Two Views of Cannes: Cannes Do

By Sue Clayton

The saying goes – Cannes is a place where people pitch ideas they don’t own to people who can’t afford to buy them. Sue Clayton, director of The Disappearance of Finbar, went to Cannes to help market the film, and became her own PR person.

I was at Cannes this year not with an idea – a phantasm that can happily transform itself into everybody’s ideal movie – but with a finished product, The Disappearance of Finbar, that must now stand or fall by its to-be-acquired market value; and that must dress itself up in the strange new guises that distributors invent for it.

We are screening in the Market and looking for buyers. The big deal is always supposed to be the US. But we are encouraged when that other territory of almost equal value, known as the Rest of the World, is bought by a whole shoal of distributors, most notably Buena Vista, Disney’s ‘world’ arm. I prefer the idea of building up the film’s presence in lots of different countries and contexts, before it gets swallowed into the more defining, more homogenised US market.

Accordingly (and with the old IFA motto of production-distribution-exhibition engraved Mary, Queen of Scots-like on my heart) I decide to call a meeting at Cannes of all our new distributors to understand what they see the film as, and how they will promote it. I’m especially fascinated that Finbar, being about a missing person, has sold so well in countries where missing people are a cruel fact of daily political life, rather than a (possibly fanciful) metaphor. What do they see in the film? Do they routinely buy everything with the word ‘disappearance’ in the title? Or do they regard a movie where someone luxuriously disappears by choice as a particularly bizarre black comedy?

When the various nations assemble at our suave beach-side venue, it turns out that not all speak English; also they can’t believe I’m the director, as directors never take a personal interest in marketing; by osmosis I become Sue Clayton’s PR person in her absence. Most of them haven’t seen the film as acquisitions people are slow to brief their marketing departments. Which is how it transpires that, with only what seems to be a Pamela Anderson look-alike competition on the patio to rival, I am obliged to produce an instant movie pitch, a Euro-show-and-tell; eagerly miming teenage suicide, parental despair, Arctic tango – it’s all the same to me, I’ve played every part in my head anyway and this is all wonderfully cathartic. Encouraged by the now-riveted Pammy girls I flip around merrily conveying sex on a wind-farm – ‘Quixote!! Desire!! You have to lose yourself to find yourself. Geddit?!?!’ – with all the fervour of a basketball coach before the State finals. The marketers love it. I’m giving them the Idea; everybody’s perfect film.

Until one latecomer, who has been looking on in horrified disbelief, halts the proceedings. ‘You’d never be able to make a film like that. Too expensive. Too epic and you wouldn’t get the actors. We couldn’t risk an investment.’

Trained in the UK tendency to gallantly admit defeat I am about to despair along with the now-subdued distributors and porn stars, until assaulted by the memory of the last four years of hell.

We did make it. We got the actors. It was fine. You have in fact bought it already. I even made you the trailer. Cheers all round, as my fast-cut promo, a Keystone Cops version of the movie, flashes by on the video screens. Suddenly the corporate bodies in the room energise across language barriers and are talking about find yourself, lose yourself, and electronic press kits, and can the promo be re-voiced in 12 languages? Of course it can, I should know, I’m the PR person after all. I confidently vouch that Sue Clayton when asked will produce a press kit, t-shirts, biros, anything to make you love the movie. She will even craft little adolescents jumping off tiny flyovers, to boost merchandising. She loves you all very much. Distribution is not, after all, a UN conference, it’s an evangelical religion, all you need is the Idea, and y’all join in…

In truth, to be sold and not yet exhibited is an odd state of limbo, and meanwhile I’m supposed to feel buzzy and keyed-up to sell the next Idea, which is a film about five dancers who work in an oil-town in Alaska. I get asked by the producer of this virtual-film to do press, so find myself sitting by the Majestic pool with an impossibly young, thin and hung-over trade journalist, who can’t spell ‘disappearance’, ‘Gramercy’ or ‘elliptical’. As everything in Cannes is courtesy of somebody else, I ply her with reviving Bloody Marys on the PR agency account, and help her frame some questions. Do we have US distribution for Finbar? No, but I’d hope that companies like Miramax, New Line and Gramercy (that’s G…r… a… ) will be interested. Have they seen it? Not sure. Is the next one financed? Development is with an English producer who has an American partner who, interestingly (if you’re sober it’s interesting anyway) has recently signed a deal with Dreamworks, of which one of the directors is Stephen Spielberg.

The next day I am a big star on the Croisette and the world wants to shake my hand and buy me a radicchio salad. Could this be due to the day’s top story, bannered on the daily trade papers – ‘Clayton to Partner Spielberg’. Clayton, whose film The Disappearance of Finbar is apparently in a neck-and-neck bidding war between Miramax, New Line and etc., is to be whisked out at any second to Alaska to begin imminent intimacies with her big pal Steve.

The person who most definitely couldn’t afford to buy ‘my’ ideas at Cannes, was me.