Cannes Market Boss Shares Details on First-Ever Virtual Edition (Exclusive)

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Marche du Film Executive Director Jérôme Paillard

Cannes' international film market will go online-only this year in late June. "It will be as close to the experience of the physical market as we can make it."

The future of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival is still murky, but the future of the 2020 Marché du Film, the Cannes Film Market, is clear. For the first time in its history, it is going online.

This year's market will be entirely virtual and will run June 22-26.

The Marché du Film Online, unveiled by Marché executive director Jérôme Paillard on April 17, will run parallel to a virtual market announced by the U.S. talent agencies, and several indie heavyweights, including FilmNation, STX Entertainment and Wild Bunch.

But Cannes' larger online Marché — which will combine online screenings with virtual sales booths and live-streamed programs and conferences, as well as one-to-one virtual sales meetings and networking events — will be the true beta test for the international film industry, which is being forced to rapidly adjust to the new normal of canceled events and lockdown orders.

In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Paillard outlined his plans to take the Marché online and discussed what buyers and sellers can expect from Cannes' first virtual market.

You've set dates for the virtual market, June 22-26. Why just five days? The CAA-organized event is planning to run June 22-28. 

Yes, I was a bit surprised to hear those plans. We're trying to coordinate things with them. They initially had their virtual market set for the week before ours and then moved it. But we are in discussions with them. For us, five days for the market is enough. Some of the films and some of the conferences will be available on catch-up VOD for maybe two weeks afterwards, but the real market, the screenings, the conferences, the one-on-one meetings, everything will happen in those five days.

Will it all take place on the same technical platform? 

No. We'll be using different platforms. We will use technology from Cinando [the film industry platform launched by the market in 2003] for the screenings, because it has the digital rights management [DRM] security protection and the monitoring, so you can control which buyers attend. We'll use another technology for the one-to-one meetings and another for the conferences and programs. But it will all be on the one closed industry site, the Marché du Film Online.

For the film screenings, you're be doing live programed screenings, not using video-on-demand links. Why that approach?

It came from discussions we've had with sales agents. We think it's very important to keep the momentum of the screening and the market. Of course, because of the time zone differences, we'll have to have some re-runs of films but we want to do them on the same day if possible, to maintain that urgency of everyone watching the film at the same time. If you just send links to people, they don't necessarily take the time to watch them. And you have no control over when they see the film, so it is difficult to organize meetings and sales negotiations on the back of that. There's a large consensus to do things this way.

To get people to understand how to work in a virtual market, I think it is very important to keep as many of the concepts of the physical market as possible. Instead of expecting everyone to put on a VR headset or something, we want people to work as they usually work. So they should read the dailies in the morning for the market news, use Cinando to do research, check out the market catalog, which we will be putting out online, and organize their day around the screening schedule.

The online Marché will be a platform where you can get the news, you can visit the pavilions, you can go to the cinema, you can visit the conferences. It won't be a VOD list; it will be as close to the experience of the physical market as we can do.

How will the screenings be set up to deal with time zone differences? 

We are working out the final details, but at the moment we are looking to have every screening duplicated twice, so that we have screenings for three different time zones [U.S., Europe and Asia] to make sure everyone is able to screen the films they need. We'll do the same for promo reels and for the conferences and teaching sessions. Everything that isn't done live will be replicated in the different time zones.

In the end we probably won't have more screenings than in the physical market, where we have between 1,300 and 1,400 screenings, but we might have close to the same number, just with fewer titles.

You've published the prices for the virtual market — accreditation will cost between €95 ($105) and €195 ($211). Will there be any other costs involved for virtual booths or screening slots? 

No, the booths and the screenings will be free for companies that choose to have a presence in Cannes. It is for real companies, of course, and we'll be putting in regulations so that screenings will be for new films only, not library titles. These will be market premieres. We may have some exceptions for films that have only shown at the Berlin market [in February]. For companies that booked booths for the physical market, we've already refunded their money or are in the process of doing so.

What will the virtual booths look like? 

Basically, it will be a page on the Marché du Film Online platform. Companies will design the page like they would design their booth. It it have the presentation of the company, their film lineup with trailers, etc., posters decorating the wall of the page. You'll be able to visit the booth, watch trailers, request a meeting with people at the company. Again, it will be as close to the physical market as we can make it.

When will this be up and running? 

We are starting to talk to sales agents. In the next couple of weeks we'll be telling them what they need to do and what they should prepare. If their lineup is already on Cinando, it will be imported directly into the new platform. From June 15, they will have a week to build their virtual booths. It will all go live on June 22.

What about registration and booking screenings? 

We'll start opening registration in two weeks, on May 4. The first month, people will be able to register with the early bird rate [€95]. We don't have a deadline for registration because you can decide to attend even after the market starts. For companies that want to book screenings or reserve a booth, we hope to have everything organized by the beginning of June. The screening program should be available two weeks before the market, so early in June.

Will there be any virtual replication of the social aspects of the market -- the cocktail parties, the meet-and-greets? 

At the beginning of this crisis, everyone was very curious to see if those big Zoom meetings would work where you get 200-300 people together at once, and then you go into a sub-group with six people and chat. But it is very difficult to recreate the social atmosphere. Of course, everyone can have a drink at the end, but it's not the same. Maybe we can organize some sort of live event, where we are streaming music or something around a live keynote or something.

I'm not convinced that just adding a virtual glass of champagne at the end is enough. But we have two months and we are looking at other events in film, but also in tech and start-up events, for ideas.

What parts of the virtual Marché will be live?

The conference program will be live. We're still organizing things, but we'll have a few conferences, one definitely on the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, one on 50/50 [gender parity goals]. We are doing a number of activities around composers this year, and some of those will be live, such as a keynote with a major composer. We'll try to have the live events go live at different times, as appropriate for different time zones. And we'll probably replay the live events to let other time zones catch up. And of course the speed meetings and networking events will all be live.

What's been the response of companies to your plans?

I'd say 99 percent are excited. A few, but very very few, have told me, "Cannes for me is a place to meet clients and new partners at cocktail parties, and I can't do that online." But that's very rare. People are frustrated to not be in Cannes, but they're excited to see how this virtual market will work.

This is planned as a one-off, but do you think you'll be using aspects of this virtual market for the future, physical Marché du Film?

I think it's going to be very interesting, also in the future, to have this virtual replication of the Marché. For people who for whatever reason are unable to attend Cannes. I've had a lot of discussions with my colleagues from the other markets and other festivals that are very interested to see how this works. This is a beta test, or really more than a beta, because it will be a full-scale event. But it will be a demonstration for the future.