Soul Searcher: May 20th 2005

I got back from Cannes yesterday. Whilst there I kept a detailed journal of everything that happened, so take a deep breath as the Spielberg of Hereford hits the Cote D’Azur… (Some details have been omitted due to their sensitivity.)

May 13th – I got up at 3:35am, having stayed at a friend’s house in Ealing, and got a taxi to Heathrow. I was flying via Zurich (that was all that was available since I left it so late to book) and in the air I silently practiced my pitches for Nightland and Suburban Glamour. (The latter being another film I’m developing based on a soon-to-be-published graphic novel by Jamie McKelvie.)

I landed in Nice at midday and got the bus to Cannes. It’s a beautiful French Riviera town with weather to match. The seafront was lined with marquees and the Palais – the massive cinema at the hub of the festival – was decked out with huge banners. I met up with Elizabeth, the random writer from Clapham who’s sharing a hotel room with me, and picked up my market badge. Already my patchy recollections of GCSE French were being stretched to breaking point, and they almost failed me as I sought the hotel alone. By the time I got to the room I was convinced the next six days were going to be Hell. I’m a director, not a producer. I shouldn’t be here, particularly not on my own.

After a shower and a shave I headed back into Cannes. (This required an interminably long wait at a bus stop.) I wandered along the Croisette (the main stretch of seafront) and bumped into Elizabeth, who introduced me to her friends as the British Tim Burton, then tried to get me to go to some exclusive party. I declined, having a previous engagement with Jim of Amber Pictures, a guy who responded to my Shooting People posting for Cannes advice. Jim, who directed a film called The Witch’s Hammer, which starred an actress I’d coincidentally worked with in a corporate video a couple of years back, introduced me to his friend Harold – who turned out to be none other than Harold J. Gasnier, auditionee for the role of Van Beuren back in 2002. After a few drinks my early morning caught up with me and I headed back to the hotel.

May 14th – Mandelieu, where I’m staying, has the worst bus service I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve lived in Malvern. After waiting nearly an hour for the bus, I was starting to loathe the Cannes Film Festival almost as much as the first week of shooting on Soul Searcher. When I finally got into town, I met up with Shane Steyn (SS demon) and bumped into Richard Cambridge (Joe Fallow 2002) at the UK pavilion. I then took a deep breath and entered the Riviera building.

Here films are bought and sold like cans of beans. It’s about as far from the creativity of film-making as you can get. Stall after stall of dodgy movie posters and people doing deals. Nevertheless, having come this far I had no alternative but to start talking to anyone who was free and could parlez Anglais. “Are you interested in a fantasy-adventure movie? Let me give you a trailer… Really good press in the UK… US sales agents want to put it in cinemas… turn it into a TV series…” Some of the people were willing to watch the trailer there and then. Those that did immediately said, “We can sell this,” or at the very least, “Looks interesting – send us a tape.” Most adamant was a Mexican gentleman who insisted that he was the best sales agent there as he puffed on the biggest cigar I’ve ever seen. His eyes almost popped out of his head when I told him the climax of my film was a chase between a ’73 Mustang and an Express Train to Hell. (I quickly realized that this was a good line to use with everyone I spoke to.) Some sales agents said they could sell it as soon as I told them it had martial arts in it.

Having seen everyone there was to see, I went back to the International Village, where I bumped into Jim Groom, director of the Scott Benzie-scored Room 36. I spent much of the afternoon in the Kodak Pavilion, for which Jim of Amber Pictures had scored me a pass. I hadn’t been there long before a producer-director team approached me asking, “Are you the guy from Hereford?” They had read the SS review on Shooting People a couple of weeks back. Director Mike and producer Jon had recently finished their first feature, Diary of a Bad Lad. I chatted to them for quite a while, learning a lot of interesting things about UK film funding. Jon told me I should put on my suit, go to the Majestic Hotel and try to see Harvey Weinstein.

By closing time there was still no sign of Guerilla Films’ David Wilkinson, who I had come to the pavilion to track down, so I went off and tried (and failed) to get into a reception on the Sony yacht.

In the evening Carl Schoenfeld (who has been helping me develop Nightland and Suburban Glamour) got me into the Raindance party, which was notable for the presence of Morgan Freeman. On the way there I bumped into Becca Ralph-Farella, producer of Beyond Recognition, who I hadn’t seen in three years.

After dinner at a bizarre kebab joint that seemed to be built into the entrance of a multi-storey car park, I hooked up with Shane again. Shane’s party included Ross Boyask, director of Left For Dead – the martial artists from which will be familiar to anyone who’s seen SS – and Phil Hobden, producer of same, plus Darren Hayden-Knight, who was my gaffer on Beyond Recognition all that time ago. Phil and Ross are both Cannes veterans and gave me a lot of great pointers on who to see and who to avoid.

May 15th – Having sussed the bus system, getting into Cannes this morning was much easier. After following up a couple of things from yesterday, I went to the European Pavilion to meet Eddie Leahy. What a relief to speak to a down-to-earth Brit. I showed Eddie the Guardian article – by which he seemed quietly impressed – and gave him a full VHS screener to take away. I also met a guy in the Kodak Pavilion, Daud, who tried to pitch me an UKP8.6m action movie he had in development. It turned out he also did acquisitions, so I gave him a trailer and agreed to meet him back in London if he liked it.

After lunch (a chocolate ice cream) I went to see H3O Films in their hotel suite, showed them the trailer and got an enthusiastic response. Another screener to send out when I get home. Returning to the UK Pavilion I bumped into Elizabeth, who introduced me to two producers, Bernard and Maverick, the latter of whom was coincidentally set to attend the London screening of Lara-starrer Every Picture on Saturday, being a friend of that film’s composer. I also met Steve Abbott, producer of A Fish Called Wanda and friend of the good folks from Screen West Midlands, who he said were raving about me.

I was finally able to catch David Wilkinson of Guerilla Films in a spare moment and talked to him about distributing SS in the UK. He was suitably impressed by the Guardian article and looked forward to receiving a screener.

Next I introduced myself to Ben Crowe, director of the celebrated UKP400 short The Man Who Met Himself, which I believe was the only British film to make the Cannes Official Selection this year. I chatted to him and his friends for a while, plus a journalist who gravitated to him (way to piggyback on someone else’s publicity). Ben – whose film I later saw and greatly enjoyed – was as surprised as anyone that his little movie had got into the world’s most prestigious film festival.

On the way out I bumped into Richard Cambridge, who was just about to tell me what he thought of Revenge of the Sith (the jammy bastard went to the early-morning premiere) when Carl Schoenfeld came along. Carl arranged to meet me tomorrow and advised me to speak to Screen International, a major trade periodical, about a deal announcement regarding a company I shall call simply “CVR” – they were the first ones to say they could put SS in cinemas. Carl is my Obi-Wan. Every now and then he materializes and says, “Use the Force, Luke,” or, “Go to this party, Neil.” The man knows his stuff.

After a quick drink with Shane and the guys I grabbed a take-out pizza. As I was walking through the streets, stuffing the dough-based meal into my hungry mouth, pizza juice dripping down my face, I ran into Becca again, who was all done up in a glamorous frock. She had a spare ticket to the Star Wars: Episode III party and asked if I wanted to go. “Have I got time to finish my pizza?” I asked. We boarded a special coach as Episode IV started playing on the big cinema screen on the beach. George had hired the Queen Mary and anchored it out in the bay, so the expectations were that this would be the venue for the party. So we were a little disappointed when it turned out to be in a club at the end of the beach, albeit one that they had specially decked out with Darth Vader projections, ice sculptures of R2-D2, Yoda and so on, and TV screens showing a montage from the SW films and computer games (which were indistinguishable from each other). The outside had been done up to recall the swamps of Dagobah, with the added touch of flaming gas torches dotted around. At least twice during the evening I saw guests try to cross the “swamp” without using the little footbridge, trip and almost catch fire as they stumbled into a torch. Other than that the party was pretty lame. All the stars immediately retreated to the VIP area, apart from Billy Zane, whom Becca made a pathetic attempt at chatting up. Kelly has nothing to worry about.

On the coach back to the centre of Cannes, I sat next to a lady called Judith who asked me what I do. I told her a little about SS and she said to call her later in the week as her father owns some cinemas in LA and she might be able to set up a screening to generate a buzz in Hollywood. Gotta love Cannes, man. Gotta love Cannes.

May 16th – I shared a cab into Cannes with an American producer-director team who were trying to sell their feature-length documentary about bull riding. My first meeting of the day was with Daud, the guy I met in the Kodak Pavilion the other day. He watched the trailer on a laptop with no sound and decided he could sell it. We’re going to meet up in London when he’s seen the whole thing.

I went to see “CVR” to ask them some questions about their contract and get the okay for Carl’s suggested deal announcement. Just meeting the “CVR” guy face-to-face was worth the whole cost of the trip to Cannes. The guy was flaky and unenthusiastic. He told me that, despite what he said in an e-mail a few weeks ago, in the case of SS he would probably not release in cinemas. He encouraged me to talk to other companies and didn’t seem to give a shit whether I signed to him or not. I walked away depressed, but very relieved that I had not signed his contract.

After dropping a trailer off at Fortissimo – recommended by Carl but by the looks of their catalogue they seemed to be into arthouse movies – I called Judith and she invited me to a screening of Joyeux Noel (excellent film) at the Palais. She had to leave before the end for a meeting so I still haven’t got to speak to her properly. I grabbed a burger – which I managed not to pay for – and headed to the Kodak Pavilion to meet Carl. He outlined how he felt we should move forward with Suburban Glamour and Nightland, which gave me something to think about.

Next I went off in search of Giant Films, who I sent a tape to ages ago. The guy there, Nick O’Hagan, knows Carl and is somehow involved in getting digital cinema distribution going in the UK. I couldn’t find his hotel, so I’ll just have to bite the financial bullet and call him tomorrow. I had no parties to go to, so I got an early night.

May 17th – I put on my suit and decided to go see Miramax. On the bus into Cannes I suddenly remembered it’s my birthday (25).

Unsurprisingly, the acquisitions manager for Miramax was unavailable, so I left a copy of the Guardian article and my contact details. Next I went to the dreaded Riviera building and talked to a couple more small companies before going to my 10.30 with Park Entertainment. The guy sat me down and I explained about SS and that I already had some offers. He said to take their cash. He said he had lots of product and no money. I left.

I was supposed to meet Isabelle Alenus from Screen Media at 11am, but she didn’t show. Returning to the UK Pavilion, I bumped into Daud once again. He was psyched about a martial arts movie he’d acquired. He also said something about seeing trailers for 20 movies yesterday, which gives you some idea of the madness of Cannes. He said if I signed to him SS would be marketed on the action. “People in the UK right now want to see some guy kicking someone in the face,” he asserted.

After introducing myself to the UK Film Council and having a chat about funding, I walked down the Croisette to the Grand Hotel, where I dropped a copy of the Guardian article into Pathe UK, to go with the flyer I left them yesterday. On the way back I popped into Film Four, who no longer do acquisitions, but I gave them a copy of the Guardian article too and said I’d like to meet with them about future projects when we’re back in London.

Back once again at the UK Pavilion I bumped into Maverick, who introduced me to Rad, the composer on Every Picture. He in turn introduced me to a producer-director team (man, gotta get me a producer… a good one) who are trying to raise funding for their Soho-criminal-underground movie. They showed me some cool concept art and told me about a new digital camera, Viper, that cuts out tape altogether and shoots directly to a cartridge in an uncompressed format. They want to shoot their movie on this. Their dream budget is UKP2.5m. I told them all about SS and showed them the Guardian article. They were astounded and said we should meet up in London so I can advise them on how to make a movie for peanuts.

I took another walk down the Croisette, passing the Carlton Hotel, the Cannes residence of Twentieth Century Fox. “What the hell,” I thought and went up to see them. The receptionist said they couldn’t take unsolicited tapes for legal reasons, but I gave her a copy of the good old Guardian article and she promised she’d get someone to look at it.

I went back out for a stroll, but a thunderstorm passed over and since I was still wearing my suit I figured I’d better get out of the rain. I took cover in the Carlton. At 5pm I had a meeting there with a company I’ll call “FF”. The guy from “FF” had seen Soul Searcher prior to Cannes and having seen their movies trailing on a big screen near the Palais I held high hopes that they were going to make me a serious offer. But it was not to be. The guy said he really enjoyed SS and last year he would have snapped it up, but now they were taking on bigger budget films and SS just didn’t fit the bill. He implied that they had something to prove by taking on more expensive movies. So I left with nothing, save for a vague indication that they might like to get involved in my next project.

After popping back to Mandelieu to change out of my suit, I met up with Elizabeth and her producer/director friend Bernard. (Elizabeth is a writer and Bernard directed her short film Voices Inside.) Bernard and I had quite a long conversation about SS before he realized that I’d made the film – it’s not just a script I’m trying to raise money for. He watched the trailer in his DVD player and loved it. In fact he watched it twice. He agreed with me that my best hope for a good deal lies in getting it into a major festival.

Elizabeth and I then went for a drink at the Majestic’s bar with her friend Phil. I was staggered by a bill for 14 Euros (UKP9.60) for two glasses of orange juice. I got talking to a Californian executive producer who makes documentaries. She asked me how Joyeux Noel‘s second half went because she fell asleep in the screening. I told her it was great and she missed a treat.

As Elizabeth and I left the Majestic it was still raining, as it had been most of the day. Benicio Del Toro was getting into a car and was driven away. The valet told us there were no taxis available. As we walked out of the hotel grounds in the pouring rain – Elizabeth with a plastic bag over her hair to keep it dry – we reflected that one day it would be us getting into a chauffeur-driven car outside the Majestic. Oh, the glamour of Cannes.

May 18th – I felt a little like I’d done Cannes and that I didn’t need this sixth day, but I was to be proven wrong. The first order of the day was to speak to an English company in the Riviera who had been too busy last time I was there. The lady I talked to had seen the Guardian article when it came out and was happy to watch the trailer. She liked it, so I gave her a copy of the whole film and she said she’d be in touch.

Film Four rang me and said a slot had opened up at 5pm for me to speak to their development editor, Jo McClellan.

I went to see a company who were in a very strange place called the Palais Miramar. From the outside it looked like a swanky hotel, but inside it was bare and abandoned-looking. I located the company’s corridor and entered – to complete blackness. As I was trying to use the light of my mobile phone to locate a light switch, a door opened and the hall was illuminated.

After a croissant and yet another chocolate ice cream, and bumping into director Justin Edgar of Large fame, I went to the European Pavilion for my meeting with Luc Ntonga of Insomnia World Sales. Just as I was sitting down with Luc, my phone rang. It was the Channel Four Ideas Factory, calling from the UK to tell me I had been selected for the Creative Class of 2005. This means I’m apparently one of the twenty most talented creatives in the Midlands.

Anyway, Luc explained that he had a very different “state of mind” to other sales agents. He said he normally takes only around 35% commission. He used to be a producer and wants to see other producers treated fairly. He also said he wanted to build long-term relationships with producers, so I gave him a copy of the one page treatments for Nightland and Suburban Glamour. I’d sent him an SS tape a few weeks earlier, but he had only had chance to watch extracts. He loved the special effects and was looking forward to getting the chance to watch the whole thing.

At 5pm I went along to the Film Four meeting, accompanied by Carl. We sat out on their balcony overlooking the sea, the sun blazing down. There was a little lemon tree in a pot which looked so perfect it almost seemed fake. I told Jo all about SS and how it was made – how all the effects were done traditionally for next to no money and how I like to take an audience on a journey away from the real world. I showed her the treatments for Suburban Glamour and Nightland and she was delighted. She said she hadn’t seen anything as ambitious and imaginative as this done in the UK in recent times. Carl said no-one in Britain is doing what I’m doing. He said I urgently need nurturing by the British film industry before Hollywood snaps me up. All in all the meeting went really well. We left Jo very excited to watch SS and keen to be involved in developing the two new films.

In the UK Pavilion, I saw Mike from Bad Lad typing up something with my name in. It turned out to be his on-line director’s journal. (In the words of Eric Cartman, “It’s like I’m looking in a mirror.”) So this may be the world’s first Director’s Journal Crossover.

I grabbed a bite and went to the seafront to watch the waves lapping on the shore and the news cameramen shooting golden hour GVs of the yachts in the bay. All to the soundtrack of panpipe dudes like the ones I used to see in Hereford’s High Town sometimes. They were playing a traditional Native American Abba song.

Judith called and asked me to come up to her apartment on Rue George Clementeau. She led me past the huge lounge and pool table and down into the very nice screening room in the basement. She played my trailer and loved it, particularly the sound work. She asked if she could see the whole thing, but I’d run out of copies. She said to send her one at her Paris address and that she would like to set up some screenings at her dad’s three LA cinemas at Hallowe’en. She talked about doing press interviews (her pop also owns four radio stations) and going to local high schools to get the kids interested. Then she played me some songs by Jar of Tadpoles, a superb band that she had signed to her little record label. She said she was an ideas person and told me all her concepts for music videos. Then she showed me her acting showreel and a short documentary she’d directed.

Leaving her place I hooked up with Elizabeth and we bumped into David Wilkinson and friends. They took us to a party on the roof of the building opposite the Palais. We weren’t there long before it wound down and since we both had sore feet we decided to call it a night. I’ve developed a limp. Every toe on my left foot seems to have a blister. Why only my left, I wonder? I’m glad I’m going home tomorrow, but it’s been great fun.

Soul Searcher: May 20th 2005