In a Cannes prix fix

Times Staff Writer

WHEN George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon stroll down the Cannes Film Festival red carpet next week, they will generate a global flood of free “Ocean’s Thirteen” publicity -- photographs, TV clips, Internet hits.

But even free media has a price.

The budget for an over-the-top Hollywood premiere rarely goes above $750,000. But when the same event is thrown 6,000 miles away, the economics are turned upside-down. When Sofia Coppola traveled to Cannes last year to introduce “Marie Antoinette,” the tab ran more than $42,000 -- just for the filmmaker’s hair and makeup stylists.

Travel to the south of France is costly enough, but the meter really starts spinning once you land. Because a U.S. dollar now only buys .74 of a Euro, that 1,000-Euro hotel room suddenly costs $1,359. And as Cannes lodgings are in extremely limited supply, hotel owners often demand minimum stays of 12 days during the festival’s run -- even if the room is occupied for only a day or two. As Mark Wahlberg recently discovered, some companies are now saying they don’t want to foot all of those break-the-bank bills.


But even with such steep costs, a Cannes premiere has taken on new importance as Hollywood becomes more of a global -- and event-driven -- business. With more than 3,000 media representatives on hand for the 60th annual Cannes festival, the right red-carpet appearance and star-laden screening can turn into an international news occasion, creating worldwide awareness ahead of a film’s release.

If the Sundance Film Festival is governed by the discovery and selling of independent film, and Telluride and Toronto film festivals build buzz for the Academy Awards, then Cannes is all about making a splash.

“There’s no reason to go if you don’t have anything worth showing. But if you got it, flaunt it,” says Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. has five films -- led by Michael Moore’s new healthcare documentary, “Sicko” -- in this year’s festival.

Luxury has its price

Thanks to the collapsing dollar, mandatory first-class travel (if not $150,000 private jet trips) for both movie stars and their countless handlers and friends, and Cannes’ onerous minimum-night hotel rules, the price tag for a Cannes unveiling can be staggering, often four times (or more) the tab for an equally lavish Hollywood premiere. A suite at the popular Majestic Hotel costs about $2,500 a night, while a big room at the swank Carlton can run up to $3,000. The tiniest room at the ultra-luxurious Hotel du Cap is more than $1,000 a night, with suites logarithmically higher.

Wahlberg, the costar of this year’s Cannes entry “We Own the Night,” asked that he and his five-member entourage stay at the Du Cap. But the film’s producers, 2929 Entertainment, said it was only willing to pay for Wahlberg and a few assistants, not his entire retinue. Wahlberg has now told 2929 he won’t be attending the festival. The production company declined to comment, and Wahlberg’s talent agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other companies are trying to hold a line on travel expenses, although no one is flying Jet Blue. When “Shrek 2” premiered at Cannes in 2004, DreamWorks Animation didn’t want stars Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers all flying on separate private jets. So studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg found a private plane big enough to accommodate the lead cast. Still, the “Shrek” event cost about $2 million.


No matter the cost, though, Cannes can return enormous dividends. Movies looking for critical support also can generate a global groundswell -- a push that helped launch “Pulp Fiction,” “Secrets and Lies” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” all of which won the festival’s top prize.

“If you have the right movie, it’s the place to show it,” Weinstein says of Cannes. “It’s a lightning bolt heard around the world.”

“For some films, it’s a great send-off,” says Irwin Winkler, the producer and director of “De-Lovely,” whose Cannes premiere and party three years ago cost MGM about $2.1 million. “But you really gotta open your wallet when you go there.”Studios and independent companies often piggyback press junkets onto their Cannes premieres. Clooney, Damon and Pitt will not only walk the red carpet in their tuxedos but will also join with the entire “Ocean’s Thirteen” cast for interviews with international and U.S. journalists and junketeers.

Warner Bros. says it’s much easier to organize that kind of one-stop global shopping than arrange the logistics for a multi-city international tour.

“Cannes is an extremely efficient platform to junket and premiere a movie,” says Sue Kroll, the president of international marketing for Warner Bros. “Cannes is not cheap. But it affords you a lot that other venues do not.”

“Would we rather have lower costs? Yes, but the international marketplace is really important,” says Bruce Berman, one of the film’s executive producers. The first two “Ocean’s” movies grossed more overseas than they did domestically.


Cannes expenditures aren’t limited to planes and hotels. Limousines and town cars for a filmmaking team can add $30,000, hair and makeup stylists that much and more, and 24-hour security as much as $10,000 per actor or director.

When New Line Cinema unveiled 26 minutes of footage from the first “Lord of the Rings” movie at 2001’s festival, the studio rented a chateau, brought in cave troll statues, reassembled some of the film’s sets and laid out a massive feast. Estimated cost: $2 million.

“We spent a lot of money on ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ” says Russell Schwartz, New Line’s marketing chief. “But it was very important to show the press -- and, even more important, our foreign distribution partners -- that we had the goods.” New Line will try the same formula this year when it previews nine minutes of footage from writer-director Chris Weitz’s “The Golden Compass,” the first in what it hopes will be a trilogy based on the fantasy books by Philip Pullman.

While Sony Pictures won’t confirm the price tag, several Cannes veterans say the studio’s “Da Vinci Code” premiere at last year’s Cannes festival -- held under a pyramid-shaped black tent -- may have cost as much as $4 million.

Thinking globally

Jeff Blake, the studio’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution, said the goal was to establish the Tom Hanks films as a global phenomenon, which the screening and the party clearly did.

“It’s absolute worldwide attention, and as everyone wants to think more globally, Cannes becomes even more attractive. There are very few worldwide events anymore,” Blake says. “Everything is so viral, and any Cannes event gets noticed right away, and noticed around the world.”


That attention can cut both ways.

While the critical response to “Da Vinci Code” at Cannes was not kind, it didn’t significantly damage the film’s ticket sales, as the Dan Brown adaptation grossed more than $750 million worldwide and spawned a follow-up film. But reviewer reaction to the studio’s “Marie Antoinette” -- a couple of people booed the film in one screening -- almost eclipsed the film itself, which subsequently fizzled at the box office.

“It almost became not about the screening but what you heard about the screening,” Blake says of “Marie Antoinette’s” Cannes premiere.

Looking for the bounce

Warner Bros.’ Kroll says the studio never would have brought “Ocean’s Thirteen” to Cannes if it weren’t confident in the film. “If we didn’t feel we would get a good reaction, we wouldn’t be here,” she says.

Cannes veterans say 2004’s “De-Lovely” event was among the festival’s most memorable. Backed by a full orchestra and performing on a floating stage, a parade of top music stars -- Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole and Robbie Williams -- belted out Cole Porter tunes. Until 4 a.m., guests sipped Champagne, snacked on lobster, pate and creme brulee, and danced under fireworks.

But Winkler isn’t certain the event, which also celebrated MGM’s 80th anniversary, had an effect on his film’s performance: “We didn’t get a lot of bounce.”