Sharon Stone's 'surprise' Sunday appearance on the red carpet at this year's Cannes Film Festival wasn't all that much of a shock. In fact, organiser DDA Public Relations tipped off the press some time ago. But while it may not have eclipsed Star Wars: Episode III - SFX triumphed over sex in the battle of the UK's front pages - the Basic Instinct star came a valiant second in terms of coverage. In the scrum of Cannes, that is a real success.
Roll back to Thursday, and the sun is beating down on the second full day of this annual showcase of films battling to capture consumers' and distributors' interest. In the bar at The Carlton Hotel, DDA founder Dennis Davidson is rubbing shoulders with the industry elite. A few tables away is the head of Dreamworks, and next to him are the British producers of Young Hannibal - the latest instalment of the Hannibal Lecter films, due out next year. Yet it is not glitz and glamour that is on Davidson's mind, but the mucky, roll-your-sleeves-up, backroom business that is the unsexy world of film PR.
Nothing left to chance
'This is about getting Sharon and the new, relatively unknown British co-star (David Morrissey) in front of the press for our client,' says Davidson. 'Filming started in the UK last month, but the PR starts now.
Nothing can be left to chance. Cannes is the place to get the first pre-publicity.'
Journalists (they number 7,000 at Cannes) first learned of the picture opportunity planned around the film four weeks ago, but not until three days ago was Stone definitely confirmed. The DDA team went into overdrive to make sure as many journalists as possible were there to pack this press conference, rather than covering finished films.
It is this sort of project that Cannes dines on, but which relies on a relentless PR machine to organise. Cannes organisers do not promote films, just the festival itself, and rely on PR firms to invite the stars in to be there. DDA is one of the largest in the field; the office is literally shipped out and rebuilt in the Hotel Martinez, and this photocall is just one of many it will organise.
A star like Stone provides immediate cachet but most of DDA's work will involve hard, distinctly unglamorous graft to distract journalists' attention to films most haven't heard of.
It may well represent predicted blockbusters (such as Palme D'Or-nominated Bruce Willis vehicle Sin City), but for DDA Cannes is as much about pre-publicity.
Cannes is full of films either half-made, unmade or ready-made with the common goal of finding directors, producers or distributors.
DDA director Paul Philpotts says the firm is constantly working behind the scenes: 'It is far less what the consumer sees - which we'll do - and more positioning a film for backers, distributors and producers. Unlike normal products, where PR controls the time, the day, the venue, everything.
Cannes has more than 10,000 films vying for attention, Everyone wants their film talked about by somebody.' The focus of this is the 'Market' - the trade arm of Cannes, full of directors who want their films backed.
Vital to the PROs are trade magazines Variety, Screen International and The Hollywood Reporter, which all produce daily versions during the festival. Get them talking and investors take notice.
'We had a so-so day today,' muses Chris Paton, DDA vice-chairman. Every day at 8am, his first business of the day is reviewing that morning's coverage. 'We're disappointed with Screen International,' he says. 'It didn't cover Colin Firth's film The Last Legion for producer (and client) Dino De Laurentiis as well as expected. We also gave it details of the new Lassie film, staring Peter O'Toole to a reporter who, as it turns out, is in the process of leaving and it got lost.'
Coverage is much better though in Variety - the agency's preferred magazine for covering talent rather than deals. 'It gave much more to the Firth story,' says Paton.
Day one was strong in the trade press, with a 'placement' in Screen International of distribution client Fortissimo Films coming on board for The Night Listener, starring Robin Williams. 'This is not a new film, but it is a classic Cannes sales story. It shows people are buying into the film.
That will make further distribution easier,' Paton adds.
Also bubbling under is new British flick These Foolish Things, for which DDA garnered coverage in all four main dailies. It is exhibiting at the Market and hopes to get distribution for 2006. The Market is out of bounds to journalists. The last thing a film needs is bad press before it has even secured investment. Despite this, it has managed to secure a story that Storm Entertainment has bought the film, which stars Terence Stamp and Angelica Houston. It is perfect timing as tonight (Thursday) DDA is throwing a cocktail party on a private yacht, primarily to attract more finance to complete the picture. This is the more subtle part of the agency's work, as it acts as mediator for films not yet certainties, but for which it has a vested interest in succeeding, as it will likely do follow-up consumer PR.
Nevertheless, despite flying in Stamp for a day of interviews for Friday, account director Anna Francis has a problem. 'Journalists won't write about a film they can't see when there are so many films showing,' she says. The upshot is that she and colleague Anna Nicoll have decided to produce a five-minute preview DVD. This is not at all common.
But this is, in many ways, what Cannes is all about. Schedules change every day, and one must expect the unexpected. Films literally get dropped off at the DDA office - sometimes the only copy in existence. Directors hope DDA's contacts will make the difference.
'It's amazing,' says Philpotts. 'They want us to introduce them to New Line or Warner Brothers. We have a hard enough time talking to them ourselves, and they are clients. But we also have to be very careful. We can't just push them a film that has no chance of being distributed; our own reputation is at stake.'
Vetting films is just the start of a long road that may or may not lead to the red carpet. Only the luckiest films go straight there. Bashing, the fourth movie by Japanese director Masahiro Kobayashi is now guaranteed wider audiences after it was nominated for the Palme D'Or, just two weeks before Cannes. DDA moved swiftly, securing it distribution for client Celluloid Dreams and trailing it to the press in the build-up to the day.
As the film is screened to photographers ten deep, DDA has achieved the ultimate PR goal at Cannes - mass attention. But whether it wins or not, only the jury can decide.