As our registration was completed so close to the deadline, finding accommodation – let alone reasonably priced accommodation – proved to be a challenge with most hotels rooms and apartments already spoken for. In the end, we booked rooms at the first place we found that still had vacancies, namely a budget hotel in Mougins, which is in the hills north of Cannes. (Subsequently, I discovered two Facebook groups “Cannes 2013” and “Cannes Accommodation 2013” which posted details of accommodation – offered and wanted – up to mid-to-late April.)
After arriving at Nice Airport, we fleetingly considered finding the bus to Cannes but opted for the convenience of a taxi to take us directly to our hotel – convenient but very expensive at 80 Euros! We used a taxi two more times that day – first to take us down to Cannes from our hilltop hotel and then back again at the end of the evening. After spending a total of nearly 130 Euros on taxi fares alone on our first day, we faced the stark reality of running out of money well before the end of our four-day stay.
That concentrated minds and we located the bus route that would take us into Cannes. The nearest bus stop was a ten minute trek and involved crossing the always busy A8 autoroute but the reward at the end – a bus into Cannes for a fare of just one Euro – made it worthwhile!
The Short Film Corner
Our first point of call at the festival – and the first point of call each morning (because of minimal queues for the viewing booths) – was the Short Film Corner.
This was a dedicated meeting point and watering hole for new filmmakers, with 50 viewing booths, three mini screening rooms and something we were completely unprepared for – wall space allocated for film posters and flyers to promote films. At first, this seemed like an Epic Fail moment for us – we had brought no publicity material for our film which was particularly ironic as only two weeks earlier, we had uploaded a fantastic poster for the film on to its IMDB page!
However, as I spent more time at the Short Film Corner, I became less convinced about the ability of the various promotional materials alone to persuade people to view the films.
For one thing, because there are so many registered short films – 1945 shorts last year, probably a similar number, if not more, this year – new promotional material was constantly being added to the walls, which meant flyers put up in the morning would sometimes be obscured by other leaflets by the afternoon. Secondly – and speaking personally – there was so many posters and flyers, that after a while it all becomes background noise or wallpaper.
I did not go into a viewing booth to watch a single film because of a poster or a flyer on the wall. The films I watched, I saw because I met the director or producer (and not always at the Short Film Corner, sometimes it was in a queue, at a bus stop or an adjacent table at a café) and they convinced me to see their film. They may have handed me a postcard or a flyer but it was the conversation with them – that personal connection – that made me want to watch their film. The flyer was merely a reminder of the film title.
In addition to the viewing booths, there were three mini screening rooms – the smallest had three seats, the largest nine – which filmmakers could book to show their short films in a specific time slot. The screening rooms seemed to be a good option for the longer shorts – or films that benefitted from having a communal viewing experience.
But the problem with the mini screening rooms was getting people in to watch the films for that specific time slot – and so in the ten minutes before each screening, there was always a frantic scramble by the filmmakers to persuade, cajole or beg people to watch their films. On one occasion, in a six-seat screening room, I was part of an audience of two people which must have been a truly dispiriting experience for the filmmakers. I am not sure if the screening rooms were included in the registration fee for the Short Film Corner or if filmmakers had to pay extra – if it was the latter, I am not convinced they were good use of money.
When it came to watching films “cold” as it were, I used the on-screen menu in the digital viewing booths to filter by genre and duration – and then made a final decision based on the synopsis. So my advice to writers and directors is to really hone those loglines and pitches – rather than spending loads of money on flyers and other promotional material.
One useful feature of the digital screening booths was that because they required viewers to login with their badge number, it was possible to obtain a listing of everyone who had seen your film.
My one observation after viewing quite a few shorts during the festival is that the longer genre films i.e. 10 minutes plus, usually did not earn their longer running time, unlike the non-genre dramas which actually worked better when they had more time. I think this was because too many genre shorts were based around a single plot, set-piece or gag and then over-stretched whereas the dramas relied more on character and needed and used the additional time to draw the audience in.
I limited myself to spending no more than an hour in the Short Film Corner in the mornings and then maybe half an hour at the end of the day because – perhaps cynically, but probably correctly – I assumed that the majority of the people in the Short Film Corner would be other short filmmakers – and so probably not the best location to network with producers and executives.
However, towards the end of the trip, when we checked out who had viewed our film – and once we had got over the shock of just how few people had watched it – we did spot the names of a bona fide producer and an acquisitions manager – so some buyers and executives do venture down into the basement of the Palais!
Fortunately, short film buyers and programmers are given the opportunity to watch the films in the Short Film Corner online for a further three months after the festival.