I recently attended the BFI Cannes Festival Preparation session at BFI Southbank, appropriately titled Should I Stay or Should I Go? The event was a chance for upcoming producers and filmmakers to decide if they were ready for the festival, and how to get the most out of it if they decided to go. This is what I learned:

The role of film festivals and markets:

Each festival has its positives, and it’s important to know which will most benefit your particular project.  For instance, Cannes has arthouse cache but might not work for more commercial or genre films, whilst Toronto is very commercial and great for UK films. Of the major European festivals, Berlin is the most commercial and can be a great fit for a lower to medium budget projects. Charlie Bloye advised that films without a Sales Agent should be especially cautious not to launch a project at the wrong time – getting a film into a festival ‘starts the clock’ on the product, it’s getting older from that moment.

What a Sales Agent does for your film at markets and how to choose and approach one:

Dave Bishop & Sharon Lee were refreshingly honest in their advice for British filmmakers not to contact UK Sales companies at an international festival – get your meetings with them in London, and prioritize meetings with international contacts who you can’t get a face-to-face with so easily. They assured us that projects with first-time directors and no cast are still interesting prospects for Sales if they have a strong script. If you don’t have an established relationship with a company, try to make your package stand out with showreels and visual materials. Most importantly, filmmakers should try to find a Sales company who is used to selling your ‘type’ of film – you should fit each other’s brands.

Planning your market:

You should be realistic about what you can learn and whom you can meet. Try to mainly schedule specific project meetings, but also allow time for general catch ups. Mood reels & visual materials are great for meetings, but don’t try to give too many papers to people or they’ll end up getting binned – send things digitally instead! A particularly useful piece of advice was to get to know details of UK public funding (BFI Film Fund etc.), as international producers will ask you.

Promotional campaigns:

Charles McDonald and Andreas Wiseman provided their insights and advice. Low budget press and PR is difficult at a major market if you don’t have a Sales agent, as other bigger projects will drown yours out. The timing of press releases is paramount, and when emailing / talking to the press cut to the chase – don’t provide reams of info on the nuances of your project, just state the facts to get a journalist interested.

“Croisette etiquette”:

A discussion between Lizzie Francke & Celine Haddad. Lizzie was particularly passionate that you should try to see as many films as possible during the festival. Talking about what you’ve seen is a great way to strike up conversations with other industry people. Both reiterated that you shouldn’t waste time trying to get meetings with people from the UK, and that meetings should have a definite point – remember, it’s a busy festival. The day wrapped-up with the assurance that people will meet you if your work is good – have faith in it!


This event was organized by the BFI and the British Council / We Are UK Film

Creative Skillset supports training for markets via Market Trader in association with Creative England.

Creative Skillset also supports FEDS – a film exhibition, distribution, and sales internship programme for new entrants.


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