking right now with Kaleidoscope, our partner on Cannes XR, about maybe doing the pitches online in VR. That could be interesting. So we will see what can be done online program by program. In some cases, it will be more integral. But really, sharing a breakfast online is not so easy.
How did last year’s Marché experience inform what your expectations were before the pandemic?
Last year was a record attendance. We had 11,500 accredited people. We had many new programs. This year we had a few new initiatives, including a very exciting one around a series of speed meetings on different subjects. For example, 1:1 meetings with composers, book publishers, meetings about remakes, co-productions, locations. There were a lot of possibilities. We’re looking into whether we can replicate that in a virtual environment. I’m not sure it’s possible. With VR, if the Marché happens, we’ll have a new exhibition at the Palm Beach Casino for VR. That’s something that would be difficult to replicate online because what we were developing with Positron was this new idea of VR theater. That’s impossible to do online. So many events will not be possible. But I think the core of Marché du Film is something we could do — the core being really that interaction between sales companies, platforms, distributors, festivals, and programmers. We can serve a good proportion of that online.
Have you spoken to any of the big streaming platforms — Netflix, Amazon, etc. — about getting them involved?
Not yet. Now we are mostly talking to sales agents. I’m quite confident that if all the companies agree to do something together more or less at the same time and duration, I’m confident that the distributors and platforms will be involved.
What is the sense you’re getting from the industry about the impact on the work they would normally do at the Marché? How do people engage in dealmaking when they don’t know what the market will look in the months ahead?
You’re right: It’s really a question about the ability of distributors to interact with the market. Hopefully, it will be easier for the platforms and for the smaller distributors. Certainly their ability to pick up and invest on many films will be limited. Of course, we also see some questions from sales agents about the delivery of the films. Many post-productions are slowing down, and some are stopped. The question is how many of those films will be ready or available in the coming weeks or months.
There has been some speculation about the idea of Cannes getting postponed to a later date. If that were to happen, could the Marche still take place at the usual time online?
The success and strength of Cannes is really that connection between the festival and the Marché. Yes, we need to be together with the festival. There is no other option for me — except that, in the case of cancellation, the Marché could be online, which is maybe not the case with the festival.
How are things in Paris?
It’s very strange. Luckily, it’s very sunny today, so that’s nice. Nobody is on the streets, so my wife and I have been going for a walk every day. It’s actually very pleasant. There are no cars. You can walk in the middle of the street. I’m learning to work from home with the whole team. We have daily conferences together and we’re trying to keep our world organized. It’s quite challenging, but very interesting, although of course people are really concerned with this shocking situation.
How regularly are you talking with the rest of the festival?
We talk many times every day.
So what’s your personal opinion on this? Should they cancel?
It’s not something I can really comment on. I can say that they are really working on this every day. It’s really being discussed seriously with everyone who can provide the best advice available.
What do you want the industry to know about the situation now? How should usual market attendees in a holding pattern deal with the current situation?
Of course, we totally understand how uncomfortable it is not to have an answer yet. It’s very uncomfortable for us, too, as you can imagine. If we don’t give an answer on this, that means there is still a real chance it could happen. As long as there is a real chance it could happen, it’s very difficult to cancel. Whatever the industry will be, we will do our best to help pass through this quite unique and strange period of our lives. This is the first time — and hopefully the last time — but we will help serve businesses and help everyone be safe at their companies.