As someone who's been there before and learned a whole lot from the experience, I decided to put together some simple tips for networking at the world's premiere film festival.
Call it a blueprint for what to do when you are here in France, hoping to make an impression on anyone and everyone you meet.
1. Be Ready to Be Disappointed
Wait, don't close-tab me yet -- this is actually a good thing. It is easy to spend a lot of money to fly over to France, put yourself up somewhere 20 minutes away from the Croisette and then leave the festival shaking your head in anger after your lofty expectations are thoroughly dashed.
It's important to go in knowing that this feeling is going to happen to you, without a doubt. The cure is not letting it get to you while you are here. The most common mistake made by aspiring artists is to not prepare for the failures that are in store for them on the long road to success.
Remind yourself, constantly, that you are here, at Cannes, walking amongst the big-wigs, and that is why you are here. You are taking a risk by even showing up, so pat yourself on the back, wipe yourself off and hand out some business cards!
2. Talk Wisely
It sounds silly. It's not. When you are in line for one of the many films you will attend/try to attend, talk to people. Start conversations. Be friendly. If they don't speak English and you don't speak French, no big deal. Life goes on. Cannes is the kind of networking opportunity that doesn't come along too often for young people looking to be considered "up-and-comers."
That said, it is also important to know when to keep you mouth shut. If you are interning at a company in Cannes, for example, and you see some important so-and-so at a table in the middle of a conversation, resist the urge to barge in and deliver your spiel.
Be smart about the talking you do. Know your movies -- who directed them and why they matter. Educate yourself. And don't sweat it. At the end of the day, whatever else happens, you got to enjoy two weeks on the Mediterranean. 3. "What have you seen?"
Perhaps the most frequently-asked question at the festival -- for obvious reasons. This comes back to No. 2. Educate yourself! Going to a film festival and not knowing anything about the films is like going to a wine-tasting event and asking for a beer. The majority of the relationships you make will start from this question and proceed based on their/your responses to it. If you didn't like the new Haneke film, know why! If you did like the new Haneke, know why! One little debate about some auteur could get you the business card of the guy who produced next year's award-winning this-or-that.
Read the trades and the reviews and know who people are and what they look like. And if you're in a conversation that turns into a discussion about some film you haven't seen, the reviews and such will help you...
Not a lot. This should not be a Pinocchio situation. Bend facts, create little fictions. If you've got a friend whose name is somewhat recognizable in the company of producers and artists here at Cannes, feel free to make that relationship seem a bit stronger than it might be. Don't say something stupid like, "I'm writing his next project." That's called talking yourself into a hole. Just tease people with names and companies and things that you know.
Choose what words you use in chats like this. Think of it like flirting with a girl. If you're talking, both parties are at least somewhat interested. Trying to get a laugh is an old stand-by. Many people open conversations by casually handing out their business cards. This is not a bad practice. Find a rhythm for these moments and stick to it when you can.
5. Know Thyself
Who are you? What are you good at? Are you somebody who talks to girls/guys at a bar? Waits to get talked to? Maybe a wallflower?
Knowing where your comfort level stands before coming here is important. You will, with any luck, find yourself at a party where you do not know many people. This can be a very good thing, if handled the right way. Be present and available. Be friendly. Buy a drink or two; take your time with them. Walk around and get a feel for the place. And, of course, it is always easier when you have a partner in crime for these kinds of nights.
To be sure, there is plenty more. More that I have to learn. Build from here.