08 Aug Yes he Cannes
For fifteen years or so, Marshalls+Dent’s Principal Partner and executive producer Bryce Menzies has packed his shiny red boots and his fortitude to attend the Cannes International Film Festival. As he points himself toward the business end of the world’s greatest film market for another busy year, we look inside his present planner and his past.
Two decades ago, Cannes was a little more excessive that it is today; back then, it was certainly not the place to Just Say Non. As a freshly minted producer hitting the festival for the first time, Bryce Menzies was struck by the extravagance. “In the old days,” says Menzies, “Miramax took the top floors of both the big hotels.”
The days of the Weinsteins’ largesse are now gone and turnover of the type generated by Palm D’Or blockbusters is now locked away in the treasury of memory. “That sort of silly money,” says Menzies, “it’s just not around these days.”
Budgets have been honed, appetites have shrunk and parties have quietened but Menzies will be at Cannes again this year to do business. In the current climate, he says, “things can be rough. The distribution mechanism has toughened. That being said, films are still selling.” So, he’ll still be taking four or five meetings a day.
The silly money might have run out but the silly schedule remains.
Menzies long and broad-ranging involvement with cinema helps us understand his non-stop Cannes schedule.
It was a chance viewing of Day for Night, Francois Truffaut’s maverick film about film, which set Menzies upwards on a twin-engine career trajectory. At the cinema, the young law student thought, “I wouldn’t mind doing that” and found soon afterwards that he could do that; rather well. In 1986, Menzies executive produced the smash hit Malcolm which in turn produced what is arguably the best film financing brain in the nation. There are few who can look at our sometimes disparate industry in Australia and see the pieces come together; Menzies has that talent.
As Truffaut would persuade us, it’s important to see the action from multiple angles. As a lawyer, a producer and a buff, Menzies has climbed inside and outside of the medium in his efforts to get his own films and the films of many others distributed and seen.
As a producer Menzies’ oeuvre includes Death in Brunswick, Two Hands, Ten Canoes and a list that would sound like showing-off, if we were to continue it here. As a lawyer, his legal work has encompassed Muriel’s Wedding, The Proposition, Ned Kelly and many more. His attendance at this year’s festival will add to the catalogue via an Australian offering, The Saphires.
Menzies’ parallel careers of film producer and film lawyer have produced an intimate knowledge of financing, licenses and distribution. And, this tandem act has also produced an interesting map. Ask him for a professional atlas of the Festival and he obliges.
“The lawyers tend to met at The Grand Terrace; the financiers at the Carlton Terrace; the sales agents at the Majestic; the festival directors at the Martinez; Producers can be found wherever there’s a free drink and the US agents are always at du Cap.” Of the famously luxe Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc he warns, “It’s so up market it does not take credit cards.” Here, expect a glass of Veuve to run at around the same cost as your first short film.
Menzies is highly regarded in Australia for his skill in building relationships. Whether it’s a co-production agreement, the relationship between film-maker and film financier or between producer and distributor, this ability to navigate through and strengthen relationships is key. And it’s for this reason, he says, that one visits Cannes.
Cannes is about film, of course, but it’s also about relationships.
Sometimes, says Menzies, there are better places to debut a film than Cannes. “Remember, there are multiple festivals competing at once; there is the noise and hubbub of some 400 films and often showing a film in the market at Cannes is a mistake.” Berlin, Toronto or Venice might be more apposite choices for one’s art-baby. Cannes is about the deal. Or, it’s about the road to the deal.
“Cannes is where you start relationships or close deals; so if you are attending for the first time; adjust your expectations. You need to meet buyers and sellers and start relationships that may in the following year assist in funding your film.”
Some years on, Menzies is starting relationships and ending deals and this frequently sees him shut out from the Mediterranean air. “Often I’ll just go from office to office,” he says, with just enough time to pull on the red boots and catch a competition film in the evening.
“Of course, I catch my clients’ films at the market, too. Particularly if they’re comedies.” Menzies is known for a laugh loud enough to sell a film.
This year, Menzies will attend the midnight screening for The Sapphires, a much-anticipated feature that tells the true story of an Indigenous girl-group who took their harmonies, and matching outfits, to Australian troops during the Vietnam War. The red boots are on for this official selection.
Day for Night was never entered for competition at Cannes. It did, however, go on to win an Oscar, a BAFTA, universal acclaim and, of course, the curiosity of Bryce Menzies. Perhaps we should try to make time to catch a rep-showing of the classic this year. A film about the importance of film helps us understand the passion of Menzies and of Marshalls+Dent for this extraordinary art form.
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