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Podcast – Cannes Film Festival + market wrap-up

The Screen Australia delegation to Cannes and local creatives share insights and takeaways from the prestigious festival and market.

Splice of headshots of Louise Gough, Charles Williams, Grainne Brunsdon and Anupam Sharma

Top L to R: Louise Gough, Charles Williams, Grainne Brunsdon, Anupam Sharma

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

Cannes Film Festival returned in full force in 2022 and Screen Australia’s Head of Content Grainne Brunsdon says it was noticeable.

“There was a lot of excitement just at people being able to meet in real life… it was a very buoyant market was what people were saying,” Brunsdon says.

“Cinemas are obviously starting to come back now and this is a film market predominately, festivals are starting to plan physical festivals after having to pivot to online for the last couple of years, so there was a real sense of change in the air and a real sense of renewal.”

Brunsdon was part of the Screen Australia delegation who attended the festival and market this year, which also included CEO Graeme Mason, Head of Development Louise Gough and International Initiatives Manager Harry Avramidis. Each spoke on the latest episode of the Screen Australia Podcast to provide takeaways and insights, including what buyers are interested in, advice for meetings with sales agents, and how to prepare for Cannes or any other future market.

Also joining them on the podcast were three filmmakers who attended Cannes this year, who each discuss their experience of the festival. They include producer, director and specialist on Indian cinema Anupam Sharma whose recent credits include UnIndian and documentary The Run; director Charles Williams, who won the short film Palme d’Or in 2018 with All These Creatures and is back financing his feature; and director Ruby Challenger, whose short film MumLife was selected for Cannes Film Festival section La Cinef, which recognises emerging talent from film schools around the world.

For Screen Australia’s directory of International Sales Agents click here

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Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. I'd like to firstly acknowledge the various countries you are all listening in from - the unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This podcast has been created on the lands of the Gadigal people of the larger Eora Nation and I have had the great privilege to be a visitor and be able to work on these lands during my years at Screen Australia. Always was, always will be. For this episode of the Screen Australia podcast, we are joined by a number of guests, all of who recently attended the festival and market in Cannes, which ran in late May. Starting off the episode, I'll be talking with the Screen Australia delegation, which included CEO Graeme Mason, Head of Content Grainne Brunsdon, Head of Development Louise Gough, and International Initiatives Manager Harry Avramidis. They'll each be talking through takeaways and insights, including what buyers are interested in, advice for meetings with sales agents and how to prepare for Cannes or any other future market. Following that discussion, we'll be hearing from three filmmakers who attended Cannes this year. They include Anupam Sharma, a producer, director and specialist on Indian cinema; director Charles Williams, who won the short film Palme d'Or in 2018 with All These Creatures and is back financing his feature; and director Ruby Challenger, whose short film MumLife was selected for Cannes Film Festival section La Cinef. It's another big ep, so we'll jump right into it, but as always, remember to subscribe to the podcast through places like Spotify and iTunes. Feedback can be sent to [email protected] and subscribe to Screen Australia's industry eNews for all the latest from the local industry. First, he's Louise Gough, Screen Australia's Head of Development, giving an overview of the agency's goal in attending Cannes this year.

[00:02:04] Louise Gough So firstly it's an absolute privilege to attend as part of the Screen Australia delegation. It's a very important festival and market for Screen Australia and for the industry overall, particularly when there are Australian titles In Competition and programmed in the festival. So the purpose from the Screen Australia side is, particularly with the last two years, having the opportunity to meet and speak with sales agents who are in Australian projects and who have ongoing relationships with Australian creators and content makers, and their business focus and understanding that. So when we're in the same projects together, it's really important to build those relationships sort of structurally and strategically. There are also sales agents who are tracking Australian talent, whether that's producing, directing or writing talent. So having long conversations with a long horizon around Australian talent is crucial for the ability for Australian content to convert internationally. Part of the intel that we gather is what are the trends and what are the observations from the market side around content globally particularly, but not solely in English language, because Australia is sort of bundled up with other territories. Certainly talent tracking is really crucial and what sort of trends, price points, genres, everything that the market's looking for. We also support the films that are in the festival and have the opportunity to support the talent and engage with them. And one of the other really important things from our point of view is we have very strong conversations and robust conversations with other agencies from around the world. Are they seeing similar trends in their market area? What programmes and opportunities do they provide? How do they structure their deals? So we're sharing intel from agency to agency about structures and strategies with the sector. And lastly, we also meet with the artistic directors or programming staff for festivals around the world and also the development labs or creative labs or producer labs that are being done to not only get intelligence but talk into who they're tracking and to represent Australian talent.

[00:04:30] Caris Bizzaca Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason, who has been to Cannes more than 20 times as a seller, buyer, producer, distributor for studios, for indies, and of course during his time at Screen Australia, says the market and festival this year felt different from pre-pandemic years.

[00:04:47] Graeme Mason It was a different Cannes this year mostly, I think, because none of us had been there for so long. There was an enormous amount of energy. There was a lot of people there and positivity. I mean, really recognising the world has changed, but really keen to be back out there and working out how we can all do things together. So it was actually busier because everybody was trying to reconnect. So I think we did 120 meetings in a week. So you were doing 12-14 meetings today and everybody was excited to be there and optimistic.

[00:05:21] Caris Bizzaca For Screen Australia's new Head of Content, Grainne Brunsdon, this marks their first trip to Cannes and from discussions there she discovered a similar sense of positivity.

[00:05:31] Grainne Brunsdon There was a lot of excitement just at people being able to meet in real life, and that was absolutely universal. People were very excited and it was a very buoyant market was what people were saying. People were excited about the content, about the work, because they hadn't been able to do this for a couple of years. Cinemas are obviously starting to come back now and this is a film market predominantly. Festivals are starting to plan in physical festivals after having had to pivot to online for the last couple of years. So there was a real sense of change in the air and a real sense of renewal. People are still struggling with all the disruption that we've seen in Australia over the last couple of years. So cinema audiences haven't come back yet. Below the line crew shortages. Festivals having to pivot online or swivel - somebody refused to use the word pivot and they've gone no we're going to swivel instead. None of that kind of replaces the in-person connection. What was really clear was that although this is a real business market and it's all about doing the deal, everybody's there for the content. It was really clear that people want to connect to the filmmakers. They want to connect to the stories, and through that, connect them to an audience. So everybody's there for the love of it, which was I found really interesting. That connection with filmmakers is about, they don't just want to see a link to a film - that's great, but doesn't really give them who's behind it and the motivation and why somebody wanted to make it, and that passion that comes with a story that's usually been in development for years. They want a relationship with the filmmaker, not just for that project, but for future projects. That's what they're in that business for, really. There were a lot of sales in Cannes. That's what we were hearing and that people were jumping on deals because otherwise they were going to be gazumped by the next person who walked into that agent's office. So people were kind of jumping on things early. So, you know, there is still real potential there for theatrical, which is great. There was obviously people there buying for streamers as well.

[00:07:37] Caris Bizzaca Speaking of here's Screen Australia's International Initiatives Manager Harry Avramidis talking to some of the specifics around the kinds of deals they were seeing out of Cannes.

[00:07:48] Harry Avramidis Business seem buoyant for the right type of title. The slow return of cinema audience throughout many parts of the globe means pricing is set modestly and distributors are looking for truly theatrical propositions that know their audience and will deliver to them. So there's a bit of optimism coming through, especially looking towards 2023 from the European buyers, the North American buyers and the Australia-New Zealand buyers. There was some new players buying for the US. There's a new outfit called Utopia, but distributors like Neon, IFC, A24, Sony Pictures Classics were quite active for the sort of top tier, really competitive buy. So there is confidence that audiences will return to theatres. But there was definitely a message of, you know, a really high bar as far as what makes a theatrical title and what they were looking for.

[00:08:44] Caris Bizzaca What makes a title theatrical? This was one of the key questions that all my colleagues said creatives need to be asking themselves. Now, with Cannes being largely a feature film market for both scripted and factual, here's some of the takeaways that Graeme found from meetings there.

[00:09:00] Graeme Mason I guess one of the things that we're really seeing is the acceleration of stuff that was happening pre-COVID, but certainly post-COVID, what it's about is audience behaviour. There's an incredible demand for content, but where they're seeing it and how they see it just continues to shift dramatically. Nowhere more than in content that's kind of in the tougher arthouse part of the theatrical length and shape of world. I mean, it's really interesting, almost exclusively, every single packager, agent, talent agent or sales agent said the same thing: if you're going to make the tougher dramas at the moment, you have to accept that the only way to fund them or sell them is if they've got a name in them. So there is still a real appetite for those, like we're seeing here, on streamers. Absolutely. But if you think you're going to make it for bricks and mortar cinema, every single person said the same thing: they just struggle without a name. So there's the thing. So we and they are certainly not telling you to make everything you know Bluey - of course, that'd be great - but so I don't want this to sound wrong, but again, it comes down to research. Is it bricks and mortar cinema? Is it feature length but streamer led? Is it series? Is it short form? Where is the audience who want that content going to watch it. Because that affects everything from how you finance it, how it's distributed and critically how people are going to get to see the work you're busting yourselves to get made. Cinema now, I honestly think cinema is going to bounce back. I really do. But it is going to go back to being an event. What would make you call a friend and say, 'meet me at the cinema.' There has to be a reason rather than I say, 'hey, come round we'll get takeaway and watch a streamer.'

[00:11:10] Caris Bizzaca Now he's Grainne also talking to the feature film landscape at the moment.

[00:11:14] Grainne Brunsdon I guess for me a couple of the takeaways were that the issues we're seeing here are not just Australian issues, they are universal. So cinema audiences, we have heard and certainly at the Feature Film Summit a couple of weeks ago, we certainly heard about that audiences, especially that older traditional cinema audience hasn't yet returned. That's the same everywhere. So they're coming back for events. So Downton Abbey, for example, brought people out, brought audiences out, but they didn't then come back the next week to see something else. So they're not kind of rostered on in the way that they might have been. And that's COVID has accelerated those changes. So everybody who didn't know about Netflix before COVID obviously now got their subscription during lockdown and they have other options and they've got kind of a different way of doing it. And there's still some caution around COVID and being in enclosed spaces with people. They were talking to us about that there is a trend for audiences coming back, but it's likely to be event-based. Again, not it's Tuesday. Let's go to the movies.

[00:12:17] Caris Bizzaca No habitual.

[00:12:17] Grainne Brunsdon That's right. So what that means then is how do you get an audience into a cinema? So you have got to have a great script. It's got to be stand out. It's got to be cinematic. You need a director that's got credits, that's got a reputation, and you need cast. Cast is the driver, and that's what everybody was saying. If you've got a drama and some sales agent said, we don't use the word drama. So they find other ways to talk about it because it's not something that appeals. They certainly don't use the word period drama or historical drama. It might be an epic adventure, but it won't be a historical drama. So for a film to work, it needs to have a clear vision, to know what it is and crucially, who it's for - who's the audience and what's that pathway to connect to them. Any films that had those kind of elements were selling well in Cannes, and that's whether they had cast or not. For something that's a drama or bleak drama, absolutely needs key cast, recognisable cast. That's the only way that people were saying they thought they could sell into an audience. So that was interesting. However, what also agents and festivals are looking for is a fresh take. So after the last couple of years, people want something that's got some joy in it and that's got some hope and something that's a bit lighter. We've had bleak for two years just in life, so people are looking for something that's lighter. And we certainly heard that from festivals like Sundance, like Toronto, like Berlin, like Venice, like London. You know, again, as I say, this was overwhelmingly resounding across all the people that we were meeting with. And we would have had 120 meetings over the last couple of weeks. So it's not the kind of a small sample that we're talking about.

[00:14:01] Caris Bizzaca And now to Louise Gough again with some takeaways specific to development and Harry Avramidis on his thoughts on the market.

[00:14:08] Louise Gough From my point of view, because I'm head of development, I'm very much content focused of course, I'm sure there's other areas that Harry, Grainne and Graeme will talk into. The two significant takeaways from my perspective, or the lens through which I see the sector, is that the market, so predominantly sales agents, they do want to get into projects earlier and they want to engage in the process of development. Sometimes as an investor, but certainly if you're developing a project ultimately for eyeballs (audience) through market pathways, then earlier engagement in your projects is welcomed. And you know, Screen Australia does have on its website the wonderful list of sales agents, the directory that we host on our website that talks about the projects that they're currently in. And they also list within that when they like to be approached and in what form and what needs to be put in place for your project. But it's quite crucial that early conversations begin. So that's the first one. Australia is seen as a place also, and this was astoundingly optimistic to hear, that we have unique filmmakers and unique stories, but that's with the caution, of course, that those stories need to be competitive, well developed, distinct, with a strong authorial voice both in the writer and also in the director with experienced producers and some track record in the marketplace. You know, essentially the sort of headline was 'looking for projects, that pop.' So, you know, essentially I think Australia's in a competitive place. The sales agents want earlier engagement on projects, but also, you know, projects that have a distinction to them either at the really high end that can attract cast of calibre or if they're in the lower budget field and more at the let's call it the art house end of the spectrum that they have distinction and authorial depth.

[00:16:07] Caris Bizzaca Mm hmm. And Harry?

[00:16:09] Harry Avramidis I guess the two main takeaways for me were sales agents more actively holding back rights, if they can, and avoiding presales, so they've got the opportunity for worldwide deals - or not - at the end, seing how the films pan out. So obviously the activity by Apple and Netflix and even Mubi was quite aggressive in the market. So keeping options open for that. And the other key takeaway is budgets overall have grown throughout the world, not just in Australia, and there's crew shortages the world over. So obviously that increases competition. So producers, filmmakers need to really step up and really hone in on why they're making features and what audiences they're making them for. There's no real middle ground at the moment. As Louise said, you have to be distinctive and know your audience. I mean, there's a lot of talk about conceptually Australians are strong as far as the content and there was titles like Talk to Me and Sting, which were doing very well in the market. But yeah, it's that balance of seeing, you know, where the opportunity is for your films and realising you're in a really global marketplace.

[00:17:28] Caris Bizzaca Something that Graeme and Grainne spoke to was around how Australians enter a room with the advantage of federal or state government financial support, whether through offsets or direct funding.

[00:17:39] Graeme Mason We don't, I think, quite appreciate how supported we are here with the opportunities, particularly with money. You know, the Americans, you see who are going out with zero government support and then if you're lucky, you might get some tax credit money for where you're filming. Might. But you might not because you might not qualify. So they're much more adept at both pitching and pivoting.

[00:18:04] Caris Bizzaca He's Grainne also speaking to that point.

[00:18:06] Grainne Brunsdon One of the things that people said to us was and this was a non-English speaking agent for a non-English speaking territory said you know, Australian independent films are up against UK independent films, Canadian and US independent films because they're all English language, so  it's not just about competing with other Australian films, it's all other English language films. So you need to kind of keep that in mind as well. So there's a very big field out there. However, Australians are coming in with 40% of a Producer Offset if it's a for a theatrical film or 30% if it's for a streamer or a broadcaster. Nobody else has that. So essentially you're sitting with 40% of the finance plan in your back pocket. That's incredibly attractive. If you then also have investment from either a state or federal agency, you might have another 10% or 20% or even more. That's 60 to 70% of the finance plan that you're sitting with. That makes you financially a very attractive proposition. You're de-risking a lot of that. And you should remember that. So it puts you in quite a decent negotiating position. If you're looking for a sales agent for your film, it should be the right fit. This is a relationship that you're trying to build and hopefully one that will last beyond one project. So you need to be sure they're right for you as much as they want to be sure you're right for them. It should be a two way relationship that, you know, you don't need to be indebted to the agent. It is about building that relationship.

[00:19:36] Caris Bizzaca Now to hear from Harry again with more on that sales agent relationship.

[00:19:41] Harry Avramidis The most interesting advice that was given was by a very knowledgeable and experienced sales agent about Australians when they're coming to see him in particular. And his point was that the producer or filmmakers should be interrogating the sales agent with the appropriate amount of confidence, but also interrogating that sales agent as much as the sales agent's interrogating them because it is a relationship business and these markets are the prime opportunity to be meeting people and working out if they're the right fit for you and for them. So I think that would be advice going in is for producers to really ask the questions they need to be asking. His word was 'putting the desperation at the door and going in', and I think that's really solid advice. And then, yeah, I think our producers are held in really high esteem and as Louise says, just getting that balance right of budget. And we know budgets are rising across the board, but sales agents aren't risk averse, but they want to cover their bottom line. So going in with the knowledge of what scale you're doing it and why, and is the audience there for the scale that you want to do it?

[00:20:59] Caris Bizzaca There was one message in particular that came up a number of times as I talked to Graeme, Grainne, Louise and Harry about this trip to Cannes. Here it is.

[00:21:09] Graeme Mason You have to do your research.

[00:21:10] Grainne Brunsdon People need to do their research.

[00:21:12] Louise Gough Really do your research.

[00:21:13] Harry Avramidis And research as Louise was saying.

[00:21:15] Graeme Mason How people are watching things, how people are financing things, what are the shifts in the market?

[00:21:20] Grainne Brunsdon What are you trying to get out of this? What's your strategy for going to the market?

[00:21:23] Louise Gough Who you want to meet with, who they've done business with before.

[00:21:27] Graeme Mason Whether that be, again, a sales agent or distributor or a financier.

[00:21:31] Louise Gough What is your slate or your individual project and will there be potential resonance? So get in contact early and begin to build your meeting roster.

[00:21:41] Grainne Brunsdon Are the meetings that you're trying to set up, are they the right people? Are they the right sales agents? What else do they have on their slate? What other films have they been involved with? Have they got the right palette, if you like, for your film?

[00:21:51] Graeme Mason What are you trying to get out of any market or festival you're going to? Especially don't go with one thing, even if you've got a film in the festival, what are you pitching next? So as someone who used to buy for a living, I might have come in and said, 'thanks. I really loved it. It's just not for us. But what else are you doing? Because we think you're a great film maker or you're a great producer, you're such a good talent spotter.' If you haven't thought of that, you've almost wasted that opportunity.

[00:22:19] Caris Bizzaca Now to hear from Grainne with more on pitching.

[00:22:23] Grainne Brunsdon You've got to practise your pitch, both your formal pitch and also your informal one, the social one: when you're at a party, when you're at drinks, when you see somebody in the queue for a coffee, that you've got something that you've practised and that you're confident in saying and you need to be able to sell it in. And what other projects do you have as well? So maybe don't think about just this one project that you've got ready to go to market. What's your slate? Everybody wants to know, even if it's a debut feature, ok what have you got after that? So that's a really important thing. A lot of the sales agents that we were talking to are tracking talent. So they know exactly what a company that they're interested in or a film that they saw a few years ago, they know that whole catalogue of films and they're tracking that company or that filmmaker, and that's what they're interested in. They want to nurture new talent and new voices. I think that's really exciting. Australia is of interest to people. They certainly think that there is an opportunity for Australian talent and they think that there's, you know, been great films that have come out of Australia certainly in the last number of years and that includes First Nations stories. Obviously we've had a great strength in First Nations stories and films. They see from Australia a kind of a fresh take and a different take. While we were there, there was supposed to be a screening of the restored version of Strictly Ballroom, the 30th anniversary, and it was extraordinary how many people were saying, 'Oh my God, it's my favourite film.' And that really connected with it and remembered having seen it way back when. And it's that kind of sense of irreverence and joy and fun that they were looking for from films, especially now.

[00:24:04] Caris Bizzaca And just to finish up on the takeaways from the Screen Australia delegation at Cannes, he's Louise and Harry with their thoughts on - aside from research - how any creatives going to future markets can prepare.

[00:24:16] Louise Gough Book early, go hard, get your meetings locked in before you go, like really quite practically. In terms of the broader sort of ideas, there was some sort of really key messaging that perhaps was specifically for Australia, but more broadly for English speaking. And you know, some of this might be quite critical that the perception is or repeatedly it was discussed that streamers are local for local, mostly, from the Australian perspective. But feature, if you want to cut through, is local for global. And there's a perception, perhaps quite harshly said, is that when you're developing a project for a market and you're not familiar enough with that market that you need to do your legwork to become so. And with that in mind, there is a great appetite for Australian creators and Australian projects, but the work that goes to meet market really needs to be an audience-driven story, no matter what scale. And in fact it was said quite bluntly a few times in meetings is that 'reverse engineer what you're doing from the audience perspective.' Who is it for? What is the ride? How will it resonate? But there's really active tracking of Australian talent and lots of nooks and crannies of people from around Australia and those Australians living overseas where there's a lot of knowledge about Australian projects, whether that's online, people who are working in longform TV or streaming and certainly in the feature film area. So that tracking is really happening. But the other sort of key thing when you're going out to market to begin your conversations is price your project in relation to the scale of the talent, the reach to cast you can unlock and the eyeballs it might resonate with. Or how is the work with a distinct voice, strong craft, creative vision? Because it's got to be competitive in, you know, not just the Australian market but the global market. There was great anticipation also in the way that you're preparing is for works of optimism. Australia is saying sort of partially historically from some really defining works of previous eras that have great humour to them and a sense of optimism, even if they're dealing with difficult material. But the material needs to lift in terms of its smartness was a point of view that kept coming back to us, but there's great audacious talent here and really begin to find those works in your slate or that you're creating in your personal slate as a writer or director, that even if you're in tough material, make it audacious and optimistic. Begin your relationships with the market early, get feedback and engagement early, because that will help you lift your game and also broker sort of investment interest and a stake in what you're developing that hopefully, you know, will meet those audiences around the world.

[00:27:28] Caris Bizzaca Harry?

[00:27:29] Harry Avramidis There is a real appetite for talent. And people like Sophie Hyde, Warwick Thornton, Shannon Murphy, Natalie Erika James, Justin Kurzel, they're often mentioned, as world class talent. But I agree with Louise, there's such exciting talent coming through. We had short film makers across various categories in selections: Ruby Challengers AFTRS short in La Cinef, but also Rudolf Fitzgerald-Lenin had a short in director's fortnight called Tremor and Chloe White, who's just come out of the National Film and Television School in the UK, had written another short in La Cinef called Spring Roll Dream. And we had sales agents, HanWay (Films) in particular, talking about the excitement of working with Kitty Green and Noora Niasari and as mentioned, Talk to Me and Sting were really buzzy titles throughout the market.

[00:28:23] Caris Bizzaca Great. And Louise, anything to add?

[00:28:25] Louise Gough There were two little quotable quotes which will remain unacknowledged. Both from sales agents. One was, don't use the word 'drama' to describe your project unless you are getting the toppest end cast, ever. Use any other genre words, even if it's a slight bubble in your project, as descriptors. And the second one was, I thought, a little beautiful summary where one of the sales agents said, 'if people come to us with unique, original and personal, that if you start there we can begin the conversation.'

[00:29:08] Caris Bizzaca Now people attend Cannes for all kinds of different reasons at all stages of their careers. We'll now hear from three creatives who attended this year who also talk through their reasons for going and how they prepared. First, let's hear from Anupam Sharma, a producer, director and specialist on Indian Cinema who's based out of Sydney. Anupam has more than 20 years' experience and his recent credits as a writer, producer and director include UnIndian and the documentary The Run, as well as having a slate of features in various stages of development and production.

[00:29:41] Anupam Sharma So the purpose of attending Cannes this year is, you know, like it always has been before the pandemic hit: it's kind of an annual pilgrimage, but this year it just snowballed into something all different. We have a couple of features, one of which we received development investment from Screen Australia. So we wanted to market that. There was a lot of energy from our network for this Cannes because of it being live after almost two years. Last year it was working in a hybrid model, but the attendance was low, so we had to go there, I mean, to just get out and re-energise all the things. For me, as an Australian who specialises in India, it was an icing on the cake that Cannes announced India as the honour country, which means suddenly it became very important for a lot of Australian filmmakers like me, who had India-centric projects with development investment on slate. So it was multipurpose. And finally during the pandemic I ended up heading Australia India Film Council with that hat on. So yeah, with multiple hats on, we went to Cannes. And how did we prepare for it? Like we did before things were not this normal. We reached out to all our network of years and years. We reached out to sales agents. This year we particularly reached out to Indian authorities and the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting because I believe as an Australian there's a very bright future for the Indian stories which Australians want to tell. And apart from that we used the Screen Australia, you know, Australian's at Cannes thing to network with a lot of Australians who are going there. And I usually prepare personally and professionally through just, you know, kind of sporadic emails, although there is a method to the madness, by reaching out to people we have met over the years just looking for emails. This year everyone was keen to meet, even if without a project, because everyone just wanted to make that reconnection after pandemic.

[00:31:41] Caris Bizzaca Also at Cannes this year was writer and director Charles Williams, who won the short film Palme d'Or in 2018 for All These Creatures. Here's Charles talking through his preparation process.

[00:31:52] Charles Williams I was there to kind of finalise the sales side of my feature Inside, which is sort of an extrapolation of my short that won there a few years ago. So because of that, it was sort of easier to prepare because a lot of the other sales and distributor people that I was meeting with I'd met with to some extent through the short, either at Cannes or at TIFF. And the feature had been selected for the Filmmaker Lab at TIFF. So there were people that I had sort of slowly built relationships with and were waiting on the script and other things. So yeah, the preparation had been done well in advance going back years almost and so it was like, they had the pitch deck of the film and the script and all of these things and this was really just about kind of trying to quickly decide on who was going to be our sales agent. And then also it was also, you know, getting new introductions to other people that are, you know, like equity companies. So me and my producer, Marianne Macgowan, just squeezed a lot of meetings in between different financing and equity companies, as well as sales agents for the film.

[00:33:05] Caris Bizzaca As Charles noted, the wheels were set in motion for a number of his meetings many years ago through people he met previously at Cannes or Toronto International Film Festival. They were relationships he slowly built over the years. For someone like Ruby Challenger, she's at the very beginning of that journey. Her short film MumLife, which she made as part of the master's programme at AFTRS, was selected to screen in competition for La Cinef, a section of the Cannes Film Festival that used to be called Cinefondation, which recognises emerging talent from film schools around the world.

[00:33:38] Ruby Challenger We got an email earlier this year from the director of La Cinef with a few random questions, and I texted my producer early on in the morning and said, 'Don't get excited. But I just got a very odd, very personalised email from Cannes.' And she said, 'No, let's not get too excited. That's probably just totally just a bulk email they send out to people.' I said, 'I dunno it seemed pretty personal, but yes, let's not get our hopes up.' So I emailed back and within half an hour we'd been invited to Cannes and I was heavily pregnant at the time and I had my toddler at home and I was laughing and screaming and crying and my toddler just went, 'What is wrong with Mummy?!' She had no idea what was going on. So that's why me and the MumLife team went to Cannes this year. I had never been to Cannes. I'd also never been to a market. I'd never been to a festival of that size. I'd been to a film festival. Probably the biggest one I'd been to was called Austin Film Festival, and that was fantastic. That was a very writer-centric festival with amazing workshops, but going to something the size of Cannes was incredibly overwhelming. So how did I prepare for that? I kept asking other professionals what to expect. So I emailed a few contacts directors who've been, I talked to the awesome folks at Screen Australia for advice and I have to say the word 'overwhelming' is probably going to keep popping up just because there's so much unknown about Cannes when you haven't been. And then I got some fantastic advice from another older filmmaker who just gave me three tiers of things that I could be doing in Cannes. One, would be selling an idea like really hardcore with a producer and with funding attached already, like going from Australia with a whole package and trying to sell that to people, to distributors. He gave this fantastic advice that talking to international distributors would be a lot more intense and high pressure, whereas actually going to Cannes can be a fantastic way to talk to Australians in an oddly relaxed setting because Australians kind of want to connect when they're over there. He was talking about meeting other producers and directors as a kind of second tier less, you know, and that's probably talking to Australians over there. And then he said actually, what he did the first time he went to Cannes as a filmmaker with a film, was it was the first time he'd been to Europe and he just took it all in because it was so overwhelming and so amazing and he just enjoyed himself there. And so it took a lot of the pressure off me to 'achieve' something, being the incredibly driven person that I am. I got some similar advice from Screen Australia. That this is not the last time that I'll be at Cannes, it's the first time and that this is now a relationship with this festival that I will grow with and continue to engage with on different levels. So that was again, just really nice and the reality was when I got there, I didn't necessarily achieve, achieve, achieve in a big, big sense. But what I did achieve was so perfect and so transformative for me anyway. And it was really interesting because I met up with some young Australian filmmakers who were at a very similar stage in their career to me, but didn't have a film in Cannes. And they were living in London, and so they decided to come down to the festival and so it was really nice to just realise, to start to open up my eyes as I got there and as I talked to people that I didn't have to do anything, I could just be there. And even just figuring out the geography of the city was a huge takeaway. Figuring out how different things worked. Who talks to who. That stuff is, is a lifetime of engaging with this festival I now realis. Not something that I could have solved and known about before I got there. So, a really cool takeaway is if you have the access and means to go to Cannes before you have a film there or before, you know what the hell are you doing there that's kind of fabulous as well because it's a process of learning what you're going to do at Cannes. And on a personal level, preparing to go to Cannes was hectic because I had had a baby and I had to be in Cannes less than five weeks later. So it was really intense.

[00:38:30] Caris Bizzaca Now to hear from Anupam, Charles and Ruby again, each talking through a takeaway that they have from Cannes this year, either personal or about the industry itself.

[00:38:41] Anupam Sharma For me, the biggest takeaway from Cannes was that there is so much excitement, hunger and appetite for diverse Australian projects, particularly India-centric Australian projects. So that was a big, big takeaway. There are many Australian projects which are India centric, either by Australians of Indian origin or Australians of any origin. A number of them have received development investment from Screen Australia, Screen New South Wales and other agencies, and there was so much appetite for them, partly because the pandemic has taught us about the global audience through the streamers, you know, whether it's Indian projects, Korean projects, not European projects, but also because in this particular Cannes, India was a country for honour, so there was a genuine and a general leaning towards India-centric projects. So the big takeaway was, was the energy, the appetite and hunger for global projects, and particularly for Australia, which is renowned for its high level of project.

[00:39:45] Charles Williams A takeaway that I had just overall in terms of the industry is that everyone is almost surprised at how well it's growing again post-COVID. I think a huge cynicism set in almost pre-COVID about the decline of theatrical and when COVID hit, I think there was such doomsaying and I think everyone was kind of thinking, is this sort of the beginning of the end for theatrical filmmaking? And I just don't think that's what's eventuated at all. And in fact, there seems to be a real enthusiasm to revitalise the theatrical experience. And also the festival, it's the first time they've had a full festival since COVID hit. So there was just a lot of positive energy there, but for me personally, sort of the take out was just getting much better relationships. I mean, obviously we've now got offers from different sales agents from the film and and different equity partners that are considering the film. But also it was just a really great experience to reconnect with other filmmakers that I'm kind of friends with and see them in person and support their films. That side of it is not nothing either. Like it helps you kind of grow creatively a little bit as well, to stay in touch with your contemporaries a bit and reconnecting with the festival as well, because I've only been there once before.

[00:41:09] Ruby Challenger A slightly odd, not odd experience with Cannes, but very much being a mother like having to run back to the hotel and breastfeed constantly meant I had quite a different experience probably to what other young people have when they get there, who can network and socialise til the sun comes up every day. So I definitely wasn't able to enjoy that side of Cannes. So I do get the sense that a lot of networking goes on while people are socialising and having fun, which is a fabulous way to network. You know, you really get to know people and can build, because the thing about film is it's so relationship-based and so much about how well can you work with someone. So knowing that you get on is such an important part of filmmaking. But it did mean that I engaged with Cannes on a slightly different level, probably to other people where I was still going out, but yeah, I wasn't able to kind of network in that really organic way. So the big thing about Cannes is meeting as many people as you can, but being genuine, being authentically you. Not 'network, network, network'. You know people can smell someone who's trying to just like network their way to the top. So it's like you've just got to be you. You've got to meet the creatives that you want to meet and not worry also if you don't. I did hear from other filmmakers as well that you always feel like you're at the wrong party at Cannes. And that's pretty true like it's so big. It's such a big, amazing festival where there is just so much going on that it's hard to know where to be and how to be there. That being said I did get into the Elvis party so was pretty amazing.

[00:43:03] Caris Bizzaca Yep, yep. And you got a hug from Kate Winslet!

[00:43:07] Ruby Challenger Yeah. And that was actually part of an awards ceremony spotlighting female directors. So that was really amazing. She personally, so as part of being a L'Oreal ambassador and L'Oreal has this award for an emerging female filmmaker. So she watches all of the female directed films across Short Films Competition and La Cinef. And that in itself is incredible. But I did go up and introduce myself. I didn't win the award, but I wanted to say thank you so much for watching my film, and her handler was like trying to get her at the door. He's going, 'okay, you got to go. You're not going to get out.' I said 'I'm so sorry, I just really want to say thank you for watching my film.' And she turned around and said, 'oh, sorry, which film are you?' And I said, 'MumLife.' And she went, 'Oh!' and like hugged, like involuntarily like hugged me. I was like 'whoa, amazing. Hi.' So we talked about the film for a minute and she said she'd actually watched my film twice. And I mean, what an honour that Kate Winslet watched your film twice. It was huge. But in terms of takeaways, it's like meet as many creatives as you can meet, talk to everybody, glean as much information as you can and know that it's not the last time you're going to be there.

[00:44:31] Caris Bizzaca That was Ruby Challenger and a big thanks to Ruby, Charles Williams and Anupam Sharma for joining me on the podcast as well as to my Screen Australia colleagues, Graeme Mason, Grainne Brunsdon, Louise Gough and Harry Avramidis. Remember to subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter to keep up to date with new initiatives, opportunities, videos, articles and more. Thanks for listening.