CANNES, France — Sure, Cannes is about the glitz, the stars, the parties, the yachts and ultra-hyped movies. But what happens if you are young filmmakers with no money or Hollywood contacts whose small, 90-minute black-and-white film, which is admittedly "uncommercial" and has no domestic or foreign distributor, suddenly gets accepted to the world's largest and most prestigious film festival?
The writer, director and producers of "The Poison Tasters," a psychological crime thriller about 24 hours in the lives of two polar-opposite men thrown together in wartime Poland, relied as much on ingenuity to make it to Cannes as they did shooting their movie entirely in Poland for less than $500,000.
"Our credit cards are maxed, maxed out, and we have no money to do anything," says the film's 28-year-old screenwriter and producer, Tom Bierce. He works as a film developer in a photo lab back home in Los Angeles, where he rents a room that's well-stocked with canned goods "because I can't afford to go out and eat."
Hong Ting, a former Los Angeles artist who produced the film with Bierce, went to co-executive producer Darren Pritt to ask if he would front the money for the 2,000 press kits, 500 still photos and poster required by the festival--not to mention the necessary two prints of the film, at more than $20,000 apiece.
"I told him the good news was our film was accepted in Cannes, but the bad news was it's probably going to cost you $50,000, and he said, 'No problem,' " Ting said.
But then someone had to pay for plane tickets, accommodations, meals, transportation and the tuxedos they would need for the festival.
"We charged everything on my credit cards," Bierce said, noting that "this was a once-in-lifetime opportunity."
The film's director, Ulrik Theer, a former professional photographer who says he lives "a somewhat nebulous existence" in L.A., said he went into total shock when he received a call from a Cannes official telling him that "Poison Tasters" had been accepted as one of five American movies in Un Certain Regard, a prestigious category that calls attention to films that are not in competition but are in some way meritorious. Theer was so incredulous that he spent $5 (not in his budget) to call the festival organizers back to make sure the call wasn't just a prank by his friends.
Hong Ting says he had to borrow $13 from his girlfriend for the postage to send the tape of the movie to Cannes for submission.
Six weeks later, he received a fax from Cannes. "The film had been rejected by Sundance and Chicago, so when I saw 'Congratulations' on this fax I said, 'For what?' I read it five times."
Naturally, the first-time filmmakers are hoping that their movie gets discovered. But they are realistic.
"We have a chance of a lifetime. But we think we won't be noticed and we'll go back to a life of obscurity," says Bierce, noting that this is the first time he has ever been interviewed. "We own the rights but don't know how to sell the film. . . . We don't even know a person working in a mail room in Hollywood."
Stone and Miramax: You've gotta love someone who faces the press at 10 a.m. on a rainy Cannes morning looking perfectly put together in full makeup, wearing a smile and a prohibitively expensive Valentino taffeta party dress with spaghetti straps. Gleaming as she entered the roomful of festival-exhausted journalists at the Hotel Du Cap the other morning, Sharon Stone and her unlikely escort, Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, were there to announce that they are in business together.
Miramax has given Stone a multiyear first-look overall deal to star in and produce movies and a TV series for the Disney-owned renegade company, whose recent hits include "Pulp Fiction," "The Crying Game" and "The Piano."
Stone believes the coupling of her experience with "big, blockbuster, glossy movies" and Miramax's bent for "real profound, heartfelt films" should make for an interesting partnership.
The star, who is making just as big a splash here with world media and tourists as she did several years ago when "Basic Instinct" opened the festival, also plans to make some "big-budget action pictures" for Disney's Touchstone Pictures.
Stone and her Chaos Productions partner Paulette Pierotti are discussing a number of project ideas with Miramax executives, including a movie thriller known as "A Murder in Miami," based on a true story Stone optioned after reading a news article. The project, which may be the first to roll under the new deal--though no writer or director is yet attached--would be a cross between "Body Heat" and "The Year of Living Dangerously," Stone said.
Miramax would also like Stone to star in and co-produce a remake of the James Stewart-Kim Novak classic "Bell, Book and Candle," to which it owns the rights. It's described as an "opposite attraction love story" about a witch who must sacrifice her powers to fall in love with a mortal.