Friday, July 2, 2010

Cannes GBE, or what should have been the greatest-ever course credit coup

View of Cannes from the fort at the top of the hill

At the beginning of May, two days after exams ended and one day after I jaunted up to Hartford for my cousin's wedding (lovely, lovely but completely gratuitous-to-this-post pic below - it was a beautiful and very fun wedding!), I hopped on a plane to Nice, France to attend the 63rd Festival de Cannes (i.e., the Cannes Film Festival).  For two weeks, I was supposed to hob-nob with entertainment insiders and walk the red carpet...all while earning the equivalent credit for a one-quarter Darden class.  This sounds like the best plan ever (a veritable academic coup, if you will), right?

Um...wrong!  While there were certainly parts of the trip that I enjoyed, I spent much of the two week period completely frustrated and counting the days until I got to fly home.  Now, before you stop reading here and write this off as a crazy rant by a grumpy person, let me say this: what follows below is a fairly "fair and balanced" (no, not in the Fox News kind of a truly "fair and balanced" kind of way) summary of the trip.  I'll cover the good, the bad, and the ugly in the spirit of being entirely honest.  What follows is my opinion, yes, so you can feel free to wholly disregard it, but there's also a lot that I'll say below that I really, really wish someone had told me before I signed up for this trip.  Some of my Cannes-mates may have different views (Sierra's more up-beat accounts are here and here and here), but the following is mine (and you'll note that I've taken six weeks to write this post, in part because I was so irritated before that I didn't think I could provide any sort of objective report on the whole thing until now.  I've mellowed with time.  Honest.). the style of my Barcelona GBE post, here goes...

1.) Course name: The Business of Film at the Cannes Film Festival
2.) Professor: Yael Grushka-Cockayne, a member of the Decision Analysis faculty (she did not attend the Festival with us but will be reading our papers, viewing our presentations, and giving us grades)
3.) Credits: 1.5 credits that count toward the Second Year elective requirement (or equal to a one-quarter long regular class)
4.) Academic requirements/work load: Working a 6+ hour daily internship shift with a company doing business at the Festival for about 10 days; attending screenings at the Festival (mostly for fun); writing a 5-6 page marketing and distribution plan for a film screened at the Festival (either in competition, out of competition, or screened to buyers) (70% of grade, due July 1); putting together and delivering a 10-15 minute presentation about one of the films and our marketing/distribution plan in a group of 3-4 students (30% of grade, will be done in September when school resumes).
5.) Done in affiliation with: The American Pavilion, a communications and hospitality center at the festival, which matches students with companies for internships and ostensibly provides a variety of other services and perks to student participants (more on this below)
6.) Cost: Around $5000, including the program fee ($3000), airfare ($800-900), and food/beverage/sundry purchases for the two weeks. Darden approved loans for up to $4500, which was not really quite enough to cover everything (food is ridiculously expensive during the Festival....I think they just prey on tourists, which is probably a genius business strategy). 

The plan was for everyone to depart on May 8 and arrive in Cannes on May 9.  I was planning to go late (arrive very early on the morning of May 10) due to the aforementioned wedding.  However, thanks to the Icelandic ash cloud, I ended up arriving about 10 hours after I was supposed to and before about 30% of the program participants (and before about 50% of people's luggage). 

Days 1-2:
May 9 was supposed to be a "get over your jet lag" kind of day for everyone in the program.  For future reference, there were about 150 or so students participating in the American Pavilion's program, the vast majority of whom were undergrads.  There were 16 or so Darden students and one girl from NYU-Stern.  Since the ash cloud was wreaking havoc on travel plans, May 10, which was supposed to be a day for getting the lay of the land and attending panels, ended up being a "get over your jet lag and hunt down your luggage" kind of day for most people.  My classmates who attended the actual scheduled programming of the day unanimously said that I didn't miss anything by not being there.

Day 3:
This was the day when we got our internship assignments.  There were also several panel discussions and a tour of the Palais de Festivals, or the main building where the festival screenings and the Marche du Film (film market) are held.
Outside the Palais, with the official festival picture of Juliette Binoche
I was actually pretty excited about my internship assignment - 5 other Darden students, one NYU undergrad, and I were assigned to work for a pretty major American studio (in my ongoing spirit of protecting the innocent, let's just call it "The Studio That Shall Not Be Named").  What I wasn't excited about during this day was the constant "hurry up and wait" routine (we literally spent over an hour just sitting on the steps of the Palais waiting for someone to fetch our festival accreditation badges), the panelists who spoke interminably on random topics that had nothing to do with their advertised theme (we got some guy's random musings on life during the talk entitled "Navigating the Cannes Film Festival" and absolutely no useful information about the Festival), and the relatively patronizing tone of the American Pavilion staff members.  Yes, I know wrangling 150+ students is difficult.  Yes, I know students often act obnoxious and entitled.  But hello, you're maybe five years older than me (which makes you younger than many of my classmates), so please don't talk to me like I'm a child.  And definitely don't just yell at all of us.  Grrrrr.....

Days 4-12:
From May 12-20, we were basically on our own to do as we pleased, so long as we showed up to our assigned internship shifts.  I ended up on the afternoon shift, which meant that from about 2 pm -8 pm I occupied the penthouse offices of The Studio That Shall Not Be Named and made myself available for whatever they needed me to do.  This included straightening up the office, organizing RSVPs and guest lists for parties, and running errands. We had been told in advance that we would be doing menial things like running errands, so I really didn't have a problem with that, at least in theory. I was more than OK with fetching office supplies and snacks and was when I got sent out to buy (and then return) a French MacBook (european outlet plug, French keyboard) for somebody who spoke no French and lived in Hong Kong or to track down Tampax and Midol for the executive's personal assistant or to go get the heel fixed on the Studio's VP of Corporate Affairs' shoe that I got a little frustrated.  It was like living in "The Devil Wears Prada," but I didn't get to meet Meryl Streep.  I also wish that we had had a little more opportunity to actually learn  about the film business, but we were basically under orders to stay out of the way of the executive (who apparently doesn't love interns), and there frankly wasn't enough to keep us all busy, so we spent a lot of time watching trailers and reading scripts (there are some really cool films coming out towards the end of this year, just FYI).  Several of the more senior Studio employees did periodically take the time to talk to us and answer any questions we had about the business, but it would have been cool to see a distribution negotiation or something like that. Still, all that aside, the internship wasn't too bad.  I have some suggestions for how it could be improved, but we'll get to that later.

Literally rolling out the red carpet...

Days 13-15:
Here's a key festival secret: most of the actual "business" is done the first week during the major market session. Then all the important Hollywood-types fly home, leaving the, I mean to jaunt off on day trips (read all about those here).

Day 16:
Most of us flew home on May 24, though a couple of my very lucky classmates had planned other European excursions before their internships started.

So, that's the trip in a nut-shell.  As described above, it probably doesn't sound too shabby, right?  Well, here are my other thoughts on the trip that I really think anyone considering going should know (and don't worry, I have some constructive suggestions for improvement, too, not just complaints).  These probably don't sound like major issues, but they could get awfully, awfully annoying when they were all happening at once.


My issue: space concerns and roommate matching
The situation:  We were housed in "European efficiency apartments." This didn't sound too bad at the beginning. I have friends who have lived abroad for a protracted period of time in accomodations that are billed exactly the same way, and they were perfectly fine. However, when you cram four people into an apartment that is smaller than my master suite in Charlottesville (which, trust me, is not palatial), you will have problems.  There literally was nowhere to lay down our suitcases, and there was not a single drawer (and only limited closet space).  I was in a bunk bed with a mattress that was flimsier than my sofa cushions at home.  The bathtub had a flexible shower head but no curtain.  We didn't get keys to the apartments; instead, there was a lockbox with a combination hooked to the bars over the window outside, and you had to open the lock-box, get out the key, unlock the door, replace the key in the lockbox, enter the apartment, and use the second key inside to lock the door again each and every time anyone entered the apartment.  If you were unfortunate enough to be sleeping in the bunkbeds in the front alcove, this meant that any time anyone came or went, you knew about it.  However, this all would probably have been bearable if I hadn't had The Roommate From Hell.  There were four of us in this apartment - me, my friend Amy, a cool undergrad from Bentley, and The Roommate From Hell.  Our first day there, before Amy's luggage and the cool undergrad had even shown up, TRFH comes up to us and asks if she can have friends who are in town for the festival sleep on our floor.  Ummmm....hi, there isn't enough room for four people, let alone their luggage, in this apartment.  We certainly aren't adding any more. AND, we paid for this, your friends didn't, and the AmPav rules prohibit rommates.  Amy and I articulated our concerns to her pretty nicely, though, which earned us a grumpy "Fine, I was just asking your opinion."  We thought that issue was over.  Wrong.  Instead, we ended up with a "squatter" who TRFH periodically snuck into the apartment while Amy and I weren't looking.  Super, super annoying.  TRFH also regularly flooded the bathroom while showering, and she was also in the annoying habit of handwashing her stockings and undergarments and hanging them in the bathroom each day to dry.  Oh, yeah, and she CONSTANTLY turned on the heat to the maximum temperature.  It was 70+ degrees outside and there weren't any windows to open.  Now, I am not usually a passive agressive person; if you've really ticked me off, I will usually go straight to blatantly aggressive.  But something about this girl really drove me up the wall.  Maybe it was that she pretended to be unable to speak English and refused to communicate with me and Amy.  Maybe it was that she kept trying to stealthily sneak her friend into our apartment.  Maybe I just didn't like her.  Either way, I started passive aggressively turning off the heat every time I walked into the apartment.  I started ignoring her the same way she ignored me.  I avoided the apartment basically at all costs.  Childish, yes.  But I know I wasn't the only one annoyed by her (the remaining roommates really enjoyed commiserating).  Oh...and I should also mention that we paid $3000 for the privilege of coming to Cannes, and the weekly rate for each apartment was 400 euro.  So that means that per person housing costs were 200 euro for the week.  Just keep that in mind for later...
My proposed solution/recommendations for the future:  Don't cram four people into those apartments.  2 or 3 MAX would be much better and the cost really shouldn't be a huge issue.  Also, don't have undergrads rooming with grad students.  We are at different stages in our lives and have different priorities (in other words, I am a grandma and would like to go to bed before 3 am at least sometimes).  If I'm going to be crammed into a room with 3 other people, I'd be much happier if they were Darden people. 

OK, at least the view from our apartment wasn't too bad...

Tickets to screenings
My issue: handled inefficiently, inequitably, and unprofessionally by AmPav
The situation:  When we weren't at work, we were free to do whatever we wanted, including attend screenings.  Now, here is the secret to the Festival: if you have a festival badge and an inside ticket connection, you can go see some really cool stuff that is being screened as part of the film market (the Cannes market is one of the biggest film markets each year, which basically means that it is where studios and filmmakers and distributors all get together to buy and sell films and distribution rights, so there are tons and tons and tons of market screenings for buyers, to which you can frequently get invitations or tickets if you know or can figure out whom to ask).  Unfortunately, I think it took some of us a really long time to realize that you could go to tons of screenings for cool US films this way.  Nobody really told us, and unlike every other Festival-goer with a badge, the American Pavilion kids didn't each get our own book of market screenings.  I don't know why this is, but I really wish I'd had it.  That being said, the American Pavilion did *try* to get us red carpet tickets to the films in competition and to some of the market films (but again, you had to specifically know which films where showing and where and when in order to even ask them to try).  They kept a book where you could sign up for the films you were interested in seeing.  While I did get to see a good number of competition films, there were a variety of very frustrating things about this ticket system:
1.) You could sign up at breakfast each morning, and you had three "stars" that you could put down next to the screenings that you *really* wanted to see.    Doesn't sound bad, right?  Well, the problem with this was that you could theoretically sign up for everything, so there were some people who did this...and then went back through and changed their minds and hemmed and hawed every morning, so it was often a slow, tedious process to wait and sign up.  Also, some people had variable work schedules, so you weren't always sure whether or not you should sign up for something because you didn't know if your work schedule would conflict.  Aaaaannnnddd.... what we didn't realize at the time was that you were basically rewarded for signing up first, because there were a limited number of tickets for each screening (if the AmPav even got tickets), and while there was a "raffle," that basically meant that if there were five tickets available, the first five people who had written down their names got the tickets.  Also, if you "used" one of your stars for a screening for which the AmPav couldn't get tickets, you didn't get that star "back" to use again, you just lost it. 
2.) Halfway through the festival, when we'd all wised up about the stupidity of the system and realized that the key was to just sign up for everything really far in advance and then swap a work shift with someone if you had to, they....LOST THE BOOK.  And didn't tell anyone.  Um, yeah, that was really super and really professional.  We all started wondering why we weren't getting tickets to anything any more.  Yeah. 
3.) They did the daily "raffle" and ticket-awarding at 6 pm.  If you worked an evening shift, too bad for you.  The Darden crew tried to always have a representative who went and tried to pick up tickets for those people who "won" them, but the AmPav staff was sort of snooty about this whole thing.  You needed a signed note authorizing you to pick up someone else's ticket, and half the time, they didn't even do the drawing on time, so somebody had to be willing to go sit around, wait for the drawing, fight to collect tickets, and then hunt you down before the screening.  Again, "systems" like this are infuriating for an MBA student. 
My proposed solution/recommendations for the future: AmPav should really publish (or otherwise communicate) concrete, helpful information about the ticketing process.  They should also provide us all with the copy of the market screening guide that I believe we are entitled to as credentialed attendees.  The AmPav ticketing system should be electronic.  Run a Google spreadsheet or something so it can be accessed continually, can't get lost, and so that you can actually run a "drawing."  Hold the tickets at the actual American Pavilion for pick-up by the recipient (stick a post-it with the person's name on the thing and hold it at the front desk, for crying out loud).  Seriously, put an MBA student on your ticketing "operations" problem for 20 minutes and let them fix the thing for you.  Sheesh. 
One of the billboards for Robin Hood, which most of my Darden classmates got to see.  Why didn't I?  They ran out of tickets and handed out the last one right under my nose. :-(

My issue: We were told not to bring computers but they clearly would have been useful.  We should have been told to get ourselves French phones/phone numbers prior to our arrival in Cannes, because our employers certainly expected us to have them.
The situation: AmPav told us not to bring computers, so I didn't (one less thing to tote through airports...).  However, we needed them at work (thank goodness some of my classmates had brought theirs), they were the best way to get information on the films that were screening (again, because AmPav withheld the standard festival attendee information from us), and I think online ticketing (see above) would solve a lot of problems.  Our employers, who were sending us jaunting around town on copious errands, also expected us to have French phones/phone numbers, or at least some way for them to reach us.  I signed up for a temporary international plan on my blackberry (Yes, I am addicted, but at least that way I could stay in touch with family/friends while I was gone), but I didn't want to pay 99 cents a minute for somebody from my unpaid internship to call me.  Also, without phones, you had no way to track down your Darden classmates to figure out who was going to which screening, where everyone was grabbing drinks, etc. 
My proposed solutions/recommendations for the future: Bring a computer.  A bunch of us also ended up buying rechargeable prepaid French phones.  It would have been much cheaper to do this in the States in advance, and I also learned that I could have signed up for a French number that could have rung on my blackberry.  C'est la vie.  Now I know.  And I have an old-school flip phone with a French number.  Aren't I cool. 

My issue: We paid a crap-ton of money to AmPav and did not receive anything approximating the value of that money in return
The situation:  As I mentioned, we paid a $3000 fee to the AmPav program to participate.  In return, they gave us crappy housing (200 euro), shuttles to and from the Nice airport to our crappy housing in Cannes la Bocca (approximately 50 euro value per person), festival badges (rumor is the full festival badges through a company costs around $300; we had apparently watered down versions that didn't come with the free swag or informational materials), access to the American Pavilion tent (whoop-dee-doo!), [semi-stale] breakfast each day (I'll be generous and say they spent $5 per person per day, or about $70 for the whole trip), limited access to tickets [which we could have acquired ourselves if we'd been given the right information], and access to organized panels and speakers that many of us couldn't attend because they conflicted with our work shifts.  So, they spent MAYBE $800 on each of us.  Even throwing in a generous administrative fee, I still don't understand where at least $1000 of my money paid to AmPav actually went.  Plus, I paid for a French phone, bus passes, lunch and dinner, my plane tickets, etc. on top of that.  Now, I know all GBEs are expensive.  Barcelona wasn't cheap.  But at least in Barcelona, I could see where my money was going (very nice hotel, tour guides, admissions fees to museums, etc.)  Maybe if I had been planning that trip myself, I wouldn't have spent the moeny the same way, but at least I know where it went.  Not so with Cannes....and that is INFURIATING to someone who is living on loans.  I feel totally ripped off.
My suggestions/recommendations for the future:  I think going to Cannes and working at the festival is cool and a valuable experience, but I think Darden could organize a better program itself without AmPav for much less money.  Rent a villa, use the connections we've established with US companies to set up real internships where we actually do useful things, and use those internships to get festival badges.  Done and done. 

Lest you all think that this is just me going on a tirade again without doing anything productive about it, be aware that AmPav did give us review forms to fill out after the trip...and I said on that form much of what I've said here.  Oh, and I warned them that I would be blogging about it....


  1. One thing that you fail to mention or take into account in your complaints and calculations about how cheaply you could attend the Festival the fact that you could not attend the Festival on your own. The Festival is for industry professionals only. You are a student and there is no mechanism by which you can attend. In order to get accreditation or a market badge you must demonstrate that you are a legitimate entertainment industry professional

  2. To the comment regarding the Festival badges - I know they are not cheap, but they don't cost as much as much as the difference between what we paid and what can be accounted for. I have heard that the market badges for professionals run somewhere in the $300-$500 range. If we/Darden worked to set up substantive internships with the companies where we have relationships, it would be possible to get badges through those companies. I would expect that the students would be more than willing to cover the costs.