Last month filmmaker Sophie Black, producer of my short Stop/Eject and director of the brilliant, dark fantasy-drama Ashes, attended the Cannes Film Festival and market for the first time. (Watch our vlogs from the festival here.) She entered Ashes into the Short Film Corner, an area of the festival which many filmmakers don’t fully understand until they’ve attended it themselves. So, if you’re making a short and aiming for the Corner next year or further down the line, let Sophie explain exactly what it is.
Let me start with an uncomfortable fact. You may have made an absolutely stunning short film – you may have rented the best camera your budget can afford, and even got a named actor in a small or voice role. But it is still near-impossible to get your film into the Cannes Film Festival.
There were no British films “in Competition”, “out of Competition” or in the “Un Certain Regard” category this year – although two British films made it into the “Director’s Fortnight” section of the festival – and there was a similar absence of Brits in the official short film selections as well. Taking into account the amount of people who undoubtedly submitted their short films from this country, many of which I’m sure were wonderful, you can see how difficult it is to get your film into Cannes.
But, for the thousands of short film makers who receive the dreaded rejection email, Cannes offers a lifeline – the Court Metrage (or Short Film Corner), a “meeting place dedicated to short film professionals”.
When Ashes (then still a work-in-progress) didn’t make it into the official selection, I took this lifeline without fully researching what the SFC actually is, basically wanting any way to get the Cannes logo on my film’s poster (which is the biggest appeal of the SFC, although the logo you’re allowed to use from there is simple, blocky and sadly laurel-free). The submission process for SFC is decidedly easier than the Official Selection – you upload your film to them rather than sending off a DVD copy, and as long as it plays well and you pay the (somewhat pricey) entry fee, you get a confirmation email pretty much straight away. Which causes a bit of a “jump for joy” moment, I can tell you – particularly if you don’t have Java script and have to spend an evening or two installing it to make the online submission system work first!
The SFC website doesn’t exactly spell out what it is; it is worded with strong adjectives to make it sound like a professional, esteemed experience when all you really want is bullet points and dumb language to tell you exactly what you get for your money. So here is what you get:
- Your film will be available on the Cannes SFC database and is viewable on selected computers, all of which are in booths at the Short Film Corner, in the basement of the Palais des Festivals. Sort of like a Vimeo service, but not open to the public. But there are always big queues to this section, so if you want to find a computer which is free, come first thing in the morning (when everyone else is still hungover from the parties).
- There is a public area leading up to the booths where you can stick up the film’s poster, as well as racks for flyers and postcards, to attract passers-by to come into the booths. But, as I discussed in my recent blog post, it can be quite difficult to get your poster in there – and even more difficult to get it to stay there!
- There are “three screening rooms available to you” – which is how the website phrases it without further explanation. Basically there are three enclosed cubicles (of varied size, with varied numbers of chairs, none of which fit more than about forty people at a squeeze) all of which are painted black inside with a personal cinema-sized screen, and a projector linked up to a laptop with the Cannes SFC database (the Vimeo service again) on it. These rooms are shared between every filmmaker with an entry in the SFC, and you need to book it if you want to screen your film there. You can book on the day rather than planning it in advance, but this leaves you less time to persuade people to come. Also, these cubicles get ridiculously stuffy, prompting anyone in there to want to leave before your (optional) post-film Q&A even starts.
- There is a bar in the public area, with free strong espresso in the morning – the brand depends on who is sponsoring the festival that year – and a happy hour with free alcohol around teatime. Ask at the information desk about different types of happy hour because there was a Mexican-themed one on an evening we missed (although it was only the drinks which were themed, not the attire). Coming to the SFC during happy hour is a good time to meet people and network because it’s always packed, with people from other areas of the festival coming along for the free drinks, although it can get hot and difficult to move. And the beer always goes first.
- There are certain lectures held only in the SFC area. As members, you are emailed a list of these in advance, including ones which you have to book for because places are limited (such as pitching sessions to industry professionals for feedback, and lectures on funding). But with some talks, you just have to queue up and arrive early to make sure you get a seat – including a talk with one of my favourite directors, Jane Campion, which we learnt about two hours in advance due to word-of-mouth in a queue for a stuffy cubicle screening.
- Most importantly, there is a separate area next to the screening booths called the Buyers Corner, where people who genuinely buy short films come and meet with you. You will have to book meetings well in advance (although we did try leaving notes for some buyers we couldn’t get hold of in advance), but again, you will be given a list of buyers and contact details via email when your submission goes through. If you are attending Cannes for business rather than pleasure, as I was, then this is your most important asset. But if you are a first-timer, or if you have not dealt with these people before, expect to be treated somewhat differently than those they greet with a “hello again, you!” and a hug. Those people will be given coffee while they wait; you will be lucky to be offered water. And sometimes, you may just get stood up.
- Finally, as with any submission to the Cannes festival, you are given a free festival pass, which you wear everywhere to access the rest of the festival (although priority access is given to those with gold strips on their passes, whereas yours is silver). This is worth submitting for – even if you don’t visit the SFC at all, you get to see screenings (if you can get in) and network in the pavilions and marketplace. In fact, if you want a cheap way to get into Cannes, submit a film to the SFC – which, as I said, has a minimal selection process – and get a pass for around £70 rather than £250! [Note: you can get a free festival pass if you apply early enough and can prove you are active in the film industry. – Neil] You also get a souvenir Cannes shoulder bag and a load of booklets, brochures and magazines with your submission – although some of these are in French and it all soon gets heavy as you cart everything round from place to place.
That’s what you get included in your submission price, but your Cannes experience is what you make of it, and the possibilities are endless.
In part two we’ll hear about those possibilities and how everything above works in practice once you get off the plane at Nice. Find out more about Sophie and her work on her blog at triskelle-pictures.blogspot.co.uk and her website www.triskellepictures.co.uk