The Cannes Film Festival is not just a festival. In fact, much of the film industry travels to Cannes to see movies that have absolutely nothing to do with the festival itself. Their point of interest? The Marché du Film, otherwise known as the world's largest movie marketplace.

The event is more like a massive convention than an annual event housed by a film festival. Walking through the labyrinthine corridors (delineated by letters that serve only to further confuse), I was struck by the overwhelming contrast between the art-house festival and its counterpart: in the Cannes marketplace, film was first and foremost a commodity. 

"80% of the business in the film industry is done here, at this particular market," Karen Espenant, a producer from Nashville, told me at the American Pavilion, a meeting place in the market for U.S.-based industry. These deals can range from the tens of millions—like the $50 million STX Entertainment forked out this year for Martin Scorsese's forthcoming mob movie The Irishmanto the less polished genre fare that peppers streaming platforms across the world.

Cannes_marche_du_film_no_film_schoolCredit: Emily Buder

Who goes to the Marché?

This year at Cannes, 11,900 individuals registered for the Marché. It was a record turnout, especially for China, which saw an increase of 32% in badge holders from last year. Hollywood, meanwhile, maintained a more modest presence than expected; despite ubiquitous flashy banners advertising The BFG, Money Monster, and other studio films, the American population at the Marché was dwarfed by China and nearly equal to that of France, the UK, and Canada. 

"The American Pavilion seems a little less busy than it was last year," said Espenant. "We're here, but it's pocketed."

Key-figures-2015-activity-and-regionPercentages from Cannes 2015 (last year)Credit: Cannes Film Festival

If you were to throw a tennis ball at a group of market participants, you'd most likely hit a producer—this year, nearly 4,000 producers were part of the Marché. The Producers Workshop, a highly structured program for which participants must be nominated, hosted 579 producers this year. A nexus of international co-productions, the workshop facilitates networking for producers from all over the world. Participants also attend panels led by industry experts and hone their skills in pitching, international financing, marketing strategies, distribution, and international sales.

"By the time you get here, you mean business."

Distributors looking for the next big buy and sales agents representing slates of films can also be found in abundance at the Marché. Major companies set up their headquarters in hotels along the Croisette; some even take over a bar or a yacht for their portable office. Smaller companies, national delegations, and promotional and service organizations occupy booths in the trade show space in the Palais, the building complex that functions as the epicenter of the Cannes experience.

This year, a total of 3,420 films were on sale at the market1,600 from Europe and 830 from America. 

Cannes_market_emily_buder_no_film_schoolCredit: Emily Buder

What do you do at the Marché?

If you're a producer or a filmmaker, "you come here to meet agents, distributors, and financiers," said Espenant. "Everybody comes here to try to make deals, sell their movies, or make appointments."

Before arriving in Cannes, every market participant gains access to Cinando, the largest professional database of the film industry. The Marché operates this online platform, which contains participants' contact information, lists of projects in development, market screening schedules, and available screeners. Through Cinando, you can reach out to your target contacts and schedule meetings long before the festival begins.

"When people come here, they're serious about doing business," Espenant explained. "They're serious about their craft. It's not like people come here and just show up. By the time you get here, you mean business."

That sentiment is evident from even the most casual stroll through the marketplace. Wheeling and dealing is omnipresent; stop and talk to someone for merely five minutes before they have to excuse themselves to rush off to a meeting.

"There are a lot of filmmakers that start to see dollar signs when they finish their film, but the truth is, not all genres work in all countries​."

There are also round-the-clock screenings to attend. This year, 985 features made up 1,426 screenings. 1,050 additional projects were being presented to buyers, bringing the total number of films on sale to 3,450. These films—and their producers and sales agents—hoped to secure financing and lucrative foreign territory sales. 

Why should you bring your movie?  

As a producer, Espenant has a slate of films that she's putting together for development. "We're looking for a pre-distribution sale or an agent to help us pick up money for the particular films," she said. "I've had lots of meetings, but I didn't have anyone in particular in mind. I wanted to come and see who was here and what possibilities there were." 

"We do encourage filmmakers to come to the Marché in order to find co-producers and funders," said Jérôme Paillard, Executive Director of the Marché du Film.

John Rogers of XVIII Entertainment said the real focus was on the buyers. "A film needs to be brought to a marketplace simply to engage the buyers," he said. "Buyers need to be able to see the film or trailers; even the act of getting to know them face-to-face promotes confidence."

"You have to bring your A-game​."

"A positive outcome for any film," Rogers continued, "is to have a market screening or a market presence and be with someone who is actually going to book meetings and sit down and work with their buyers to see what they need."

But he cautioned against idealism in an over-saturated market. "Just because you make a film doesn't mean it's going to sell," he said. "There are a lot of filmmakers that start to see dollar signs when they finish their film, but the truth is, not all genres work in all countries. No matter how many times we say that to people, they can't get past the fact that they just spent enough money to purchase a house and they could lose it all."

For first-time filmmakers without representation, the market can be a pay-to-play environment. Most participants choose a regular access badge, which costs $300 (unless provided by a third party, such as the Producer's Workshop). High-profile distributors and prominent executives can be awarded a "priority badge," demarcated with a purple stripe, that provides access to special screenings and meeting areas for the elite. 

"It is and it isn't accessible, depending on what you buy into," said Espenant. "There are times when the VIP level starts to be the threshold, and people don't cross those lines." 

Unless you have a distributor or sales agent to foot the bill, prepare to fork over at least $1,000 to book a screening (but badge holders get a 10% discount rate). Although not all films host screenings, they do promote high visibility to buyers, as the screening guide is distributed in the Cannes Market News (a widely-read festivalgoer publication) and Cinando, and also forwarded daily to the international trades. Additionally, films that have screened at the market will be available in the Online Screening Room, a section of Cinando, after their screenings. The Marché launches a sales campaign following the festival that urges buyers to discover the films online that they were unable to see in Cannes.

Though many (us included) would advise against it, it is possible to strike deals without the help of representation. This year, three major domestic rights deals closed at the market, none of which were negotiated by a sales agent. In each case, the producers dealt directly with the buyers; it should be noted, however, that most of these producers had pre-established relationships to draw upon for their negotiations.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the effort you're willing to expend on behalf of your film. "You have to bring your A-game," said Espenant. "I have had one really good meeting. I've met incredible people for future collaborations, including a fabulous cinematographer. You have to be willing to talk to people and just get out there and say what you're doing." 

Top photo credit: HUANG Zheng / Shutterstock