Perhaps the only thing that is clear following the travel chaos that engulfed Europe last week is just how enmeshed the US film industry has become with the rest of the world.
Roland Emmerich couldn’t have come up a more surprising scenario than happened last week as Europe was engulfed by volcanic ash.
The impact on the film business was felt deeply. Warner Bros regional office managers from around the world in for a summer preview session at Burbank HQ were stranded. Paramount and Marvel were forced to abandon the Iron Man 2 premiere in London and relocate it back to LA while Universal’s worldwide Robin Hood junket was also shifted from London to LA. A European tour for Miley Cyrus and talent from Disney’s The Last Song was unable to take off. Meanwhile on the reverse side, the organisers of the French film festival COLCOA in LA were faced with no-shows from many of their visiting film-makers and celebrity guests.
It was a powerful indicator of how enmeshed US industry is with the rest of the world, especially since some of the biggest Hollywood studio pictures of the summer are scheduled for world premiere launches outside the US itself. That includes Robin Hood in Cannes next month, as well as Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time in London.
Having said that, the Cannes Film Festival is light on US films this year -and the corresponding US glitz and glamour. Yes, there’s Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2 which should see young stars du jour Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan brighten up the red carpet. But otherwise the star wattage is distinctly mature. From Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett in the opening night film Robin Hood to Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in Fair Game and Watts, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas in Woody Allen’s latest You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, the talent is solid but, from the viewpoint of the global media, not the sexiest.
Those who were hoping to see the Sex and The City stars or the cast of The Expendables on the montée des marches will be disappointed. Festival director Thierry Fremaux seems to have taken a step away from noise-making star screenings and firmly rerooted the event in small and intimate work from the Cannes stable of world cinema masters like Abbas Kiarostami, Lee Chang-dong and Mike Leigh.
Perhaps the biggest blow for Cannes was the fact that Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life featuring Brad Pitt and Penn was not ready. Malick is famously meticulous, even laborious in his post-production process and the director didn’t meet the Cannes deadlines for the film, which is not scheduled to open until November. A return to Cannes for Malick for the first time since 1979 would have been a coup for Thierry Fremaux, especially with such a large-scale and epic event project as this.
For the studios, investing in a Cannes launch pad often involves too much cost, resources and unpredictability, especially now that they are routinely premiering their films around the world away from festivals like Cannes or Venice. It often makes sense to fly hordes of media into Athens (for Mamma Mia!), Rome (Angels And Demons) or Verona (for next month’s Letters To Juliet) for junkets and get their undivided attention for a day or two rather than spend millions for a couple of hours’ exposure at Cannes – where savage reviews of their films might appear all over the world minutes after the end credits roll.
Which is why a random occurrence like the volcanic ash cloud can cause such disruption to distribution plans. A-list talent and $200m movies are travelling year-round to tap into the international market which is now worth so much more than domestic. Many of the talent involved in Iron Man 2 might find it easier logistically that the world premiere is back in LA, but for the purposes of the worldwide box office down the line, London would have been better.