We’re six days from definitively learning the Cannes Film Festival lineup while hopefuls await a call from fest chief Thierry Frémaux in the hours just preceding Thursday’s announcement. Of the high-profile possibilities, we reported last month that Nicole Kidman-starrer Grace Of Monaco would not be ready, and while that intel remains correct, I’m now hearing that footage from the film will turn up on the Croisette. It’s possible it could be part of an officially sanctioned event, but I understand that has yet to be determined.
By Hollywood standards, if that Weinstein Co. footage were to be an official part of the proceedings, it could be one of the most high-profile parts of the selection since the major studios are largely sitting this one out. With the exception of Warner Bros., whose Baz Luhrmann-directed The Great Gatsby is opening the festival, I’m hearing that either the timing has not aligned or that upcoming studio films don’t jive with Cannes as a platform. “It’s a great place if you have something to promote… But it’s expensive, so it has to be the right thing for the movie,” one insider tells me. Estimates put the cost of an official red carpet Cannes screening and fête at up to $3M and beyond.
Cannes is still considered by Hollywood to be a useful marketing tool, but could it be that’s becoming truer outside of the official selection? Witness TWC, which last year rented a plush room in the Majestic Hotel to screen about 20 minutes of footage from three of its fall films – Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook and The Master. The move turned out to be a prescient means to whet the appetite for pictures that TWC was confident would be awards contenders later in the year. If the company repeats that select screening effort – which I understand it might do in a much bigger way – the top picks for this year look to be Salinger, the Shane Salerno feature doc about the Catcher In The Rye author; August: Osage County, John Wells’ Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts-starrer; One Chance, David Frankel’s pic about Britain’s Got Talent’s first winner Paul Potts; Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, the biopic starring Idris Elba, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
The above formula proved fruitful for TWC last year in a non-official capacity. However, for the U.S. majors, appearing in official selection is viable to launch Europe, but doesn’t mean much domestically, I’m told by someone who’s been down the road before. Another believes that to merit the whole red carpet pomp & circumstance “it has to be the right movie for the right audience because all eyes are on you. It is not the right place to toe dip… If you’re not going to deliver above expectations, why put yourself in the position?” Even DreamWorks Animation, long termed by Frémaux as a “friend of the festival” and which usually bows a movie in Cannes, won’t be there this year, I understand. Its upcoming Turbo rolls out in Europe in the fall. Typically, high-profile movies that open in Cannes are released theatrically quite quickly after the festival or are films that benefit from a very long lead critical campaign.
With day-and-date releases now a matter of course and because the Internet has removed some of the mystique surrounding Cannes, there does appear to be a trend towards less emphasis from Hollywood. Already, last year was a pretty low-key affair. DWA debuted Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and showed 25-minutes of Rise Of The Guardians. Both movies were released by Paramount, the other studio to have a presence last year with Sacha Baron Cohen riding through town on a camel in support of The Dictator which was opening in the U.S. at the time – although there was no screening of the film on the Croisette.
On opening night this year, Warner Bros.’ Great Gatsby has big shoes to fill, but that’s not based on any event in recent memory. Instead, it will be contending with the ghost of Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. That picture, handled by Fox at the time, opened the festival in 2001 and the evening remains branded on the brains of attendees. The film received a warm welcome and after the customary dinner, guests were whisked into a club set up next to the Palais where Fat Boy Slim deejayed a party that was replete with Can Can girls, a trapeze and circus acts. The Great Gatsby certainly lends itself to a jazzy party, and I’m hearing that the team will be there in full force – wouldn’t it be cool if Beyoncé, Lana Del Ray or Florence + The Machine put in a live performance? Still, we’re in a different economic climate now as compared to 2001 and there’s an awful lot of protocol to be dealt with when you’re the opening night film. Warner is playing close to the vest with details, but as I understand it, the studio is not looking too keenly into its rearview mirror.
(Opening nights are tough. For every Moulin Rouge, there’s a Vatel or a Barber Of Siberia. And then there are the happy coincidences. Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education got an initial lukewarm response when it opened the festival in 2004, but the soirée, for which guests were ferried by dinghy from the Palais to the party while sipping mini bottles of Veuve Cliquot, went a fair way to appeasing naysayers. Almodovar himself danced up a storm with guests until the wee hours.)
As for the other majors, there had been speculation that Star Trek Into Darkness might get an official berth in Cannes this year, but I understand Paramount had other plans. The film will open in the UK on May 9 and a premiere event will be held there ahead of time. Similarly last year, Universal’s Snow White And The Huntsman and Sony’s Men In Black III bypassed the festival in favor of select premieres. If talent is available for a specific market, a premiere there plus interviews can generate more publicity than a single event would in Cannes where movies can get buried in the melee of the world’s second most mediatized event. Sony is not expected to be present at the fest this year. I also hear that in terms of big scale, Disney, Fox and Universal are sitting this one out.
Still, the lack of studio presence didn’t necessarily hurt last year’s festival which produced some impactful films – Amour, Rust And Bone, Moonrise Kingdom among them. What did hurt it was the weather. In hindsight, it now looks like studios may have had a really spiffy copy of the Farmers’ Almanac in 2012 because the rain made it difficult to move around and get to screenings or events. It also put no one, but no one, in a partying mood. An exec said to me just the other day that they remembered being at a cocktail on a partially covered Cannes terrace and, looking out at the rain lashing down, had never been so depressed. Having been in Cannes this past week for Mip-TV, I can report, that at least for now, the sun is shining.