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Is It Worth Going To The Cannes Film Festival To Pitch Your Ideas?


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by Script Reader Pro in Life As A Screenwriter
April 9, 2016 1 comment
Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes Festival is one of the most prestigious international film festivals in the world. This year it takes place between 8 and 19 May 2018.

Cannes Film FestivalIn this interview, Cannes expert Michael Leahy gives us his insider low-down on the festival, pitching, what to expect, how to prepare, and much more. Enjoy!

Hi, Michael thanks for agreeing to do this! Let’s start with the basics — can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your site Cannes Or Bust?

I first attended a Cannes event – the Midem music trade fair – in 1997, and hated it. I was particularly baffled about how things work and how brisk people could be.

The music biz brought me back a few more times, then the Cannes film festival. Over the years I had started a blogger site and eventually migrated onto the current site, which is intended for people that have or want to go there and achieve something. I’ve since learnt to love the beast!

Why should aspiring screenwriters/filmmakers think about going to the Cannes Film Festival?

It’s important to understand the size and complexity of the industry you are trying to enter. Understanding the role of finance – and how tricky it is to raise it – is an education in itself. But the agents, distributors and increasingly Internet platforms all have a role to play.

When you work out the hierarchy, building a credible proposal is much easier. You learn to work with the industry rather than trying to force yourself on it.

Plus, of course, you meet tons of people from all the sectors and from every country in the world. A word of caution: Cannes is not specifically a screenwriter’s marketplace. The priority is on productions. Writers are given plenty of lip-service, but people are mostly busy setting up bigger deals.

What crucial piece(s) of advice would you give to someone going to Cannes for the first time?

First, prepare for it mentally and practically. Organising appointments is vital, even if many fall through at the last minute.

Secondly, listen and learn. The world does not revolve around you. You have to fit into other people’s plans.

What’s the biggest mistake you see screenwriters/filmmakers make when pitching?

Rambling pitches, either due to fuzzy stories or not understanding the precise needs of the person they are pitching to. If you have a sit-down meeting, you won’t talk to a producer the same way you would talk to an agent, foreign distributor or journalist.

Ask yourself why they spent a few grand to sit and talk to you in Cannes, and what you can bring them. It will tighten your pitch immensely. I talk about this in the book.

But in reality, you will be pitching far more often in very unlikely places, such as a moving escalator once in my case. I had met a major player that was interested in my proposal but not enough to take a meeting, so I had to pitch him as he walked from one meeting to his next, notably down an escalator. In these cases, you have to be razor sharp and attuned to the person.

In general, people that pitch very little can have over-sized expectations and therefore miss their target. Remember that pitching is just one part of a long process. It’s not a goal in itself.

What’s the biggest mistake you see screenwriters/filmmakers make when networking?

There are a surprising number of bashful people! If this is your case, I have good news: it wears off over time. I remember being intimidated by the importance of people in the room. But in some cases, they might actually want what you’re selling. So why would you deny them the opportunity of talking to you? 😉

Even those that don’t can sometimes be very supportive if you build up rapport. Remember that word “rapport”, it’s the key to many things in the biz. And you build it by listening first and pitching a distant second.

How true is the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”?

I’ve often said, “If you’re not earning enough money, meet more people; money comes through people”. Is that clear enough? But in reality, it is more complex. The thing about people is that you have to be ready to meet them! You have to have your act together when opportunity knocks on your door. Otherwise, you’re wasting their time and yours.

What traits in aspiring screenwriters/filmmakers dishearten you the most?

I’ve seen very promising writers and directors sabotage themselves by being unable to take advice. It’s a difficult one, as storytellers need inner drive. But don’t let it blind you to good advice.

What’s the single craziest or best thing that’s ever happened to you at Cannes?

I once had to chaperone David Carradine prior to an event (long story). He was a perfect gentleman with everyone. Good company, and he told me I had the “kung fu”. Yo!

What do you love most about Cannes?

I love the incredible variety of people you meet, and the incredible variety of opportunities and insights they bring. The same is as true in the music business as in cinema. It’s a very vibrant environment.

What do you hate most about Cannes?

After a while you learn to spot and filter time-wasters and scheisters. So I’ll exclude them. What I find irritating at the festival is the so-called party and fashion scene.

Most are completely unrelated to the movie business. On the other hand, look out for the dozens of much smaller daytime receptions and networking events that can be precious.

Tell us about your guidebook to Cannes and how people can get hold of it.

The guide is the sum of my time spent there. It covers practical stuff, such as which neighbourhoods to stay in, but mostly focuses on making it work as a business event.

There are guides to preparing your trip, making appointments, pitching and the all-important follow-up. I’d like to think of it as a blueprint. It’s on Kindle here.

How can people find out more about Cannes Or Bust and/or follow you on social media?

The site is at and you’ll find other accounts from there. My Twitter account is handy, as I post a lot of film movie biz and writing news.

Thanks a lot Michael! I hope to see you over there soon.

1 Comment
  1. Hannah says:

    Yeeees I want to go to Cannes!! Thanks for the great post guys.

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