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Jérôme Paillard is the consummate film industry insider. As head of Cannes’ Marché du Film, the world’s largest film market, the jovial 66-year-old Parisian has seen the rise and fall of every major player in the indie biz over the past three decades.
Since taking over the Marché in 1995, Paillard has steered the Cannes market through industry booms — the Miramax-led indie wave of the 1990s, Netflix’s streaming revolution of the mid-2010s — and busts, from the dot-com crash of 2002 and the 2008-2009 recession to the (still ongoing) COVID-19 pandemic.
But Paillard, who is retiring from the Marché after this year’s market, says music, not cinema, was his first love.
“I come from a musical family. My father was the famous conductor Jean-François Paillard; my mother was a musician [renowned harpsichordist Anne-Marie Beckensteiner]. I studied music and mathematics. Nothing to do with film.”
Music, however, brought him to the movies. After completing his studies at the prestigious Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, Paillard worked as a professional musician — a classical oboist — which led him to French classical label Erato Disques, where he started as sound engineer, rising to become chief financial officer by 1986. From there he moved sideways to Erato Films, the film division set up by legendary French producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier (Cousin Cousine; La Bohème; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover).
“I came in as they were doing [Maurice Pialat’s 1991 biopic] Van Gogh and produced around 13 films with them,” says Paillard. “By 1995, the company had closed up, and I was looking for a new job. The Cannes market was looking for a new manager, and Toscan suggested I go for it, because it was expected he would join me in five years, as the new Cannes president.”
Things didn’t turn out exactly as planned. When Pierre Viot, Cannes president since 1984, stepped down in 2000, it was Gilles Jacob, not du Plantier, who took his place. Paillard was on his own.
“I was lucky, though. Pierre Viot was an incredible president,” says Paillard. “And for the first five years, he gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted with the market.”
He had his work cut out for him. When Paillard arrived in the mid-1990s, the Cannes festival and its official film market had little to do with one another.
“At the time, the film market was quite small; it was a few screening rooms in the basement of the Palais below Cannes’ legendary red carpet,” Paillard recalls.
Above ground, the cinema business was booming. In 1994, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or and went on to gross more than $200 million worldwide, an unheard-of sum for an independently financed film. European production companies such as StudioCanal (Basic Instinct) and the U.K. firm Working Title (Four Weddings and a Funeral) were proving, alongside companies like Miramax and New Line Cinema — both of which had recently been acquired by Hollywood studios, Disney and Warner Bros., respectively — that there was real money in cinema outside the perceived mainstream.
But all that business was happening outside the Marché, in hotel suites and apartments along the Croisette.
“My first decision, when I arrived in 1995, just six months before the market, was to include everyone in the Marché, those in the Palais and those outside,” says Paillard, “to re-create one big market for all the players.”
Paillard introduced changes both small — publishing a printed guide with photos of all market attendees (known to Cannes regulars as “the bible”) — and revolutionary, including the launch, in 1998, of online site Cannesmarket.com, which eventually became Cinando, the go-to B2B platform for the global film industry. Under his watch, the market expanded dramatically, moving upstairs and outside with the addition of the Riviera stands on the Palais’ oceanfront (in 2000) and widening its appeal beyond Cannes’ core focus on art house films.
“We were always outside the Palais, in apartments,” remembers The Exchange’s Brian O’Shea. “But any time we had contact with Jérôme, it was always easy. He was always welcoming, always ready to help.”
“Very un-French” is how many international executives describe Paillard, whose affable nature and contagious charm come without a hint of Gallic snobbery.
“I’d say he is a real ‘can-do’ type, if that didn’t sound too American,” says Upscale Productions head Jonathan Kier, who has stayed in contact with Paillard since he was assigned to his team as an intern at the American Pavilion in Cannes back in 1996. “Just look at what they did during COVID. In 2020, when the festival was canceled, they were the first to launch an online market — at a time when no one knew how it would work.”
By all accounts, 2020’s online-only Marché — Paillard used the market’s Cinando platform as a basis for online screenings, virtual meetings and industry conference sessions — was an unqualified success. “He kept the business going when a lot of people thought it might all fall apart,” says one European sales executive.
Now, after 27 years at the helm, Paillard says “it’s the right time” to step down and hand over the running of the market to Guillaume Esmiol, a tech-savvy executive who joined the Marché du Film in 2020 to help transform it into a hybrid event.
Paillard’s future is up in the air — literally. In addition to spending time with his wife, two grown children and two grandkids, ages 5 and 7, he plans to use his retirement to focus on his love of flying, working as a flight instructor on small aircraft. And to rekindle his love of music.
“I’ve been practicing the oboe more, and I’ve even started to sing,” says Paillard, chuckling. “All classical music, mostly French, from the 19th and early 20th centuries. So a long way from the movie business.”
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