Cannes Diary: The Airborne Allure of the Helicopter Party

Helicopters are becoming a more common route of transport at Cannes this year. Veteran talent agent David Unger offered a copter ride to party guests instead of the 30-40 minute car trip.

There’s a long tradition in Cannes of the party in the hills — the glamorous invite-only gathering at a rented villa or a castle or a mansion or a vineyard perched high above the unwashed masses on the Croisette below. The problem with such affairs, however, always has been the decidedly unglamorous car or bus ride to and from the event. Last year, I fell asleep during the 45 minute shuttle to the Hunger Games party at a castle somewhere near Antibes, and once we arrived, it was pretty clear the trek wasn’t worth the effort.

Veteran talent agent David Unger added an extra wow factor to his party Sunday afternoon for Three Six Zero Entertainment, the new management/production offshoot of the music powerhouse that he runs with Mark Gillespie and Dean Wilson in partnership with Jay Z’s Roc Nation. He offered a helicopter ride to guests who wanted one instead of the 30-40 minute car trip.

Of course I wanted one. Others seem to agree. 

Helicopters are becoming a more common route of transport at the festival this year, with Uber stepping up its service from the Nice airport to Cannes and more shuttles taking the well-heeled from the Palais-adjacent heliport to the Hotel Du Cap down the coast. Unger’s former company Resolution started the helicopter party tradition last year as a way to impress investors and clients, and while Resolution no longer exists, the party endures under the new banner.

So on a warm, crystal clear afternoon, guests were picked up at the Carlton hotel and shuttled to the port for five-at-a-time copter rides (my group included power-party-planner Peggy Siegal and Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson on The Simpsons, who is in town to drum up interest in a script she co-wrote called In Search of Fellini about her adventures in Italy 30 years ago).

First we hovered above the coast, turning inland over the green yards and swimming pools of the neighboring communities. 

Finally, after about 10 minutes, our French pilot touched us down perfectly on a circle painted on the manicured grass of a 1,500 acre estate, where Unger personally welcomed us Fantasy Island-style and introduced us to his guests.

In many ways it was a typical Cannes crowd. Among the 100 or so guests were the assorted film executives: Mark Gill of Millennium Films, Hal Sadoff, the ex-ICM film finance guru who recently landed with producer Joel Silver; Jeff Berg, Unger’s former partner at Resolution, who was overheard talking up some new venture. Sprinkled in were a spattering of models and actresses: a very friendly (and pregnant) Melissa George, formerly of The Slap and next the star of NBC’s fall medical drama Heartbreaker, sat in the shade chatting with well-wishers. Tara Subkoff, who has appeared in a bunch of movies, told me she’s in Cannes to support her directorial debut #Horror (she also was proud of a recent protest she participated in — “We almost got arrested,” she said. “It was pretty exciting” — but I didn’t catch the cause. 

Then there were the European men in light suits and open collars who looked like the kind of guys who invest in movies. A Russian billionaire was pointed out, but I didn’t write down his name. Ringo Starr’s stepdaughter Francesca Gregorini, who had a well-received movie at Sundance in 2013, also made the rounds as a few invited media people mingled (one of whom embarrassed herself trying to cut the line for the copters back to Cannes).

Jay Z wasn’t there, but his champagne, Armand de Brignac (aka “Ace of Spades”) was, and it flowed freely. I will admit it was pretty tasty, as was the lunch (quiche, lobster, shrimp and assorted meats), served buffet-style by a uniformed staff next to the pool. The countryside setting was distinctly French, with full views of the Cannes harbor far below. But the Mediterranean Modern house felt like it could have been airlifted from Brentwood in LA.

The purpose of the party was never really stated, nor was there a speech by Unger or any of the Three Six Zero execs. But mostly this party was about the helicopter. As it touched down back on the Croisette port, the pilot shook our hands and thanked us. I asked him if he’d take me for another spin back to the villa and he laughed. I was only half joking.