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New Dawn for Cannes

George Clooney may have eluded her but Dawn Furness did come within a whisker of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the world's most glamorous film festival.

Dawn Furness

George Clooney may have eluded her but Dawn Furness did come within a whisker of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the world's most glamorous film festival. Opera star Dawn, from Cramlington, was busking before million-dollar money men and film magnates to sell her new script. She was part of the high-class cast at the 60th anniversary of the French festival - and here she reveals her Cannes diary: an insider's guide to promoting a film script.

Day One: Friday

My day job is as a film producer and I run a company in Newcastle called White Balance Ltd. A couple of months ago I fancied a break so moved up to Glasgow to work with Scottish Opera.

I'm currently singing Madame Butterfly and Lucia d'Lammermoor (I'm currently only in the chorus but I have delusions of grandeur).

I fly out to the Cannes Film Festival during a break in the singing schedule to promote my new feature film script, The Funeral Singer, and maybe even to do a bit of busking on the side to earn some extra cash. I'm pitching the film as "a life-affirming black comedy about a manic depressive opera singer who embraces life after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer".

It's a comedy. And it's also a musical. It seemed like such a simple idea...

It's never a good idea to sleep in for an important flight but I am up until 5am the night before preparing all my script changes, press packs, business cards, budgets and flyers and sleep straight through my alarm. With only 20 minutes to go I manage to shower, pack my case and catch my connecting train as the guard was blowing the whistle.

Day Two: Saturday

My first official day in Cannes, and anyone I make eye contact with gets a flyer pressed into their palm. In normal social interaction this would be considered rude but in Cannes it is the norm. This is the place to sell your film and small talk is very quickly segued into project talk.

I head down to the UK Pavilion in the international village, while keeping my eyes peeled for a certain Mr Clooney (who is in town for the Ocean's Thirteen premiere). I have a network of spies to whom I have offered a cash reward for any information leading to an actual sighting of George.

There is something deliciously decadent about having a business meeting, then walking half a dozen steps into the sea for a plodge! I have difficulty explaining the concept of paddling to my European colleagues (obviously they are unfamiliar with a centuries-old tradition at Whitley Bay.)

"Yes I do want to go into the sea. But no, I don't want to swim, I just want to get my feet wet!"

Last year, I graduated from EAVE, a post-graduate course in European Film Finance, so Cannes is not only about business but a chance to meet some dear friends. I am invited to a Scandinavian party where the entertainment is provided by last year's Eurovision winners, Finnish band Lordi.

I initially scoff this euro-rock cheese but am quickly reprimanded by colleagues who turn out to be producing their debut feature film about vampires - oops!

After seeing the band perform, I get drawn into an early evening drinking session that quickly turns into a late night pub crawl but vow that tomorrow I will do some singing to promote the film - and hand out yet more flyers.

Day Three: Sunday

My German film producer friend has the red carpet premier of his film at the Hilton for director's fortnight. We go to the after-party and end up getting chased by three paparazzi, which is all rather exciting until they hand us business cards and we realise that they were the French equivalent of cruise ship photographers. C'est la vie! Looks like I'm not the only one on the make in Cannes.

Wandering off to meet a friend at another bar I suddenly become aware at how easily you can spot other producers from the festival. Carrying the brightly coloured festival bags and accreditation badges means that you might as well have a sign your neck reading, "I'M A FILM PRODUCER - MUG ME!"

This thought will come back to haunt me hours later when I have my purse stolen. Cannes during the festival is one of the most expensive places on earth. So being without cash or credit cards is not a pleasant prospect. Fortunately I have lots of friends who rally round with money, moral support and a much-needed beer.

After drowning my sorrows we go for drinks at the Grand Hotel (where it is considered normal to spend nine euros for a small glass of beer). There is a spirited debate about having dinner but those splendid à la carte menus with no prices on simply scare me, so I decide against it.

Day Four: Monday

I bump into another friend and EAVE graduate whose film is in competition. I later concur with colleagues that since it is only his second film he has entered it to make us look bad. Jealous? Moi?

I manage to blag tickets to another red carpet premiere of the film Import:Export. It's a German piece about exploitation, prostitution and the sex trade from Eastern Europe. Very good but not what you'd describe as a date movie. I finally decide to do some busking to promote The Funeral Singer. It is very naughty, but I set up a spot directly in front of Cannes' business counterpart, Marché du Film. With so many films being touted around each year the organisers (quite rightly) frown on random people in shameless publicity stunts.

But I run through my repertoire of songs and arias from the film Un Bel Di, vissi D'arte, which all go down really well. I receive standing ovations from cynical film producers and security men who to my complete surprise sit and listen rather than moving me on!

A couple of blacked-out cars pull past, and I later learn Brad and Angelina were inside, so I have a captive audience. My friend hands out flyers as I am singing and suddenly people start approaching me. I am filmed by three TV crews, approached by half a dozen journalists and am given the business cards of several finance companies who are interested in the project. I don't care what anyone says - cheap publicity stunts work!

I manage to last a whole hour before being moved on by the director of the festival.

Feeling rather smug and on the hunt for another party I get lost (a lot easier than it sounds) in an apartment complex on the Croisette and end up heading to the offices of The Weinstein Company: makers of Tarantino and Michael Moore's films. I feel that serendipity is paying me back for my purse being snatched. Five minutes later I am stuck in an elevator with two employees from the Weinstein Company talking about Michael Moore. In every screenwriting class I have ever read, we are groomed to prepare for such a moment. The 15-second script pitch that can make or break a career ... and I bottle it.

I am just kicking myself at a missed opportunity on leaving the elevator when a voice from behind said, "I really loved your singing." I turned around to see one of the company execs who had been listening to me busk that afternoon. I raced back with a flyer, gave him the film pitch and he loved it. I've got his details and am sending him the script. Hurrah!

Day Five: Tuesday

I manage to file a police report with the local constabulary, catch my flight and make it on stage at Glasgow with a good couple of hours to spare. All's well that ends well, as they say.

I can't believe I have to wait another year before it all comes round again. And next time I might even be taking my own film there - stranger things have happened.


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