Day 4: At Cannes, What's Your Tagline? | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Day 4: At Cannes, What's Your Tagline?

Beyond the red carpet and glamorous stars, films are boiled down to a mere few words, some more memorable than others

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Suzanne has had to leave Cannes. "Saving Luna" is showing at a festival in the Canary Islands and she's been invited to present it. Easy work, I think. I may be wrong.

So now I'm alone in this bustling place. But that's ok. I have a lot to do -- at the computer.

Our sales agent here, Rob Straight of Horizon Motion Pictures, has given out all the preview DVDs of "Saving Luna," so I spend much of the day burning new ones on my laptop. This is the romantic life of a filmmaker at Cannes: sitting at a computer, copying disks. Still, it shows that that Rob has generated plenty of interest in our film.

I've been looking at posters for other films in the market. Titles are always fun, but what catches me are the taglines, teasers that tell you a bit more about the story than the title. The tagline helps sell the film to audiences, so great care is taken to shape it. People spend weeks trying to come up with the right words. For our film, the hero is a whale, so the tagline is this: "A life does not have to be human to be great."

The tagline helps sell the film to audiences, so great care is taken to shape it. People spend weeks trying to come up with the right words. But seeing so many warnings, philosophies, and threats all in one place warps my mind. So I've taken the liberty to arrange a few of them from my notes, under a tagline title from the film "Give ‘em Hell, Malone."

Hard to love . . . Harder to kill

We know who you are, and we know what you've done.
Don't be surprised if you are addicted to fear.
Once you have seen this movie you will never drink out of a plastic bottle again.
Start running.

When love is money
When a media war turns explosive
Sleepwalking can be deadly
Start running

Bite for the right to party
Never trust a corpse
Live to love . . . die to return
Start running.

When the lights go out . . . the feeding begins.
There's only one way out
Almost everybody is going to die very soon.
Start running

Out by the Palais des Festivals this evening the crowds are packed tightly around fences that keep all us non-celebrities away from the red carpet. Instead of joining in the search for famous faces, I go to a film that scrambles my mind even more.

The film is called "The Making of Plus One." (Tagline: "The story of a Hollywood Nobody.") It was shot at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and the protagonist is a producer who tries to raise money by attaching celebrities to his film, a spoof on the celebrity worship that dominates this industry.

And as if to sabotage the movie for mocking the crazy deal-making that surrounds the festival, the projector fails twice during the opening minutes.

The movie resumes and portrays its likable characters forced into ugly choices. The imaginary film's director, for instance, is played by a young woman who perfectly captures an air of conflicted acquiescence as her producer sells out her creative options for promises of better funding if he hires "the Kates," Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett.

At the end I leave the theatre, and it's as if I stepped back into the film. Same mass of pedestrians, same Palais, same crowd flashing away at celebrities on the red carpet. But "The Making of Plus One" is a small indie movie, and as I follow the film's actors through crowds to a reception, nobody recognizes them.

At the reception, irony strikes. As people toast a film that mocks celebrity worship, I see a familiar face across the room. It is a distribution expert who advised Suzanne and me almost a year ago in Los Angeles that we'd make a lot more money on our film if we attached a celebrity, either to narrate it or to "present" it.

We haven't done so, but it is not out of principle; it's mostly because we don't know anyone famous. And after that quiet screening we had here, we're thinking of calling around: "Hello, Cate?" We're just as trapped in this business as anyone else.

Then something good happens.

I run into the woman who played the film's director. I give her a postcard of our film and she smiles at the tagline. We talk for a few minutes and eventually I learn that she is not just an actor in an indie film, she is Suzan-Lori Parks, the 2002 Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright for "Topdog/Underdog" She was also the first female African-American playwright to win the Pulitzer.

After the party, I walk past the Palais. The crowds are still there. The people cheer. Strobes flash. I can't see the person they're yelling about. But I'm not interested – I just met Suzan-Lori Parks. I'd give Parks a tagline of her own: "She stayed true to her creativity . . . and she won."

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