By Michael Attardi
My name is Michael Attardi and I’m a writer/director/producer who had a short animated film, Once Upon a Christmas Village, accepted to the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner. Our film was chosen as first-runner up in the Moving Pictures Cannes Short Film Festival Competition, and the story I’m about to share with you was a 10-day journey that started on May 16, 2007. Animation Magazine asked me to share my experiences at the festival as an independent animation director trying to break into the business. As you might expect, the feat at times seemed impossible but with the right ‘hook’ and a powerful animation short, the doors of opportunity did finally open.
The Festival de Cannes can be described as the Academy Awards of all film festivals. The affair was a media frenzy that at times reminded me why I was so scared the first time I saw the movie Jaws. However, the French Rivera served as the perfect background for a festival celebrating sixty years. The French were perfect hosts who made you feel like their country was an international stage to play on. The hotels were grand and the food was richer than the many movie stars in attendance and the major deals being made.
The festival was set up like any other film-marketing venue that not only caters to the big studios, but is also a showcase for the several thousand independent studios and distribution brands. When I walked in with my animated film, exec producer and publicist, I thought I was more prepared than most. The rude awakening came when I saw producers from Japan, Taiwan and Korea all promoting their animation projects, even though we were not in competition for the same audience.
I felt as though I was hit over the head with a good bottle of French wine. As the swelling went down, I wanted to switch my gears and concentrate on why I was at the festival in the first place. I was there to showcase my short film for the European market. I was given a huge opportunity by being selected for the festival and I knew that my approach had to be a little more inventive to be successful. That is when the ‘hook’ was formed. During my first life, I was a professional football player in the National Football League. I was signed with the Los Angeles Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buc’s, and had tryouts with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets as a place-kicker. But I have always had a love for animation and storytelling, and eventually took courses in animation at the Disney Institute, learning Maya and lightwave in brief. In twelve years I had written eight screenplays and nine soundtracks, and developed thousands of character designs. If this wasn’t reinventing myself, I don’t know what is.
I was informed by the NFL that I was the first player to have ever made an animated film that was accepted to Cannes. I went to my publicist with this hook and worked on the media. At every interview, I mentioned how important independent movie making was to the future of animation and also expressed how venues like Animation Magazine were a valuable resource of information and marketing for the animation industry. I even walked the red carpet with a copy of Animation Magazine as my way of showing the world that you don’t have to be a big studio to make a splash in animation.
During one of my interviews with Moving Pictures Magazine, I noticed Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese sitting behind me. Last year, while mixing the music of my film in New York City, he was at the same studio mixing The Departed. I was introduced to him and he treated me like I was an old friend. I turned around during my interview and said hello, and Martin acted like we were back in New York City. Scorsese is just like that. He treats everyone with respect. That kind gesture of a two-minute conversation opened the media floodgates as Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight and Variety all wanted to know who I was. I then started to interview with those outlets and this recognition gave me much needed exposure at this massive event. It also didn’t hurt to have director Michael Moore wearing a Rutgers University hat. I was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, so we spoke about the success of Rutgers Football and peaceful life of the Jersey Shore. Once again, the stars were in line.
Now let’s talk about why the Festival de Cannes is a valuable experience to an animation director. Animation at this event has historically focused on politics and shock value, and getting the attention of the festival programmers usually meant being more outside the box with your new-tech or edgier content. Lately, 2D is making a huge comeback with the programmers’ taste. That means if you’re making 3D CG film, don’t expect to win at these festivals. This festival is about showcasing your film to the international market, not only France. With the media hype and an exec producer who doesn’t take no for an answer, we received letters of intent for distribution of our animated feature, Snowyville, in Italy, Germany, England, Spain, India and, believe it or not, even France. The distributors know that a Disney-type of product makes money. At the end of the day, that is all that matters. Can a director make an animated film that is commercially valuable to a studio or their private investors?
My first red carpet experience was incredible and the atmosphere was intoxicating. I met a lot of directors, producers and studio representatives who all had the same common goal of moviemaking. I learned something valuable at the Festival de Cannes. I learned that people from all cultures are looking to make great animation.
The opinions expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect the views of Animation Magazine. To see a documentary on the making of Attardi’s short film, Once Upon a Christmas Village, tune in to AniMagTV (www.animationmagazine.net/tv).