For my French 2 class in high school, we had to give a presentation on pretty much anything related to French. I had only relatively recently realized that film school was an actual option as far as college went, and this coupled with my frustration and boredom regarding the lack of creativity involved in most of my classes had me desperate to add anything arts-related to my curriculum wherever I could. So, I began researching the Cannes Film Festival and became enamored with its history, its glitz and glamour, and its obvious love for film. Public speaking has never been easy for me, but that presentation was the most fun one I ever gave in high school because it was about something that I was interested in and passionate about.
Fast forward a few years, and College Sophomore Grace is trying to figure out where to study abroad. I basically had it narrowed down to either London or somewhere in France; London seemed like a solid choice because of the thriving theatre community and the fact that they speak English, but at the same time the challenge of living in a country that spoke a different language seemed appealing as well. Plus I knew more about French culture and history because of studying it for 3 years in high school. No matter how long I weighed my two options, they only seemed to even out even more.
Until I discovered the Cannes program and saw that Chapman offered a chance to intern at the film festival. I could practically feel 16-Year-Old Grace’s eyes bugging out. That was it. How could I not grab at that opportunity?
Fast forward again another year and a half or so to this spring in Cannes. My alarm has just gone off at 7:45 for my morning French class, and I’m lolling in bed checking my email on my phone and putting off actually getting up for as long as I can. Mostly the usual – weekly updates from Chapman, something from another study abroad company whose mailing list I should really get off of since they’re always flooding me with emails and I didn’t choose one of their programs – stuff like that. But after all of that was an email with my internship announcement! I instantly woke up a bit more, and then even more when I realized that I had been placed with The Exchange, my first choice.
The way the whole internship placement thing works seems pretty simple, but at the same time I really don’t understand a lot of it. We were placed with our internships through some sort of matching service – almost like internship online dating or matchmaking, I guess? We were given a list of the companies we could potentially work with, and we got to research them and pick our top 5 or so choices to include in our cover letters, which we sent to the matchmaking company along with our resumes. Then somehow we’d be matched with whatever company was deemed the best fit – how they determined that, I have no idea.
Since we’d be interning in the film market at the film festival (basically where the films are sold and distributed vs. where they’re shown), all of the possibilities were distribution companies rather than production companies, so none of us had really heard of any of them before. So even with the research it was kind of difficult to pick the companies you liked because it wasn’t always easy to figure out what they were like, or what their “aesthetic” was or what have you. But what made The Exchange stick out to me was the variety of movies that it had, including some that I had seen and loved, like The Spectacular Now and Obvious Child. Their titles weren’t strictly drama or strictly action or strictly horror like it seemed like a lot of the other companies specialized in (and those are great for some people, but not the best fit for somebody who wants to be a comedy writer).
So I had my internship placement and a date for my first day! Festival, bring it on.
Day 1: The One Where I Get Laughed at by a French Paparazzo
I’d arranged with Danny, The Exchange’s head of marketing, to meet at their office at 9:00 to help set everything up and to get acquainted with the materials and all that jazz. The office is about a 20, 25 minute walk from the college, so naturally I set out at around 8:15 that morning (I can be punctual almost to a fault).
Of course I arrive at around 8:35, which seems almost embarrassingly early, but luckily there’s a little park (or at least a little circular area with benches and a fountain) just a little ways from the office, so I park there until about 5 til, which I figure is a bit less Extremely Early.
I make it to the building. This is it! My first day working at the film market. What I’ve been working up to for over a year. And, finally, I’m right on time. This is so exciting! I am so ready.
Wait. Why isn’t the door opening? How do I open the door?
There’s a little buzzer/intercom sort of deal, and I keep pressing the button that has The Exchange written by it, but the door will not open. I knew I shouldn’t have sat in that park thing for like 20 minutes! That was valuable time I could have spent trying to get in the darn building!
So I stand there buzzing and lightly panicking for another few minutes before going back out to the sidewalk to see if there’s anyone on one of the balconies I can ask to let me in. Sure enough, there’s a guy on the first floor! I yell up an “Excusez-moi” at him, but we can’t communicate much beyond that due to the noise on the street and in his office coupled with both of our rather pathetic Franglish attempts.
I go back to my position at the buzzer, but when I try the door again it opens! Apparently muffled Franglish was enough to get the general idea across. It’s maybe 10 minutes past 9 as I run up the stairs to the 2nd floor, trying to figure out how to explain that I’m late because I couldn’t figure out how the door worked.
When I find the door to the apartment on the second floor closed and locked as well, all I can really do is laugh. Of course. Doors are not my friend today! I knock and I ring the bell and I knock harder, and I finally realize that it’s okay that I’m late because they’re even later. Maybe they’re having trouble getting in the building too?
Since they could show up at any minute, I figure that awkwardly standing around and waiting is my best bet. A couple minutes go by. A fellow walks past me on his way down the stairs and greets me with a “bonjour”. He has a press badge and a big camera – my first paparazzi run-in!
5 minutes go by. Then 10. I’m digging around on my phone to see if there’s any sort of free wifi I can connect to to double check my email and make sure I got the date/time/location right. I hear the whir of the elevator coming up – maybe, come on, stop on the second floor, come on…! – but it keeps going. Another couple minutes and that same French paparazzo comes back down the stairs, a second big camera in hand. He takes one look at me still stuck out on the landing and greets me a second time with a huge and hearty guffaw.
Not even 10:00 yet and what a day!
Another 5 minutes and I’m almost ready to leave my post and go steal the free wifi at the McDonalds nearby when I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Instead of my French photographer friend, it’s Danny! He unlocks the door and, over an hour after I left the college, I am finally inside the office reporting for duty.
A little later, Caddy, the assistant to Brian (the CEO) and Nat (the vice president), comes in, and she and Danny and I work on turning the apartment we’re renting into an office space. It’s a seriously nice apartment – 3 bedrooms (2 of which become offices), an open living room/dining room/kitchen area, and a long balcony with a direct view of the Palais des Festivals. I can’t even imagine how much it must be to rent it. I feel like it should probably be featured on an episode of House Hunters International sometime.
Though they’d have to leave a manual about how to work the door.
But I digress! Danny and Caddy are both super nice, and I feel like I’m making a contribution to how everything is being set up. We rearrange furniture and set up a bunch of these long posters featuring their different titles. I’m just short enough that I have to stand on a chair in order to pull the posters all the way up, but I manage not to lose my balance (quite a feat, given my clumsy nature and the frequency with which only half of myself makes it through a doorway). It’s really exciting to see all of the different brochures and posters and everything they have – it becomes a real, legitimate office for a real, legitimate film company – and there I am in the middle of it all!
After heading out to lunch with Danny and Caddy – on the company! – I set out to find a cord for their company phone. With the phone and the wrong cord in my bag to show whoever helps me, I start off at FNAC (a sort of mash up of Barnes & Noble and Best Buy which, despite going there several times throughout my stay, I finally learn is pronounced “ph-knack” instead of “F.N.A.C.”). I go up to the help desk and explain that the cord I have doesn’t work and show them the phone – the eyes of the woman helping me get really big and she sort of snorts a laugh. They definitely don’t have a cord for a phone like that, but she tells me the name of another store I can go check.
I follow her directions and make my way down this little side street I’d never been down before, only to find that that shop is closed for lunch for a few hours – a common and frustrating occurrence in France. So I decide to head to the Orange store, one of the big French phone stores, and I get the exact same “big eyes and laugh” reaction when I show the guy there my phone. I guess it must be really old or something? He says that just getting a new phone would be cheaper than ordering a cord, so I go back and relay that information to Danny and Caddy.
Turns out that that phone has something programmed into it that means that it cannot just be replaced, so I head back out to the closed store the woman at FNAC had recommended, only it ends up being more of an office supply place than a phone place. After getting the same reaction plus the added bonus of an emphatic head shake, the woman working there gives me detailed directions back to the Orange store.
I go back and talk to a different guy (same reaction) and ask if I can buy a new phone that would have a cord that would work with the phone I had there. Definitely not possible. I ask if he has any idea where I might find another cord, and all he can come up with is FNAC.
Same reaction at SFR, the other big phone company. I call Danny and Caddy to let them know the overwhelming response I’ve been getting, and Danny has one last suggestion – this store with a black and red sign that involves going down an escalator. I manage to find it, only to get the same confused and amused response. 6 of those reactions, most of my afternoon, and one more phone call to Danny and Caddy later, and I am back at the office, helping set up just a few more posters before officially finishing my first day!
(They end up calling someone back at their office in LA to just express ship their normal cord over. C’est la vie.)
Day 2: The One Where I Don’t Say No To Haribo
Although I still leave too early and end up sitting in the park area for a bit, this morning runs much more smoothly – I am able to buzz up to our floor no problem and do not have to spend however long freaking out about being trapped outside my workplace!
Today is the first day of actual meetings where buyers from around the world come in and potentially buy The Exchange’s movies for their territory. My job is pretty simple – when people buzz to get into the building (AKA what I was futilely attempting to do yesterday), I answer the buzzer to let them in, greet them when they arrive at our floor, grab a business card from them if Caddy hasn’t, prepare them a beverage if they’re so inclined, and show them any promo material if Caddy is busy. And of course clean up and run to Monoprix (French Target) for more bottles of water and cans of Perrier and the like.
So basically I make a bunch (*a bunch*) of coffee and live in the beverage section of Monoprix and can now recite the promo for Radioactive, the biggest film they’re selling.
I also meet most of the rest of the team today – they are all just as welcoming as Danny and Caddy. Laurent, their French publicist and, from what I can tell, a sugar addict, advises me that one does not say no to Haribo and offers me a couple of his beloved gummies.
Despite having more people in the office and more people to greet and make sure are comfortable and all that, today feels quieter and calmer, which is nice. What I’m doing isn’t anything I can’t handle, and I feel like I’m helping things run a bit more smoothly. A good second day!
Day 3: The One Where I Spill Raspberry Sparkling Water On Myself
I have a few more jobs added to my roster now! I have the lunch and dinner reservation schedules for Brian, Nat, and Giovanna (the COO), and I call to either confirm or (more often) cancel and then reschedule. I always start off speaking in French, and about half the time I am able to hold a clear and decent conversation! Another quarter of the time the person at the restaurant switches to English after hearing my accent, and the other quarter the person on the other end thinks that I’m calling to make a reservation and seems confused as to what I want after they tell me that I’m already scheduled to eat there. But for something like that, 50% is not a bad success rate!
I also write “SOLD” under the titles that Brian and Nat have sold in certain territories. Each country/territory has a folder of avails, or a list of films available for them to buy, so I make sure that, say, End of a Gun won’t be acquired twice in Thailand.
And of course I keep the coffee coming.
At some point I end up spilling raspberry sparkling water all over myself – it was bound to happen at some point, given my innate clumsiness and tendency to fill cups just a little bit too high. At least it’s less noticeable than coffee or Coca Light, though I smell kind of fruity for the rest of the day.
For the most part, the buyers who come in are very nice and always say thank you when I bring their coffee out. Only a couple are kind of on the rude or picky side, and I’ve only been flat-out ignored once or twice, as well. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there have also been a couple of buyers who have been perhaps a bit too friendly (though I’m maybe being naïve and chalking that up to cultural differences).
Day 4: The One Where I Receive A Bunch of Bises
Today is when things become even more exciting! At this point I’ve settled into a sort of routine. I know where to go to bring back lunch that everyone will like, I know what my duties are, and I know where every drink imaginable is located in Monoprix.
But tonight is the first night I’m still there during the red carpet of a premiere! As I mentioned earlier, the office/apartment I’m working at is directly across from the Palais, so save for a palm tree, we have a pretty stellar view of the red carpet, which makes for some prime celebrity spotting!
Tonight is the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road, and though I don’t get to see the movie, I get to watch the cast walk the carpet (much to the dismay of my guy friends back home – I think that’s the only time they might have actually wanted to see a red carpet!). So I get to see Tom Hardy (not Tom Brady, as I always accidentally call him!), Nicholas Hoult, and Charlize Theron, accompanied by Sean Penn. I take loads of pictures on my phone and marvel over how even from across the street you can tell how gorgeous Charlize is.
In addition to all of this, Caddy invites me to go to a screening that evening with her – her boyfriend works with a production company that’s screening five short films that evening. I of course say yes, and we take off right after the carpet. The theatre is a ways away, and we have to call an Uber in order to make it on time.
After a bit of a wait for Simba, our Uber driver, we head off just a little ways past the collège to a theatre I never knew existed. Caddy is nervous that we’re late, but once we finally find the theatre, we are greeted by the entire family of Caddy’s French boyfriend. They are all extremely friendly and I receive bises (those cheek kiss greetings) from each and every one of them!
Bises feel pretty quintessentially French – living in France for 4 months, you see a whole lot of them take place, but I’d never really had the opportunity to participate in a bisou myself. So this makes me feel not only very welcomed, but like I’ve crossed an important item off of my French Study Abroad Bucket List! Bises are basically the French version of hugging someone you know when you see them. Personally I feel more comfortable with hugging, but I’ve heard from several French people that they feel that hugs are much more intimate because more of your bodies are touching. Which actually makes sense, but I guess I feel as though the face is a bit more up close and personal. But if somebody French sees you hugging someone else, they apparently assume that one of you has just experienced the death of someone close. Just goes to show how influential cultural upbringing is!
Anyway. After meeting and cheek kissing the entirety of Caddy’s boyfriend’s family, the screening starts. Each of the films is really interesting and well done, and there are even a couple of really clever animated ones. The directors are all in the audience, so there’s a multilingual q+a session after they play. It’s interesting listening to each director talk about their work, but it’s kind of complicated because the audience primarily speaks English or French, and even though all but one of the directors are able to answer the questions in one of those languages, the q+a moderators need to translate the answers into whichever other language the director doesn’t speak (or, in the case of the Spanish directors, both languages!).
After the screening, Caddy and I mingle for a bit before receiving a thousand more goodbye cheek kisses and heading back to the collège for me and the office for Caddy.
Day 5: The One Where I Count People In A Theatre
Another usual day of buying drinks and preparing drinks, but for a little bit this afternoon I do it all by myself! Caddy has a meeting of her own, so I get to man the front desk and call people who haven’t shown up and tell Nat and Brian when people are there to see them. It wouldn’t have been bad if four different people hadn’t all shown up at the exact same time! But I manage to keep promos playing and the coffee machine running, so I count that as a success.
Another exciting change is that I get to go to one of the company screenings! Danny takes me to a showing of Wild Oats, starring Shirley Maclaine and Jessica Lange, so I can see what happens at more business-oriented screenings like this. You need a Festival badge to get in, and it’s generally for people who are either interested in buying the film and want to get a taste of what it’s like or people who have already bought it and want to see the finished product.
Danny leaves after maybe the first 15 minutes, but I get to stay and finish the movie and keep track of how many people are still left by the end. Generally buyers don’t stay for the entire film, sometimes because they have other meetings or screenings to get to, and sometimes because they can tell pretty early in whether or not it’s a good fit for their company. Far as I could tell, it seemed like there was still a decent amount of people left by the end, and the movie seemed to have a really positive response – people were laughing out loud!
On a sidenote, Wild Oats is a really fun movie, and I thought that it was really exciting that the two lead characters are women over the age of 60!
After the screening I head back to the office just in time to catch the red carpet for Irrational Man, the new Woody Allen movie. I got to see him, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey, all of whom I love! (Save for Allen’s, shall we say, extremely questionable and unsettling personal life)
Day 6: The One Where I Sneak Around With A Birthday Cake
Today is Giovanna’s birthday, so Caddy asks me to pick up a chocolate cake at Paul’s when I run there around 1 to pick up lunch for everybody. It takes a bit of effort to get across that I want the whole cake (tout le gateau), but I finally leave with a cake box in hand and a bag full of sandwiches and strawberry tarts on my arm!
The next main challenge of the day is hiding it where G won’t see it; Caddy and I finally hide it behind some folders on a box underneath the table behind her desk, figuring that it’s such a convoluted place that G won’t really have any reason to look there. We’re being pretty obvious about it, we think, but we figure that we’ll go ahead and keep doing our (kind of pathetic) best to keep it a surprise!
Later in the afternoon (after watching Natalie Portman and the cast of A Tale of Love and Darkness walk the carpet!) I make a Monoprix run to pick up some candles, and after the last sales meeting Caddy and I huddle behind one of the giant posters to light them, again assuming that we’re being pretty darn obvious. But G seems surprised when we bring the cake out and everybody starts singing to her! It’s really clear that The Exchange people are like a family, which makes for a really fun and supportive work environment. I got really lucky!
After some delicious cake and some last minute tidying up, I meet my roommate Kailyn downstairs outside of the office and we go grab grands cornets of fries (big cones – only we got them to go, so they were in little boxes), and we eat at a little bench outside and people watch all the fancy people on their way to the premiere of The Sea of Trees (which just might have been the most hated movie of the festival, which is a shame because not only did it have really big buzz beforehand, but because it ended the McConnaissance as well – better luck next time, Matt!).
After our makeshift dinner, Kailyn and I walk around the Croisette, taking in all the madness of the festival. Most of my festival wandering up to this point has consisted of going to Monoprix, so it’s exciting to see the rest of Cannes so lit up and lively. There are a thousand yachts having parties, all of the big fancy hotels have throngs of people lined up outside of them waiting to see celebrities, and everybody looks super glamorous. It’s seriously a whole different city than the one we’ve been living in for the last 3.5 months!
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the night is seeing somebody dressed up as Mrs. Doubtfire riding around on a little scooter honking at people as we walk back to the collège. That person might be my new hero.
Day 7: The One Where Cate Blanchett Gives Me Chills
I get to run the front desk again for a bit this morning as Caddy takes another meeting, but this time it’s much quieter! The only person who comes in is a buyer from India who stays and chats with me for maybe half an hour as he has the coffee and banana I offered him. We get to talk about LA and he tells me all about Vegas and some of his various business trips. He assumes that I’m an actual employee and not an intern who has only been working with The Exchange for a week, which is very nice of him!
I also get to call and reschedule an appointment with an Australian buyer. After making a bunch of phone calls to pretty much every restaurant in Cannes and attempting to speak in French each time, this seems like the easiest phone call I’ve ever made just because I get to speak in my native language!
I go on two Monoprix runs throughout the day, and it sort of makes me feel like I’m visiting San Francisco or Berkeley. In the morning, I see an angel and a guy holding a lance wandering through the hair product section, and on my way back to the office after my afternoon trip, I see two stilt walkers!
Which is pretty cool, but nothing can compare to getting to watch the red carpet for Carol that evening. I get to see Rooney Mara and the stunning and talented Cate Blanchett! Even from a balcony across the street, you can tell that Cate’s dress is gorgeous and she moves with such grace. I get chills watching her!
Believe it or not she even beats out seeing Mrs. Doubtfire again as I walk back to the collège after work!
Day 8: The One Where I Die Because I See Amy Poehler
Brian’s first meeting this morning is canceled, so he takes me out onto the balcony so we can chat until his next meeting shows up. (Did I mention that I got super lucky with the company I’m working with?) Being a writer, I ask him about how they acquire the films that they’re selling and what he looks for in a movie or a script, and he talks about how the greatest films are “empathy machines” that make you feel something for the characters and that that is really what the heart of storytelling is. (Funnily enough, one of my college admissions essays was about exactly the same topic!) I really appreciate him taking the time to talk to me and speak so honestly about the type of content that speaks to him as an industry professional.
The rest of the day is pretty standard until around 6:15 or so when the red carpet for Inside Out begins! This is the red carpet I’m most excited for because a) it’s Pixar! and b) Amy Poehler! I invite Kailyn to come up and watch the red carpet from the balcony with us, so she comes over and gets to see the office and the carpet!
I should preface this by saying that Amy Poehler is, like she is to pretty much any woman who wants to write comedy, an enormous influence and inspiration to me. If I’m ever feeling down or stressed, a quick trip to Pawnee with Leslie Knope (one of the strongest female characters on TV, I would argue) gives me the laughs or the extra push that I need. When I got my hands on a copy of Yes, Please, I read it like my life depended on it. I think it’s so admirable that both Amy and her comedy embrace accepting others for their differences and being supportive and being thankful and listening to yourself and that women are strong and smart and capable and, yes, funny!
So when Amy hits the carpet with Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith, I very nearly lose it. I don’t tend to get starstruck that often, really, but watching Amy follow basically all of Pixar up those stairs at the palais is indelibly part of my memories now.
After cleaning the office and attempting to recover from seeing Amy, I head out to dinner with Giovanna, Danny, Caddy, and Laurent! We end up at Le Caveau 30 (passing Mrs. Doubtfire on the way!), which is delicious and way more expensive than any place I’d have gone to on my own! (Thank you to the company for such a wonderful meal!) It’s a lot of fun getting to chat with everybody about the various other places in Europe we’ve all been and to learn more about their lives back in LA.
A quick spot of gelato for dessert (Laurent orders the biggest cup of gelato I’ve ever seen!), and we go our separate ways for the night. I am truly so lucky to be working with such warm and welcoming people.
Also, I SAW AMY POEHLER!!!
Day 9: The One Where I Almost Go To Italy
Today is the last day of actual meetings! It’s so crazy to realize that this wonderful experience is reaching its close.
Things are quieting down a lot now, and in between making coffee for buyers Danny and I start packing up what we can of the office, like repacking some of the posters and going through the various office supplies on the table behind Caddy’s desk and putting away what’s not used super often. Nat only has morning meetings, so after he leaves for lunch we start packing up his office as well. The apartment is starting to look empty! It’s a very strange feeling.
Giovanna leaves before lunch to catch a train to Ventimiglia and then to Milan for a little vacation in Italy and Greece before flying back to LA. It’s sad to see her go!
But her departure brings a little extra excitement into my life when a few hours later Danny gets a call from her – she left her phone at the office (she must have been borrowing somebody else’s phone?) and wants me to hop on the next train to Ventimiglia to bring it to her! Danny seems very confused by the whole thing, but when I tell him that the train to and from Ventimiglia would be a 2 hour round trip and would involve my going to another country, he tells G that he’ll just express ship her the phone!
Later that evening I watch my last red carpet from the balcony – Sicario, starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin.
Day 10: The One Where I Become A Lady Who Lunches
Today is my last day with The Exchange in Cannes! It’s a pretty light day – I don’t have to arrive til 11 instead of 8:30, which means I get some delightful and much-needed time to sleep in!
The rest of the day just consists of finishing cleaning up the office and packing up posters and equipment. I work with Danny and Caddy for an hour or two before Brian and Nat ask me to lunch with them!
We go to a restaurant directly on the beach – one of the really fancy ones that my roommate and I always kind of marvel at. It’s definitely another one of those expensive places that I can’t justify going to on my own! I get a salad and share some fries with Brian and get to ask them all of my questions about what exactly happens in the sales meetings and what advice they have for me as a writer. I also get to listen to a good amount of uncensored shop talk, which is just as valuable and informative as asking them questions. It’s so sweet and kind of them to take the time and make the effort to take the intern to lunch, and I think that it really says a lot about the quality of the people I am so fortunate to have worked with.
When I return from lunch, there’s just a bit more cleaning up to do, and I’m free to go by 3:00! It’s bittersweet hugging Caddy and Danny goodbye, but I’m looking forward to visiting them in their LA office this summer!
(Thanks to Christina Aguilera for the title quote! 🙂 )