Darden School Students Learn the Business Behind the Big Screen at the Cannes Film Festival

22 June 2012

Students at the Darden School of Business received a firsthand look at how movie deals are made at the Cannes Film Festival this spring. Still fresh from his exhilarating trip to France, rising Second Year MBA student Andrew Green is beginning an internship with a film distribution company in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is home to the Virginia Film Festival. His experience working with The Weinstein Company during the Cannes Film Festival prepared him well for this next step.

“I am working for an independent film distributor this summer, so understanding what the process of selling films looks like and how it actually works is crucial to understanding the business of the company in which I will be working,” Green said. “One of my major projects is related to modeling cash flows from financing agreements such as those made at Cannes, so it was valuable to see those deals actually being made.”

One may wonder why MBA students from one of the world’s best general management B-schools would trek to France for such an event. Nevertheless, Cannes is not all about the celebrities and glamour seen on TV. It is an industry event at which buyers and sellers come together to offer and purchase films for distribution. Marché du Film is touted as the most important event in the industry and occurs each May at the Cannes Film Festival. More than 10,000 industry insiders participate and millions of dollars are spent on more than a thousand films. The trip to Cannes is part of a special Darden elective, now in its fourth year, designed to show rising Second Year students the ins and outs of the film market. The experience has been sponsored by the Center for Global Initiatives since its inception.

“While there, students are able to listen to negotiations, network and establish a cadre of film industry contacts,” says Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne, faculty facilitator for the Global Business Experience.

According to Grushka-Cockayne, there is growing interest in the film industry among Darden students. In 2009, six students attended the Cannes Film Festival Global Business Experience. This year, 10 students attended. Grushka-Cockayne also pointed to a growing number of Darden alumni operating in this particular realm. Ed Festa (MBA ’10) is successfully working in the film industry in California and helping other Darden students along the way. In January of this year, students were able to participate in a Los Angeles job trek (unrelated to the elective), where they interacted with Festa and learned about the Hollywood movie industry.

Rising Second Year student Heather Gates, who is interning at Paramount Pictures in LA this summer, greeted clients and showed trailers for Lakeshore Entertainment while in Cannes.

“I also got to experience the red carpet during one of the evening premieres. I’ve obviously seen the red carpet on TV and in magazines, but it was crazy to see it in person, especially in Cannes where the paparazzi are wearing tuxedos,” Gates said. “Our badges allowed us to freely roam around the Palais and it was fun to take in the whole festival during the two weeks.”

An all-access pass to the Cannes Film Festival is one of the most coveted passes in the world. How do Darden’s students gain entry into some of the festival’s most important events? An immersive student program offered by the The American Pavilion provides Darden MBAs with full festival accreditation, including access to all formal festival sites and nearly all formal festival events. The American Pavilion, which acts as a communication and hospitality hub for the American film community at Cannes, also sets up internships for students with prominent companies, such as the ones where Gates and Green provided assistance. Run by the former director of the London Film Festival, American Pavilion gets 35 slots for the Cannes Film Festival to fill with students from American universities. In recent years, approximately 15 of those slots have been awarded to Darden.

“The American Pavilion was thrilled to work with the Darden School of Business at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Since our partnership began in 2008, we have been continually pleased to work with the Darden MBA candidates,” said Julie Sisk, president of American Pavilion. “We have found them to be smart, savvy and thoroughly engaged by their work placements in the entertainment industry. We always receive terrific feedback from the companies where they are placed as well.”

Paul Wilamoski, vice president with the Weinstein Company, where Green and four other Darden students interned, echoed Sisk’s praises.

“My interaction with the Darden students at Cannes was amazing. They were a wonderful group of students, who were eager to learn, listen and help out our team at a moment’s notice, without fail,” he said.

While the students are on assignment, they are charged with developing a report in which they recommend the purchase, marketing and distribution strategy for a film. Grushka-Cockayne, who enjoys instructing in this domain, asks the students to include decision-analysis principles in their reports. In years past, Darden students have chosen films for their assignments that went on to become critically acclaimed Oscar winners such as the The King’s Speech and The Artist.

It’s a fun-filled experience of a lifetime, to be sure, but Grushka-Cockayne adds that the students value the opportunity and learn important lessons, even through the lightest of tasks. “The students are arriving there with the right expectations for what the event will hold for them,” she said.

“I got to observe the team’s interactions with clients and I came back with a much better understanding of the distribution side of movie making,” Gates reported.

Green also learned that the film industry isn’t for everyone. “It is certainly not an industry for the faint of heart or for those lacking the will to pursue their dreams of being a Hollywood power player,” Green said. “Rising in the industry requires great risk and sacrifice, but can also bring about great rewards for those with staying power.”

Green has an appreciation for staying power, which he believes will depend upon the industry keeping up with changes in consumer taste and technology. A movie-lover since he can remember, Green realized that he wanted to go into the film industry in high school. Today he believes that his Darden MBA will give him a leg up on that goal.

“By presenting me with cases that challenged me to consider what may happen in the future, Darden has developed my ability to think clearly about where the film industry is going and not just about where the industry is – which adds to the advantages I will have as an industry player,” Green said.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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