The Cannes Film Festival is arguably the pinnacle of the film year. It is here that we get the first real idea of what films might be the films to get excited about seeing in the next 12 months. There is glitz, there is glamour and there is money. There is also the commercial side where film rights are sold, and various deals are made. So what is it like to actually attend Cannes as a young filmmaker? I chatted with Ryan Unicomb, an Australian filmmaker, about his Cannes experience.
Sam: Can you tell me a little about your film background and how you came to make your film [Eternalisim]?
Ryan: In 2007; I was living in Sydney and spending a lot of time around Fox studios. I was drawn to that area for some reason. It was just interesting to me. With no previous experience in drama/film/television (even through high school) I made the decision that film was something I wanted to do or at least learn about. I moved to Brisbane in 2008 and in 2011, I started my film studies. I was always a cinephile but once I had a taste of actually MAKING films I was hooked.
In late 2011; after a semi successful directorial début with short film Paper Plane that i also wrote, I was hired to work on my first feature film (a tiny independent film called One June Afternoon). During my studies I was funding it more and more prevalent that EVERYONE said they wanted to write & direct films; but no one was ACTUALLY doing it. Fast forward to mid 2012 and I’d put together and entered a small production team into the Brisbane 48 hour film project.The resulting short A Quest of the Upmost Importance (again something i wrote & directed) gave me my first ‘film festival’ award, the Audience choice award. I also gained more and more crew work on other short films. The Salt Maiden, See You Soon and Blown were all credits added to my IMDB over a matter of months.
Eternalism was an idea that came to me after a discussion on the Gold Coast with my girlfriends father about time travel. I wrote, cast (with the help of Brisbane’s ACME talent agency), directed, edited and colour graded the entire film by myself across a period of about 3 months. I had to take some time off post on Eternalism because I’d been hired as a lighting technician on (what ended up being Tropfest finalist & best male actor winning) short film Time, as well as some assistant director work on feature film The Suicide Theory starring Steve Mouzaki’s (soon to be seen in I,Frankenstein). After that busy period was finished I swiftly set about bringing in VFX artist and fellow filmmaker David Warrilow (YouTube Human Interest movie) to finish of the final VFX shots in Eternalism.
Sam: What was the process of getting your film into Cannes?
Ryan: The process of getting Eternalism into Cannes was simple. Pay the entry fee and send it away. Sit and anxiously await news of acceptance into, A) short corner (film market) or B) official short competition. I finished a version of Eternalism for Cannes on a Friday night and by Monday I’d been contacted by the festival to inform me of my acceptance into the festival.
Sam: How/when was your film shown? What were your activities in support of your film in Cannes?
Ryan: Eternalism was a part of the Court Metrage (short film corner). It played 24/7 inside the Festival de palais and could be seen by anyone who was interested. By the end of the festival it had been seen by 30+ professional filmmaker/sales/distribution people and I was afforded amazing feedback!!
Sam: What was the general feel of Cannes? Did you enjoy spending time there?
Ryan:The feel of Cannes…. It’s hard to explain. By day it felt like (I would imagine) any normal European town. Choking cigarette smoke-filled the air and the horn honks of angry motorists rang out every few minutes. At night however; that’s when Cannes came alive. It’s something I can only compare to my image of what Las Vegas might be like. Neon signs, pretty women, alcohol-fuelled laughter and unimaginable amounts of money being sank on silly things.
I enjoyed ASPECTS of the film festival. There is definitely more to dislike than like though if you’re a 24 year-old country Australian bloke that doesn’t smoke or drink, haha.
Sam: Who did you meet or see at Cannes? Did you have any particularly memorable encounters?
Ryan: I was lucky enough while there to run into people who are huge influences on me as a filmmaker and as a person. Within 24 hours of being in Cannes I’d had a ‘close encounter’ (see what I did there) with Mr Spielberg. It was an unreal experience to have him acknowledge the Filmmakers badge attached to the lanyard around my neck before swiftly being moved on by security. I was ready to come home after that; haha that was enough. I was also really lucky to have the opportunity to speak quickly with Ang Lee and his leading man [from The Life of Pi], Irrfan Khan about their success with the film.
The colleague I travelled to Cannes with (a producer on Eternalism but an assistant director on films such as Alexander, Australia, Syriana, Prince of Persia & Mao’s last dancer) was able to introduce me to some amazing contacts. After lunch with the personal make-up artists of Emma Watson & Frieda Pinto (good friends of my mate Darwin) I was lucky enough to actually meet and kiss Frieda Pinto. We had a similar run in with the amazingly beautiful Rosario Dawson. Darwin and her had worked together on Alexander and we were actually able to chat (and again kiss- it was Europe its part of the culture haha) about some upcoming projects and see if she was interested. I also managed to catch the attention of Milla Jovovich at a number of different events, and while I never got to speak with her one on one she knew my face well enough to catch a kiss I blew her on my way out of a party one night…haha.
Sam: What films did you see?
Ryan: I saw many films while I was there: Shield of Straws, Only God Forgives, Nebraska, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Past, Behind the Candelabra, Zulu. My favs were Alexander Payne’s Nebraska & [Steven Soderburgh’s] Behind the Candelabra. I thoroughly enjoy a good drama.
Sam: Do you have any tips for people wanting to attend the festival?
Ryan: Print as many business cards as possible. Literally everyone there (even supermarkets) want your business card! Also prepare your body for ridiculous amounts of walking. All transport there was slow and event locations would sometimes still be a 10-15 minute walk away.
Sam: Was it worth it?
Ryan: It’s hard to answer that question. I returned with a new perspective on INDEPENDANT filmmaking. I can only compare it to grovelling or begging. I don’t want to be a part of that specific type of filmmaking. I’d happily be a part of the studio machine if meant I got to make films every day.
I’ve returned home with a huge boost of confidence. I have a feature script that I bought the rights to that I’m looking to move into production next year, filming in Sydney. It’s a matter of funds at this stage. I guess for the first few I won’t have an option to NOT BE an Indy filmmaker. It’s what has to be done I suppose. Looking forward to my career though.
Thank you for your candid insight Ryan! Looking forward to seeing where your career heads.
By Sam McCosh