First off, I think I should be congratulated for not titling this post ‘No Cannes Do?’ or ‘Cannes of worms’ or ‘Let’s all do the Cannes-Cannes’. Believe me, I thought about it but, like a man, I held back.
Second, this is neither an original (many people have written on this subject in the past, including me) nor a detailed (I’m very busy) post about ‘should a screenwriter go to the Cannes Film Festival’. Nor is it a polemic about me boycotting Cannes in protest at their soft line on Israel (I don’t know if they have a soft line, or indeed any line at all, but even if they did it wouldn’t bother me massively.)
Instead, it’s just a short justification – to myself, mainly – about why I’m not going to Cannes this year. At least, I think I’m not. Pretty certain.
I’ve been going to Cannes regularly since I ‘went freelance’ (or ‘got made redundant’, depending on how you choose to look at it) in 2001. The first few years were total jaw-droppers and eye-openers (‘so THIS is how the movie business really works’). You want market intelligence, go to the market, simple. The middle years I acted rather cool about it all (‘yeah, I might go to that party, depends when my dinner finishes’, which usually meant I didn’t have an invite). Only in the last couple of years have I genuinely made professional mileage out of my visits, off the back of Chalet Girl script interest (in 2009) and Chalet Girl film interest (last year).
I took the occasional year off, either when finances were limited (more so than usual) or, one year, because I had a real fear that producers would start to see me as a lush who spent more time and effort trying to blag his way into the BBC Films party than actually writing good scripts. And to be fair, they had a point. However you try to justify it, for a screenwriter Cannes is 90% fun and maybe 10% active professional development. Producers, distributors, sales agents all have a valid reason to go – it’s where the international film community comes together. But my career is largely based here right now, so I can meet everyone I need to back in the UK, albeit perhaps not with a cocktail in hand. And anyway, if I’m honest it’s probably about 30% fun, 10% professional development and 60% people cancelling meetings and you sitting in the Palais wondering how you’re going to spend the next three hours and secretly wishing you were back at home with the kids.
This year I could justifiably go – maybe even should go. Chalet Girl did well, I have another script that is out to cast and I’m currently working on two active, commissioned projects, so there is a small wave of good news that I could surf, a gentle breeze of career progression on which I could sail my way into some previously unvisited ports, not to mangle the metaphor too hideously. It’s always nice to get some early summer sun (not that we’ve been spoiled back home, of course) and you can usually track down a friendly producer to buy you supper in the old town. Accommodation can be tricky, or expensive, although in fact I don’t think I have ever paid for a night’s accommodation in all my years of going to Cannes. I was found out two years ago when a friend had promised me a bed in his villa in the hills. I took a twenty euro cab up there and watched the taxi drive off into the night before I realised no-one was at home, and my mate’s cell phone battery had died. I shinned over the wall and slept on a sun lounger by the pool (ew) under a discarded towel (double-ew) until he returned at 5am. The tart.
A hundred quid return from Easyjet, catch the bus into town, buy that cheeky E40-for-3-days-market-pass that gets you into the Palais and the British pavilion (and some screenings if you ask nicely), hit the early evening receptions to load up on canapés and sharpeners, then see where the wind takes you. A couple of days, in and out. It’s pretty easy, and it shouldn’t do your career any harm.
But I’m not going. I’m heads down in HER ROYAL SPYNESS, and in treatment work on my new script for Harriet and Pippa. Whichever way you look at it, it’s two or three days away from the desk, and two or three hundred quid (minimum) that I’ll have to recover, one way or another. And the other thing that has probably swung it is that nobody has given me a good reason to go, this year. When I think back to the last three or four times I’ve gone, there has usually been at least one meeting, or party, or person, or film, or Q&A, that I have specifically gone out there to see or do or go to. Just one, but it’s all I needed. All the other fun bits and pieces (my appearance on the red carpet for the premiere of X MEN: LAST STAND was a strange and giddying high point) have come off the back of that initial prompt – and often when that initial meeting has been cancelled, or found to be not that useful after all.
At last we come to the rub, then. The reason I’m not going to Cannes this year is because I haven’t been able to come up with a good enough excuse. That, and the fact that last year I stayed on a yacht, which was always going to be hard to beat. I’ll wait for Harvey to put me up at the du Cap next time.
- I’ve just uploaded a load of video diaries from my trip to Cannes in 2006 to http://www.youtube.com/user/tajwilliams. (I filmed them for the pioneering but now sadly defunct vlog.tv.) Five years ago, and hasn’t technology advanced, and my hairline receded? There are some fun interviews with industry figures (and Tessa Jowell) and some top tips, and Vlog 13 001 has a bit of the X Men Premiere story. Great days.
- I’ll try to attach my old ‘Cheltenham vs Cannes’ article that I wrote for Scriptwriter Magazine back in the day to this blog – sure they won’t mind – http://www.tajwilliams.com/Cannes.pdf