Producers and PR supremos are divided when it comes to assessing the value of a red carpet - or blue carpet in Un Certain Regard - premiere in Cannes. Does a Croisette debut gives an arthouse or independent film a prominence it cannot get anywhere else?
“Any carpet that leads into the Palais is very good because it puts focus on your [independent] film,” said Oscar-winning UK producer Jeremy Thomas, who has Takeshi Miike’s First Love screening in Directors’ Fortnight. “You can breathe deeply of the oxygen of all of those forums - Competition, Certain Regard, even in the Directors’ Fortnight and the Critics’ Week.”
However Jonathan Rutter, director of film at London-based Premier PR, suggests for most films in Official Selection, media attention will only be generated “if you’ve got an A-lister on the carpet”.
There may be big stars photographed at the premiere “but that doesn’t mean any ensuing coverage will even mention the film they are going to see,” he said.
Global media outlets hold space for Cannes stories on a daily basis and Lawrence Atkinson, CEO at DDA, disagreed they are only interested in the biggest names.
““The photographers are taking pictures of German stars to feed back to the German media, Chinese stars to feed back to the Chinese media, Indian stars to feed back to the Indian media,” he pointed out. “These pictures can be just as valuable to [photo agencies] Getty or Wireimage as having Colin Firth or Julia Roberts walk up a red carpet.”
The cost of the Cannes premiere mainly falls on the filmmakers. The festival may offer some accommodation and cars for the director and two cast members, a press conference and photo call, but everything else, including the return to the festival if the filmmaker wins a prize, is usually picked up by the sales agent.
“It’s a very expensive thing to do,” said producer Rebecca O’Brien of Sixteen Films, who is town with Ken Loach’s competition title Sorry We Missed You, of being in Cannes with a film.
“The sales agent basically put up some money, you apply for a grant as well from your national film body. The cost of getting everybody here is borne by the film. If we have a party, that would come off the sales; if we have a dinner, that comes off the sales. All of these things are to celebrate but also to publicise the film.
“The whole thing is about publicising the films, so the parties are to say ‘thank you’ to the distributors and also give the distributors a boost sothey will put as much money as they can behind the film when they release it.”
When it works, it works. Stephen Woolley of Number 9 Films recalled the immense boost Todd Haynes’ Carol, which he produced alongside Elizabeth Karlsen and Christine Vachon, received thanks to its rapturous response in Competition in Cannes in 2016.
“Everyone wants their film to be the one everyone is talking about so the parties often try to outdo themselves in their uniqueness and specialness to garner as much publicity as possible,” said Woolley.
But the premiere is only part of the story.
“The reality is the critics mean everything,” says Woolley. “The first word coming out of Cannes is what makes or breaks your movie.”
“The Cannes effect probably doubles our sales and box office,” O’Brien agreed. “It translates into definite box office effect, particularly in France. The Palme d’Or I would say probably triples the box office for the film. It actually pays real dividends, which is why we keep coming back. If we’re invited of course we’ll be there.”
Listen to the full interview with Rebecca O’Brien on the Screen International Cannes 2019 podcast.