By Heather Fiore
Close your eyes. Imagine being 20 feet away from Brangelina, shaking Danny Glover’s hand or even being part of all the paparazzi on the red carpet. Luckily, I was able to experience all of this and more. Right after stepping out of my last exam last semester, I was given the opportunity to jump on a plane and venture off to Cannes, France, to experience the Cannes Film Festival firsthand. From May 11-26, I made memories that will last a lifetime.
My dream began with a visit from Rider graduate, Lour Vosilla, who spoke to my communication ethics class last semester. She told us about her internship in Cannes (pronounced “khan”) and her present career as a freelance TV executive in Los Angeles. Lour spoke of the exciting and awesome experiences she’d had and went into some brief detail on how she acquired the internship. She said if anyone was interested, he or she should contact her for further information.
Ignoring all the fine details, my drive to do something as remarkable as Lour is what pushed me to accomplish this. Shortly after, I contacted Lour and expressed my desire to experience the festival and what it had to offer. She put me in contact with the owner of the agency she went with — Ken Schoech. Kenny, a freelance producer and owner of Northbound Entertainment, reviewed my résumé and offered me a spot on his Cannes ’09 team. My dream was becoming a reality.
I wasn’t alone. I knew I was going to be a part of a team of people going to Cannes, but I never would have guessed how diverse and open the group would be. Coincidentally, senior Patty Wittenburg, one of Rider’s students, whose film on photographer Flip Schulke got invited to the festival last semester, was part of the crew.
Our main goal at the festival, aside from anything we personally wanted to accomplish, was to promote filmed products and negotiate contracts with theatrical exhibitors. We also were there to help select and pursue distribution partners.
Kenny described the experience as “one of [the] best” chances to prove myself in the industry at that point in time. He has close ties with the Associated Press (AP) and landed me an internship with the organization.
For me, this two-week internship was one of the best things I could have done. After being introduced to the London branch of the AP, Kenny left me there to fend for myself, which is something I’ll always thank him for. Zara, a woman not too much older than myself, took me under her wing and showed me around. She introduced me to the other handful of employees who were at the festival on behalf of AP, both journalists and technical assistants. I was essentially a part of the team, helping with anything that needed to be done.
The extremely professional environment introduced us to all aspects of commercial international business. I tagged along on interviews, press events and other media-related events with famous actors and actresses. One of my tasks included writing a real press release that would be distributed worldwide, via the Internet, for a movie. Over the duration of my stay, I wrote press releases for two movies, including Agora, which will eventually be premiering in the U.S.
I also tagged along with Zara to interviews with directors and actors, accompanied AP’s cameramen to press junkets and red carpet events and experienced what it was like to be part of a professional team.
The most notable interviews I witnessed were Danny Glover , Max Minghella and Oscar Isaac (stars of Agora). Although Glover’s stature is a bit overwhelming (he stands over 6 feet tall), it was clear he has one of the kindest hearts imaginable when he took the time to introduce himself to me — the intern. Aside from Glover, I met the two new up-and-coming actors, Minghella and Isaac, whom I saw on the silver screen the night before we interviewed them.
The next best experience was unexpected, but very much enjoyed. I carried equipment for Robert Pattinson’s (Twilight) scheduled press photo shoot. It was interesting to learn how these actually worked: The press companies show up and set up their equipment in whatever place they see fit, and then the celebrity comes, stands in several different positions and gives the press a chance to get his or her pictures(which usually appear in magazines). Yes, I was only 10 feet away from the Edward Cullen.
After the interview, I was starting to feel like I could be a part of anything. As I grew more comfortable with AP and working with the other employees, I got confident in my requests to tag along on anything I pleased. I feel like they put more power in my hands because I took the initiative to tell them where I wanted to go.
Perhaps this is where my most valuable experience at Cannes came from. The premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s newest film, Inglorious Basterds (released in August), was the best day of my life. I was given a press pass to accompany one of the cameramen to the red carpet premiere. Along with several other photographers and video recorders, I stood on the side of the red carpet while all of the celebrities walked down for the premiere, including Tarantino himself. Then came the moment of truth: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie showed up. Brad Pitt walked right by me, smiling and waving as the sea of flashbulbs blurred my vision.
Later that night, after our time had expired on the red carpet, I went back to the AP office with the cameraman and could’ve never expected what happened next. Louise, another AP reporter, said, “Oh, so do you want to go with Paul to the Inglorious Basterds after-party and interview the whole cast, since I’ve noticed you’re such a big Brad Pitt fan?” She said it so casually, which is why I’ll never forget it. My heart stopped. They were willing to send me, all by myself, to interview the whole cast of Inglorious Basterds with no hesitation.
We were one of the first companies to get there; however, the crowds of people had already started to form even though it was almost two hours before the cast was expected to arrive. I took my position at the metal fence that was assigned to AP and stood next to a 20-year veteran reporter from CBS, who spoke of Tom Hanks as if they were related. That experience right there was enough to remember.
Finally, the cast arrived, one by one. The organizer of the event came over to me and said, “Are you ready?” and before I could say yes, Eli Roth, director of the Hostel series was standing before me. He was the first big-time celebrity I was actually interviewing and I was temporarily starstruck. After a few seconds, I snapped back to reality and knocked down my first interview, asking questions confidently. After Roth, I interviewed other cast members, including Mike Myers, who gladly gave me the Dr. Evil finger at my request; Diane Kruger; producer, Lawrence Bender; B.J. Novak; and Tarantino, the mastermind behind it all. Unfortunately, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie snuck in through the back door. This was disappointing since I was told I was actually going to get to interview him. However, this night was the most impressive and memorable yet.
Working with Kenny and his team of employees taught me a lot. He gave us full access to the festival which allowed us to see any movie that was being screened, walk the red carpet and see movies before they came out. He also helped us update our résumé to seem more appealing and professional, and he made it clear that our association will last far beyond just the festival and time we spent in France. Since he frequently travels to New York City for producing, he has many of connections there, which will hopefully help me acquire a paid job next summer.
During my time with AP, I learned so much. I learned about the technical aspect of a press company and a lot of behind-the-scenes things that people don’t get to see very often. Overall, I learned that it’s not as easy as it seems. The work is hard and time-consuming, but ultimately worth it. Being a part of an organization like AP, you are constantly surrounded by celebrities and amazing opportunities and different kinds of people that help you grow both professionally and personally. This is something that I would love to do, and having had the chance to actually experience it firsthand has made me love it even more. It is a career that is exciting and full of surprises.