The Padded Cel

Exploring the All-Important ‘Schmooze Factor’ at MIPTV!

It’s that special time of year when blossoms return to the branches, swallows return to Capistrano and steroids return to the dugout. It can mean only one thing. It’s time for animation execs to return to Cannes’all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’for the second-quarter TV market known as MIPTV (where their eyes will soon be bloodshot and their tails subjected to unspeakable horrors).

Although it’s called a ‘market,’ MIP doesn’t fit the fundamental definition. It is not a place for determining the price at which buyers’ demand intersects sellers’ supply. Rather, at MIP, both supply and demand are determined solely by the buyer. The ‘market’ simply reconciles how much in meals, entertainment, swag, sycophancy and kickbacks the buyer will demand with how much abuse, humiliation and flagellation this same buyer will supply. While some might simply call this a ‘buyer’s market,’ it is more instructive to think of MIP as a dungeon followed by rich sauces.

In fact, the two most common phrases you’ll hear in Cannes are ‘Down on your knees, seller!’ and ‘What do you mean you don’t have ketchup?’

The one-sided power dynamic notwithstanding, sellers must persevere and endure, if animators back home are going to have anything to produce. And while the marathon days of scheduled meetings in the Palais constitute the baguette-and-butter of MIP, many times it’s the unplanned after-hours encounters that give the meal that certain’ je ne sais quois. And by ‘je ne sais quois,’ I mean the filthy lucre which is the raison d”tre of MIP in the first place! (And by ‘raison d”tre’ I mean ‘wow, look at all the high school French I can cram into one column.’)

In years of attending MIP, the single biggest revelation has been the ‘schmooze factor’ and its role in the ultimate consummation of deals. The opportunities to mingle with buyers outside of the pressure-cooker of the Palais, to have some fun in an exotic locale and get to know each other as people’and not just meal-tickets’often eventually results in business (not to mention monkey business). Underneath the executioners’ hoods, most buyers are terrifically interesting, attractive and impressive people. When you think about it, being a TV buyer/programmer is such a great job that it typically self-selects the cr’me de la cr’me from each territory around the world. Social Darwinism on display at the Grand Bar!

There are two different strategies for taking advantage of the ‘schmoozapalooza’ in Cannes. Strategy #1 is to attend as many parties/events as possible, cruise the bars and troll the Croissette’hoping that, magically, you’ll encounter and interact with people who are, specifically, buyers of animation. This strategy is called ‘lotto.’ Strategy #2 is the more proactive plan of predetermining who your buyers are and targeting the events, places, hotels, closets and restroom stalls to which you’ve followed them. This strategy is called ‘stalking.’ Which of these strategies is right for you depends on your personality, ability to feign surprise and current parole status.

When it comes to time to schmooze, tact, subtlety and sensitivity are everything. Especially because they will stand out in Cannes! Sometimes when a buyer is punch drunk from a lonnnng day of being pitched and pitched again, yet another person seeking to sell them a show is about as welcome as a Toyota in the rearview mirror. Remember, it’s not always about selling the project, it’s about selling yourself as a person (assuming you qualify). Especially when it comes to pre-buys or co-productions, programmers are banking on a vision and a promise which are difficult to evaluate solely in a vacuum of pitch materials and content. (Take it from me, there’s a lot of vacuum out there.)

Never underestimate the value of personal connection. This is why, even in the digital age and even though it’s so costly and so exhausting, MIP is still relevant. Have you ever tried stalking someone on Skype? Plus, as a bonus, there is the cheap thrill of a full-body pat down on the return flight. As you wait your turn, consider how much you’d normally pay for this service!

Robby London is an animation industry veteran who seems to know a little too much about the daily schedule and nationwide appearances of Jersey Shore‘s Snooki.