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Today@Sam Article

Mass Comm Students Share Cannes Festival Experiences

July 1, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Mass communication students on a boat dock

SHSU mass communication students showed film executives what they "Cannes" do this summer when they travelled to France for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival as part of a "Film and Media Producing and Promotion in the International Market" study abroad course under the direction of associate professor Tom Garrett. During the 15-day trip, students gained real-world experience and made networking connections as they interned for various entities in the film industry. Participants also attended red carpet competition screenings, daily workshops, business and film market symposiums, and critique sessions. In addition, four student short films (including those by Chase Parker, Jonathan Kinsey, Peter Ton and Joseph Vranas, and alumni Gerald Morris and Sam Sanchez) were juried into Short Film Corner screenings for distributors, producers and festival programs. Below, Parker, Kinsey, Holland Nixon, Cheznay Dones, Pete PettitiDavid Cullen, Calvin Birdsong Jr., Vranas and Ton share their experiences and photos, as well as how the trip both reaffirmed and energized their love for the industry. More photos can also be viewed here.


Chase Parker

Chase Parker and James FrancoMy trip to Cannes was the experience of a lifetime and a dream come true. I had always wanted to travel to Europe but I never thought it would be for the Festival de Cannes, let alone the fact that I was also going to represent my school and my film that got accepted into the festival’s Short Film Corner, known as Court Métrage—Festival de Cannes. The Festival De Cannes is single-handedly the world’s largest, famous and most influential film festival and market in the world. From an outsider’s perspective, one would think that the festival is all about viewing movies, the glitter and glam of the red-carpet and the chance encounters of running into a celebrity on the Promenade de La Croisette. But unlike all those outsider perspectives, my perspective was exactly that and yet quite different as I got a chance to work behind the scenes of the Festival De Cannes.

To begin that journey into the behind-the-scenes, I have to rewind to day one, when we first arrived at our apartments that overlooked the French Riviera. On our beds we all received from Professor Garrett an envelope containing many key elements to our successes in Cannes. We were given our credentials. Our festival badges were the key to unlocking and getting into the behind-the-scenes action and up the red carpet. When first arriving at the Palais, the main entrance to the festival, we had to go through a series of guards. The first guard made sure that we actually had badges, the second made sure that our badges were the correct ones, and the last ones scanned us for safety reasons. Our badges were “noir” and contained a red dot with the letter “R” and a yellow one indicating that we were part of the Short Film Corner. Parker at Nu ImageOurs allowed us access to where we would be working. The reason for color-coding the badges is for the guards to differentiate the people who were part of the festival—the producers, sales, and distribution, productions companies, anyone and anybody who worked behind the scenes of a film—and the paparazzi, who were everywhere. Those unlucky ones without badges were left to wonder what happens behind those rows of guards. Behind those rows of guards is something that is out of this world, there are literally thousands upon thousands of booths, all with the intent of signing a new agent, and the distribution and sales of every movie ever created, all from different countries. They all have a common goal—to get their movie sold or look for money to back a future production. I interned with Nu-image/Millennium, which has made hundreds of films. Nu-images’s CEO Avi Lerner is one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood today. They have produced such films such as The Expendables, Rambo, The Butler and many, many more. Working with them was such a great experience, and I was able to learn a lot about the business side of film.

I attended many screenings in the main theater, La Lumiere, which is where the red carpet was, and, of course, the largest of all of them. Besides the Marche and the theaters, there are also world pavilions, tents all set up for each country to have a safe haven for their respective countrymen.

My experience in Cannes is one that I will never forget. It taught me the effective art of pitching and how one presents themselves through networking. I am grateful that I was able to network with companies and hopefully use the connections I have made to help with my future career. I left the trip not only with a great experience and great memories, but with a raised awareness of the industry I strive (even moreso now) to work in and contacts I could never imagine having.

Jonathan Kinsey

Kinsey and Nixon
Holland Nixon and Jonathan Kinsey, on the red carpet at Cannes

There are few times in life when one gets a glimpse into what may come, and Cannes was definitely one of those defining experiences. Because of my experience working closely alongside the GRAMMY Foundation, I had several preconceived expectations for the Cannes trip and how the entertainment business works. I expected to work alongside and network with influential people, watch great cinema, and discover definition applying to my future career in media production. All of my expectations were realized and BEYOND!

During my time at Cannes I was given the opportunity to intern for Mike Nichols with AbelCine, one on the largest international and domestic production equipment sales and rental companies in the world. Mike is the rental manager for the New York office and is very influential in allocating equipment for various productions ranging from low-budget student films, to large budget features. During my internship I helped him prepare rentals for Saturday Night Live, a Chris Rock feature film, and several other mid-range budget productions. While helping him prepare orders, I was able to ask specific questions about how different pieces of equipment work together to help directors and cinematographers achieve the look they are pursuing. He also provided valuable insight into the business workflow of film.

Between market films, competition films, and short films, there was a huge opportunity to be exposed to various genres and foreign films. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity to attend the competition features premieres. I found the foreign style of cinema quite dark and jarring. I noticed that most foreign films seem to lack something in comparison to the majority of American cinema. Almost all of the films were beautifully shot and had great scripts, but the emotion on the screen somehow did not quite translate as well as I had hoped. It may just be major cultural differences, or that Americans wear their hearts pinned to their sleeves, but the majority of acting was very apathetic. It was usually one extreme or another, straight faced dialogue or livid screaming with bullets and chairs flying in the air. However, the opportunity for exposure to these films was incredible, simply because I had the chance to see what is current and successful in the global film market today.

As of now, my career goal is to have the opportunity to create new projects that push the boundary of what we conceive as visual and auditory media, through the collaboration and use of traditional art forms, such as film, music, dance and theatre. In order to be successful in this endeavor, I think it is key that I understand the many facets of these art forms. It is paramount that I know much more than the artistic tools and how they are used. I need to recognize their cultural context, and how they can be effectively marketed and monetized.

Alongside my experiences with the GRAMMY Foundation, the trip to the Cannes Film Festival gave me clarity about the real-world business applications for my future projects and how they will fit into my career goals. Without these life defining experiences, I would not understand the value of what I know. There is only so much one can learn in the classroom setting, which is why I am thankful that this opportunity was made available through Professor Tom Garrett, his mentoring and the university.

Holland Nixon

Holland NixonThe trip to Cannes, France was an opportunity of a lifetime. It was really breathtaking to see a different country and how despite being on the other side of the ocean, the people and the culture are so similar to ours. Our apartments were beyond amazing! Waking every morning with the French Riviera outside of our balcony and the sea waves splashing all night was incredible. In short, the trip was amazing and a dream come true, and I am so grateful that I was able to go.

I loved being able to work the internship with IM Global and see the inner workings of the film side of the entertainment industry. I honestly did not anticipate the trip going the way it went. I thought the internships would be absolutely grueling and tiresome, but it was the opposite. I first thought that the internship was going terrible, but once I began to realize that people always have to start somewhere and it was almost like a rite of passage, I realized how I could take advantage of the situation and it became really enjoyable. I began to meet new people and make connections that could possibly help me in the future.

The red carpet premieres, press conferences, workshops, meet-ups and general networking opportunities—I cannot even begin to express who all has affected and inspired me!

Cheznay Dones

Group shotMy trip to the Cannes Film Festival was the most unforgettable trip of my life. I will never forget the experience I had in France, and it was all thanks to my professor Tom Garrett. He took Sam Houston students, gave us memories of a lifetime, and helped us increase our experience in the film industry.

I had the opportunity to work with Nu Image/ Millennium Films and not only work with some of the industry’s most notable people, but intern for celebrities such as Ahna O’ Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, and James Franco. Working with the cast of As I Lay Dying—a film presented in the Un Certain Regard section—was definitely the greatest accomplishment in my life so far. I’m only 19 and through this study abroad program, I have done more than I ever thought I would have accomplished at this age.

Another perk of being with Tom Garrett was getting movie tickets almost every night for the premieres. I cannot describe how I felt being in the same movie theatre as Leonardo DeCaprio Donnes and famous guyand so many other influential people in my life; it brought out a newfound appreciation for films in general for me, knowing just how much work goes into not only making films, but marketing films, which, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of the film industry. After being on this trip I hope to one day intern for one of the big six studios such as Paramount, 21st Century, or Universal; that is now my next upcoming goal for myself.

Not only did I get to work and see movies with amazing people, my colleagues and I got to explore the beautiful world of Cannes. There is truly nothing like Cannes, France. It is beautiful, with beautiful people left and right. The last couple of days, as the festival wrapped up, we got to do most of the exploring. We went to a beautiful island called St. Marguerite, which in itself changed my life as well. The waves of the ocean hitting against the shore made me realize how lucky I was to have this life-changing opportunity. I am truly blessed. I thank everyone who allowed me to go on the trip and a special thanks to my mentor and one of the most influential men in my life Professor Tom Garret. Thank you, and I’m already ready for next year!


Pete Pettiti

Pete PettitiWhere to begin...the trip as a whole was an absolute mind-blowing experience. I keep saying I couldn't ask for anything more from it, except if somebody was handing me cash by the hundreds. Even that would be hard to beat the connections, the friends and the memories that I gained in a mere two weeks. Stepping through the large metal door at Lions Gate was the first thing that made me really open my eyes, as I thought about how I was going to be working in that penthouse for two weeks with one of the largest production companies in the world. I made sure that I got everything I could from it.

The trip made me really see into some SHSU students’ lives in both a negative and positive way. I gained friends while I was there, and I grew especially close colleagues I interned with, since we were working so closely together. We said we would move out to LA and continue working with Lions Gate together, and I sincerely hope we do. The food was absolutely impeccable; whether I paid $30 for ahi tuna or $3 for a sandwich from a shack by the beach, it was delicious. I feel that every time you leave the country you should bring something back with you; not a souvenir but a life lesson from a different culture to incorporate into your daily habits. It truly makes you grow as a person in your society to bring back some changes for you and those who surround you. I am bringing back a few things from this trip, including that I need to surround myself with talented people and put myself a position to run into those people. Most of the contacts I made out there were not in the office at all, one was at a Thai restaurant while waiting to pick up lunch; one was by Baoli beach (and we’re still in contact. He even sent me his short film he wants to work together on). One person I met while randomly helping to try to find his cell phone, which he thought was stolen. I said, ‘let's go look for it,’ and it turned out that he is the largest distributor in Australia. It's about talking to the people around you, and not only talking to them, but listening to them. The next thing I'm bringing back is obviously all of the fresh food! It was hard eating fresh in a town like Huntsville, with all the fast food and Mexican cuisine, but now that I'm back in Houston I've been trying to eat much better and walk more.

The woman who deserves her own paragraph is the great and almighty Deborah Ortega (senior vice president at Lions Gate Entertainment)! She called herself the “mama bear,” and the title is fitting. She treated us like we weren’t even interns, which doesn't mean she didn't work us hard, but she was a very kind woman. When a fellow intern’s ankle was bothering him, she sent him home and said to rest. I don't know any boss at an internship who could be so thoughtful. I hope that I can one day work for Lions Gate because of her. She has recommended I apply for a position that will be opening up very soon. My fingers are crossed.

I loved every aspect of the trip. I want to thank you again for giving me opportunity to add a chapter like this into my life.

David Cullen

Cullen, with Garrett and PettitiThe first thing I remember about France was the air, the sweet breathable air, unlike any air you find in Texas. The second thing I remember about France was the food, the amazingly delicious and fresh food, unlike any food you can find in Texas. I have never breathed better and never eaten better. That is a fact.

Walking down the Croissette is better than walking down 5th Avenue; maybe it’s personal taste, but after having experienced both and loving both, the Croissette is different because the pace of life is different. I think because you can breathe, people take time to enjoy; because they feel the breeze, they take time to enjoy. It was an amazing experience, and one that, God willing, I will never forget. I will never forget the people and the amount of cigarette smoke in the otherwise clean air. I will never forget the walk to work or the walk to any of the places we frequented, the beach, the island, the boat to the island, the penthouse, even the elevator to the penthouse. It is all infused in my mind like a branding on a baby calf. It was indelibly the best time of my life, thus far, with an emphasis on the thus far.

I woke up every morning and felt a sense of purpose in my bones, ready to do anything because all of it was amazing…wait, wait, wait. Pause. That’s hindsight talking. Believe me.

The truth of the matter is that as much as I loved France, I am not sure that I got enough, or maybe I am impatient, too scatterbrained at times, and wholeheartedly overambitious when these kinds of things come into my life. I know that just being able to go was an accomplishment and that Lions Gate was the best of the best, the cream of the crop, whatever that even means. I learned a lot of things, like a sponge, or a wallflower, I listened and I absorbed. Now, my task is to make sure that I use every bit of that learning and make something amazing with it. I will, that is the answer; no need to ask the question.
What I can say about it is this: Deborah Ortega, senior vice president at Lions Gate Entertainment, is an amazing woman and was an amazing boss. She did everything in her power to ensure that we learned as much as we could, and as much as I loved all the happenings around Cannes, I loved being in that Penthouse for at least seven or eight hours a day, getting up at 6:30 a.m. every single morning in a town that lives off the sea. Learning and working is what makes me happy, and I definitely learned and worked in southern France.

At the end of the day, what I got out of the Cannes International Film Festival was that someday I want my own film, whether I write it, direct it, or even act in it, to be there, and I want my name announced by the French man on the red carpet, I want my picture to be taken by every last photographer; I want to hear the audience cheer for me when I enter the theatre and give me a standing ovation when my film comes to a close. It is what I want, it is what I crave—acceptance. My mother always told me that I was a needy kid, not because I needed to be taken care of but because I was too good at taking care of myself. She always said I was too smart or too good looking or too much of a know-it-all, and she meant it. She was, and still is, afraid that I am one of those people who has to be famous and wanted and needed by the world in order to feel successful.

Red Carpet groupWhen I graduated high school, I was left with several options: I got into NYU, Loyala of NOLA, Tulane, Rice, UT, A&M, LSU, UNT, Georgetown, American, Notre Dame, and finally SHSU. I could honestly have done whatever I wanted it. It was at the moment when I sat down across from my parents at the kitchen table discussing my options when I recollected on a similar circumstance in fifth grade. I wanted to be in band in Middle School, but I wasn’t sure what instrument to choose to play so I tried all of them and was told that I could pick whatever I wanted. That has been my downfall in life: too many choices, too many options, too many ideas and too many plans. I need just one; I want just one, and through Cannes and Professor Tom Garrett I think I have found it. I will never forget the teachers who mattered in my life. I will never forget Tom Garrett or any of the men and women who have been aforementioned. Looking at that list of colleges you would think that I would choose one other than SHSU, but believe me, after the last three and a half years in small town Texas, I have grown to love this school. I am glad that after everything I am at a school that I will be able to graduate from with a sense of accomplishment. That is all I could of asked for.

Calvin Birdlong Jr.

Birdsong taking a selfie in a theater
Students on the red carpet

My trip to Cannes was one of the biggest experiences in my short 20 years on Earth. My entire goal since I was born was to experience the world. I’ve always wanted to see things other than what I could see down the street.

I come from a small-town, typical African-American family that only associates typically with our community, because I’ve learned through sociology that’s what we tend to gravitate towards for safety and reassurance. However, I was abnormal and always wanted to know people of different colors or, better yet, different countries. My parents have always said that I never had a group of friends that all looked the same. Even now I’m in SHSU’s international programs and spend most of my time with people from different countries. When I went to France my goal was to accomplish what my family has never done—to actually get on a plane and fly across the ocean and see the world. Yes, I accomplished so much through the internships and the company executives. Learning the business by watching and networking, I was actually able to see my future career in person, and at the biggest event for not only your career, but the entire film industry. This is what opened my eyes: it’s not just about the industry; it’s about the international appeal.

I want to go back next year and do it all over again, but this time I will be even more prepared, being that it was my first time on a plane and what not. One thing is I’m sure of is that it changed my life.



Joseph Vranas

Joseph Vranas and Peter TonUpon arriving in Cannes, I was surprised by the similar layout of the city, specifically on the Riviera, to that of California. As a result, I was disappointed, as I had expected something more historical and “French” rather than man-made beaches, planted palm trees, and hamburger stands. However, as we progressed into the trip, visiting the inner city and the nearby islands, Cannes revealed its historical side and mature beauty.

The film festival was, at first, overwhelming, with the large amount of booths representing different film companies (many of which I had never heard of), the fellow short filmmakers attacking for a spot to set up their posters, and the desperados outside of the Palais begging for tickets as though they were starving for them. I had no idea where to start, and so many people seemed to have their own agendas. I had no particular expectations as I had no idea what to expect at all, but after a few days of watching the gears turn, I decided to form a game plan to get people to see our short and be interested for our future projects.

I did meet several individual people, such as a couple of German producers, a former producer from L.A., and a British producer, who are interested in seeing the film and have suggested other festivals that will gain more hype for our film and growing company.

Overall, I made several connections in a roundabout and unexpected way, enjoyed several films, and got many great examples for what we can do in the future to ensure appreciation for our film, as well as a clearer idea based on the competition short films that I think will help us to do well next year.



Peter Ton

Arriving in Cannes was a little overwhelming—especially getting used to the atmosphere and the very fast-paced environment that was presented to us. Of course, all the preparations beforehand helped, but actually being there was a whole other story.

Joseph Vranas and Peter TonGoing to the premieres was a great experience. Getting to see all the actors and directors at those premieres was definitely one of the highlights. It is just amazing to see the human aspect of this festival—how people from all around the world gathered to this area in order to celebrate the cinema, and it just solidifies the fact for me that film is an all encompassing art that definitely brings people together. It is a common language that everybody can understand, and this festival and being on the red carpet intensified that for me. I just wished the organization of the festival would have been more efficient since there were a lot of traffic issues regarding entrance and letting people in and getting tickets, etc., but that is nothing that we could really change on our part.

For me, this first time at Cannes was about just getting my feet wet. I was allowing myself to get acquainted with the system and how everything flowed and worked. It is definitely a stepping-stone to do greater things in the future and even in next year’s festival. Getting to see the caliber of all the short films, and even the features, set an expectation for me and urged me to produce even better films that I have before. It inspires me to work even harder, and my goal is to get a short film into the competition next year. It was very interesting to see the difference in the cinema between different countries; there are nuances in the cinematography that sets aside, say, an American film from a Korean film.

As for the preparations for the Short Film Corner, we actually do know now that we need more material than what we brought so that we are not running around Cannes trying to get postcards printed and not to be afraid to shamelessly promote our film because this is what this festival is for. Again, this festival is very much a learning experience for what my agenda needs to be for next year.



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