Film Shits II, Cannes is Finished

9 Apr

The minute I arrived in Cannes I suspected the gods were playing with me. What I really mean is that the weather had it in for me. I came out of Cannes train station, having cleverly opted for the budget flight to Milano and chugging down on local trains to the Ligurian coast, into France and Monaco with its wedding cake villas. I had a feeling they were all owned by film producers, but this was surely incorrect. Most of them had probably been bought by Russian “businessmen”.

Anyway, the skies opened the moment I stepped out of the station. I was soaked in seconds, then thwacked by a sheet of dirty water thrown up by a long black limousine belting through a deep puddle by the pedestrian crossing. I caught a brief flash of a couple of high-rollers in the back seat, laughing uproariously and drinking champagne.  Ha-ha, we got someone soaked! It was not a good beginning. Frankly, I knew I should not have come to this open-air conference of some of the worst, most loathsome shits one can meet.

A couple of hours later I had found my lodgings, crowded with young, ambitious animators, fledgling directors, cameramen, producers, actors and writers. We were paying in the region of fifteen hundred pounds per night for the apartment, and as I was a late arrival I ended up sleeping on a dirty mattress on the balcony, where I got away with paying only a hundred pounds per night.

I had turned up with a film treatment, a long and detailed treatment, mind you, carefully adapted from a classic Italian novel from 1953. Armed with this I felt I was not just one of thousands of people seeking to charm someone. In fact I did not want to charm, but impress.

My theme was Homeric: a man was looking to find a way back to his wife (i.e. Ulysses/ Penelope), but the more he tried the further she receded. Sprinkled into the narrative was a host of illusions, monsters and she-devils. Cunningly I had set the story not in Italy and not in Greece either, opting instead for the Finnish archipelago, which I felt had something uniquely Homeric about it. The previous year I had stood on a ridge in Finland overlooking a wide forested landscape interlaced with serpentine lakes. I’d imagined a yacht, a Finnish yacht, maybe a Swan or similar, with my actors on board, threading its way through this magical place.

Now, I had come to Cannes to meet with a Finnish producer who was, everyone implied, going to be a big name any day soon. When one hears this sort of thing, one usually imagines there is some truth to it. This is a big error. The big names are almost always those who spring from nowhere unannounced. And for every big name there are literally thousands of small-fry putting on their killer whale suits before they head off to Venice, Toronto, Berlin and Cannes.

I met with the said producer in one of Cannes’ pretentious beach-front hotels. He lounged knowingly under a sun parasol and spoke fondly about ice hockey for an hour and a half. Was this the preamble to the deal, I wondered? Possibly so, because we arranged to meet for lunch the following day. Before I left, he looked up and said: “Do you know what a film is? A film is a story told in pictures.”

I agreed with that.

I walked along the pretty streets of Cannes, imagining that this could be the beginning of my entry into a world I had felt for so long was closed to me. Maybe I had been too negative about film producers? Here, after all, was a Finnish producer who was so down-to-earth that he would rather talk about ice hockey than film. He’d even phoned a mail order company in Helsinki to order an ice hockey shirt for his son, while I knowingly yawned and sipped my spritzer. And still, in the midst of all this filial concern, he had time to make a striking remark on film-making. Amazing stuff.

The next day we got down to business. He opened negotiations by telling me that he liked my treatment and had already spoken to seven screenwriters in London. I was momentarily thrown by this, unable to understand what was motivating this strange, long-haired fellow with weird clouded eyes, like algae on the surface of a pond. An effect, perhaps, of too much vodka? Harsh winters? Leaky Russian nuclear reactors?

“But I want to write this. This is my project!” I explained to him. For a moment I feared he’d go back to ice hockey, but he just frowned in a taciturn Finnish way and said, after a weighty pause: “Ah, you want to write, do you?”

“Yes. That is why I wrote the treatment.”

The food arrived. Clearly my explanation about wanting to write the script had galvanized him. He was in the groove, he got out a napkin and a pen. “I want a first draft by August 20th. Can you do that?”

“Of course.”

“I will pay you twelve thousand for that.” He wrote down the figure. “But that includes the rights.”

“Right.”

“Then we do two further drafts. Eight thousand.”

“Okay.”

“And then by the Berlinale we have a director and some of the actors in place. I think I can get a million euro out of the Finnish Film Institute.”

“Sounds good,” I said. So this was it. I was on my way to the Technicolor Pantheon.

Before we left the restaurant, we were invited to a smoked reindeer luncheon at the Finnish Pavilion by a friend of the Finnish Producer, who noticed us as he passed by in the street. I was caught off guard when he leaned forward, dropped his voice and seemed to be offering me a job as a spy. For Finland, Sweden, England or some other country? I was unsure. “Actually I’m just here to make a film,” I said. The Finnish Producer smiled, and with hindsight I wonder if he wasn’t laughing at me.

A few days later I was on my way up to Milano for my flight to Berlin’s leafy, broad streets. Cannes had paid off. I spent much of the next months in the courtyard at the back of our place with a jug of iced tea and my computer. The script slid out of me with little trouble. Like a prefabricated house. It was a pleasant summer. And by August 20 I was ready to go.

It was now that the Great Northern Silence began. I have realised that “The Silence” is not only a Bergman film but also a deep-seated trait of most filmmakers whenever there’s a bill to be paid. Bullshit is the currency, money is the religion, but no one has ever seen God. Right?

In fact, to be fair, the Finnish Producer did call me once at the end of August to explain that … well … the Finnish Film Institute had no more money. It was… finished. Which, I know, is a bad pun, but I can’t help myself.

Autumn lingered. At one point my Finnish Producer contacted me to suggest that I come along to a workshop in three days’ time. In Moldovia or similar. Even by this stage my commitment to silver screen was undimmed. I called the Moldovian Film Institute or whatever it was, only to find that it was fully booked, in fact there were film shits dropping in from all over the world.

Six months later I bumped into the Finnish Producer, shivering with friends in the snow around a fire at a party in Berlin during the film festival. I was pretty civil to him. “Ah, there you are,” I said, as if I’d popped off to the loo and had momentarily lost him in the throng. He introduced me to his friends as “a writer he was working with.” I grinned inadvertently at this. We agreed to meet while he was in Berlin, but the Silence was still there casting its great shadow. We did not see each other. I sent him an SMS a few days before the end of the festival.

His response was legendary, to me at least: “My friend, I am in Tokyo and I have not slept for eighteen hours. Please email me in future.”

I immediately fired back: “My friend, I am in Berlin and I had a good night’s rest. Go fuck yourself.”

We have not spoken since. Oddly enough now that I have told a film shit to go fuck himself I feel I’ve grown. I may not be a proper film shit, but I’m certainly a dropping.

One Response to “Film Shits II, Cannes is Finished”

  1. neil April 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    i remember it well…

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