This past summer I had the opportunity to intern with a talent agency (whose name I will not disclose for the sake of their reputation) at the Cannes Film Festival. Although only two weeks long, my time in Cannes taught me a lifetime’s worth of lessons that have given me newfound confidence to pursue my passions in filmmaking. With that being said, the festival definitely burst the bubble of what I thought Hollywood was like and gave me a realistic depiction of the hustle that comes with a life in the film industry. I am not going to simply gloss over the details and say that every waking moment was a dream come true, because at times, it was far from it. To better depict the times of chaos, misery, wonderment, and outright hilarity that I experienced in Cannes, I’m going to break my experience down into two parts: the internship and the festival.
The nightmare that was my internship
I could easily write pages and pages about my internship experience, but for the sake of time, I’ll cut right to the chase with this brief statement: I quit my internship a week into the festival. Before any assumptions are made on either side, let me explain. Prior to the festival, I had been promised a handful of edifying tasks that would teach me all about the agency and the business side of the festival. Some of these tasks included assisting agents on the ground, learning about the festival and film sales process by assisting the agency’s film finance and sales team, and helping out with screenings, special events, and parties. I had walked off my plane eager to complete these somewhat vague yet seemingly important tasks, eager to make a good impression on this reputable talent agency, and eager to build a relationship with them that would help me step into the industry.
Two days into the internship I realized that my hopes would remain hopes. I was never told that there wouldn’t be any actual employees from the agency at the festival besides the agents who, understandably, had way more important things to do than meet with me. All of my communication during the week I was with them was through emailing my “supervisor” back in L.A. with a nine-hour time difference. I had no office or person to report to, just poor communication with L.A. employees. I already felt intimidated and under-qualified as a freshman in college, and not having a physical person to grasp onto made the festival seem much bigger and more daunting than it was. My doubts started to creep in immediately, making me question if this is the kind of work I want to do later in life.
It also didn’t help that I didn’t know who the other two interns for the agency were until two days in. It wasn’t until my third day at the hotel breakfast that I ran into one of the other interns. After that encounter, I learned that he was even more stressed out and lost than I was. He hadn’t actually heard from the agency since finding out he was interning for them. While I spent my first two days running around the festival feeling like a lost puppy, he spent his first two days actually lost, trying to figure out what exactly he was supposed to be doing.
My entire week consisted of picking up tickets, badges, and groceries (yes, groceries) and dropping them off at various hotels for the agents. I never actually got to meet any of these agents, except for one. Now, after not having any direct contact with the people I was working with for two days, getting to finally put a face to my work felt like a huge weight off my shoulders. My first interaction with this agent was quite pleasant. After waiting in line for two hours to save her a good seat in the theatre (for an 8 am showing might I add), she greeted me in line with a huge smile and apologized for making me wake up so early and stand for so long, so I assumed that meant I wouldn’t have to do it again (spoiler, I assumed wrong). She then handed me a croissant and orange juice and walked into her screening. Based on that first interaction, I had a feeling that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. The thought of getting a croissant and orange juice every time I had to wake up at the crack of dawn for this agent somehow made it seem less agonizing.
As the week progressed, I continued to wait in long lines, pick up tickets, and shop for miscellaneous items. This agent continued to be incredibly kind. She occasionally asked if I wanted to watch a screening with her after waiting in line, which I always had to turn down due to the frequent last-minute tasks I would receive in my email. She also took me out to lunch and bought me a jacket when the weather got cold, only after knowing me for two days. Although her kindness brought a bit of light to all the belittling tasks I had to do, there were occasional annoyances that started to become more and more frequent as the weekend approached. One of these annoyances was me having to wait hours in line only for her to tell me she was no longer going to attend that screening, or asking me if I was in line for a screening that I was never informed to wait for. She would get upset over things that were out of my control or a result of bad communication with the agency.
One of the biggest annoyances and factors in my decision to quit was when she accused me of ripping the barcode off her Rocketman ticket. One of my tasks earlier in the week was to pick up her and her husband’s Rocketman screening and afterparty tickets, put them in an envelope and drop them off at their hotel. I completed the task and went on with my day. On Thursday, the night of the premiere, I received a phone call and a series of messages from her saying that when she opened the envelope the top part of the ticket was ripped off. I reassured her that they were not like that when I received and dropped them off and that something must have happened between being taken from the front desk and dropped off to their room. From the unusually blunt way that she was messaging me, I got the feeling that she thought I had ripped them. The next morning she realized that she had ripped the tickets herself when opening the envelope. She didn’t apologize but simply mentioned it briefly the next day. I don’t blame her for the way she handled it, I would be quite unnerved in that situation as well, but I didn’t pay my way to France for an unpaid internship to be treated poorly by this agent and the company while I could be doing so much more with my short time in Cannes.
It took me two days after getting to Cannes to realize that I wasn’t professionally gaining anything from this internship and seven days to finally muster up the courage to call it quits. I wasn’t even able to give the majority of the employees/agents a name or a face to remember because they were either in L.A or didn’t seem to care to meet me. And yet for some reason, a part of me was still holding on, hoping that something would come in return. The biggest thing holding me back was the label of being a quitter. I couldn’t bear the thought of quitting this incredible opportunity. After an emotional week, I realized that to make the most of my time in Cannes, I indeed had to quit. All the films, talks, workshops, and networking had been taunting me my first week. The internship was stopping me from fully experiencing all that the festival had to offer.
My internship was through an intermediary company called The Creative Mind Group (CMG) that pairs young professionals in the industry with film-related companies. I had been talking to the CMG program coordinator about my concerns with the internship experience throughout the week, so when I decided to quit, she fully supported me and helped me with my next steps. She told me that the way the internship was treating me was unacceptable and that CMG was going to find a way to better assure that these companies wouldn’t take advantage of us in the future. Those words were reassuring and comforting. My frustration was in no way directed towards CMG. My interest in CMG had first peaked when I saw that over half their team of employees were people of color. It became even more clear to me during the program orientation, when I was standing in a room of an equal amount of women and men and surrounded by all races imaginable that CMG was not just another Hollywood-based company. They are a company striving for equality in the film industry. To do so, they are creating an opportunity for young professionals to show their dedication and passion, making sure that members of diverse race and gender backgrounds have a voice in this industry. Although my experience through them was not ideal, that was the fault of the agency I was paired with, not of CMG, who are doing vital work to create a more diverse film industry. I was put in a situation they could not have foreseen and they did all they could to make sure I still had a good experience at the festival.
The program coordinator told me that she would let the talent agency know that I was no longer interning for them and that she would handle everything, but part of me felt like I needed to personally tell the one agent I had been in contact with. I sent her the following message:
As per her request, I then put her in contact with the other intern I had become good friends with (you may remember as the one who was even more lost than I was), and that was it. My internship from hell was over. Looking back, I’m glad I had the guts to quit because the remaining week wouldn’t have been as life-changing and inspirational as it was, which brings me to the next part of my experience, the festival.
The Festival that made it all worth it
My second week in Cannes was when I really got to see and appreciate the festival’s unique beauty. As the biggest film market in the world, the Cannes Film Festival is undeniably all about the hustle. Some days I would stand in the aisles of the Marché du Film and just listen to the cacophony of the hundreds of business deals being made. Either people’s entire careers were being made or their dreams were being crushed, all in one gigantic room. The thought that the next Varda or DuVernay could be in the same room as me, trying to catch their big break, was surreal.
Sitting in world-famous theatres, watching films from all corners of the planet and marveling at their cinematic artistry is an unparalleled experience that I can only wish to have again. My personal favorite was Atlantique, a Senegalese film directed by Mati Diop, who became the first black woman director to be in contention for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest prize. Atlantique is a feminist work of art that doesn’t fail to make a statement on social class and gender roles. The story is centered around a young woman named Ada who is engaged to a wealthy businessman named Omar but is in love with a construction worker named Souleiman. The story follows Ada as the romance quickly turns into a supernatural mystery. The screenwriting is poetic and seductive and the cinematography is beautiful with its mystical and vibrantly moon-lit shots that kept me captivated the entire time. Atlantique is an enchanting yet haunting love story that everyone needs to see.
Another aspect of the festival that I was able to take advantage of in my second week, was all the workshops, talks, and social events that my Marché badge could get me into. If there was anything I got out of my internship, it was the Marché badge. After having lost a week in Cannes, I made it my priority to go to as many of these professional events as possible and network until my vocal cords gave out. At every networking event and workshop I went to I could feel the passion each person breathed into every conversation I had. Everyday from 5-7 pm there was a happy hour in the Marché where producers, directors, actors, editors, and every other film professional imaginable would gather around a beer and just chat. It was there where I had my most inspiring conversations. There were times where a chat would sound more like a sales pitch, but other times it was a genuine conversation about the projects they’d poured their hearts and souls into.
Through agnès films, where I’ve been working for a year, I had the opportunity to attend the Women and Hollywood networking event organized by Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, who I, funnily enough, sat next to, slept next to, and snored next to on a plane for eight hours, only to realize who it was just minutes before the plane landed. I went into the event expecting to feel out of place around such accomplished women, only to feel the exact opposite. The small venue felt welcoming and I realized the women weren’t there because of their title or status in the industry, they were there because of their commitment to bettering the film industry for women. The atmosphere was very laid back. There were women of all ages having intimate conversations about their experiences and goals for the future. Melissa was kind-hearted and made sure I felt like I belonged. After only having met me once, she gave me her number and told me that if I ever found myself in trouble or in need of help during the festival, to not hesitate to give her a call. I felt proud to attend Melissa Silverstein’s networking event and stand among such powerful women who want to make a change in the industry. It was reinvigorating and helped fuel the fire in me to continue working towards women’s equality, especially in the film industry.
Through CMG, I built many strong connections with young filmmakers who, like me, are trying to get their foot in the door. I built a web of friends from around the world that I can confidently turn to for advice and that will support me in future endeavors, and vice versa. Overall, my experience in Cannes was one big roller coaster that I would jump back in line for in a heartbeat. I learned so much about myself professionally and personally. I learned that the environments that push my limits are the environments that show me what I’m capable of and shape me to become something I never saw in myself. I now know more than ever that the world of film is the world I want to live in. Every face I passed had a look of determination and drive, every voice that spoke rang with a deep craving to get a story out there. Every person I met was a reminder that it takes hard work to make a film and that it is undoubtedly worth it. I have never had so many ideas for projects flood my mind than when I was in Cannes. It was like a rush of passion hit me as different parts of the festival unfolded before me. As cliché as it all sounds, it was like there was this magic in the air that, even now, motivates me to keep creating work that I am passionate about and that will push our society forward.
You can learn more about Mimi by visiting her profile.