Maxim Behar: PR is happening in Cannes from the first to the last second

PR expert Maxim Behar commented on this year's performance of the Cannes Film Festival on the morning talk show "100% Awake" on BNT 1 television, hosted by Stefan A. Shterev.

Host (Stefan A. Shterev): The Cannes Festival is like magic - a celebration of life and a sweet parade of vanity. It also celebrates cinema, eccentricity, the famous, the rich, and, as some say, the unattainable. Whether that's true, we don't know, but under the hot sun of southern France, along the famous coastal Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes, famous figures Fellini, Visconti, Bertolucci, Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Orson Welles, Antonioni, Coppola, and many others have walked. Stars like Isabelle Adjani, Claudia Cardinale, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, and many others have risen here. The Cannes Festival in 2024 was one of the most exciting events in cinema. The "Directors' Fortnight" selection includes 30 films that oppose the dominant ideology. We will find out what this ideology is shortly. The Bulgarian presence in this festival is also not to be overlooked. More about Cannes and the events around it we will now discuss with Maxim Behar. Hello and welcome!

Maxim Behar: Good morning!

Host: Stunning shots - everything is visible; people follow with interest. It's always intriguing to see who will walk the red carpet and who won't. What are your impressions of this year's edition?

Maxim: Anyone can walk the red carpet. Of course, the most important people are those applauded the most. This year's festival was highly anticipated, not just because of the 2-3 years of Covid lockdown, during which we were all stuck in front of our TVs. The film business was in hibernation because of the big and firm commitments. And the productions, which unfortunately only a tiny, select group of people can watch at the festival, were of very high quality. Of course, as a Bulgarian, I felt very proud seeing Maria Bakalova getting 25 minutes of screen time.

Host: Not only that - one of the actresses in Konstantin Bozhanov's film won an award. There were others, too, and I recently saw the names of other Bulgarians in a team. Maria Bakalova was just one of the highlights.

Maxim: It was perhaps the most attractive.

Host: Yes, with all the discussions around her dress.

Maxim: It wasn't just the dress but the film and the director. Last night, after watching all the "The Intern" trailers, I thought this was like Maria Bakalova's second participation in the American elections. We all remember that four years ago, she participated in the film "Borat," and she was targeting the then-president of the US. Now, she is targeting the presidential candidate. But most importantly, we saw films of extremely high quality. We will see if the film "Anora" really possesses the fantastic qualities the jury awarded it for. The script and plot look extremely interesting. So, the festival performance was at a very high level this year.

Host: That's one perspective. Let's look at the other side - the role of PR and communication in organizing and promoting the Cannes Festival.

Maxim: It is tough to throw a good festival without good public relations and good marketing, not just about the films but also the actors and overall organization. And since the PR business itself is dynamic and develops, as I often say, "at the speed of light," it seems the PR team did very well this year. I have been to the festival several times and observed the thousands of people involved in the organization with great interest. Because not just what we read on social media and in the newspapers is called "PR." PR is everything happening at the festival from the first to the last second - the whole organization, who will walk the red carpet and at what time, when they smile at the cameras. It was perfect this year.

Host: As I understand, the PR experts covered this perspective well, and you say it was on a high level. In your book "The Morning After," you talk about changes in leadership. How do these changes affect the film industry and festivals in general?

Maxim: I wrote this book during COVID-19 when I saw a global change in how decisions are made. Until 2018-2019, it was very straightforward - managers were vertical, which probably also applies to the film industry. But now, when we all have media in our hands - very influential social media - everyone needs to realize that they are a leader in their place. This has been true in the film industry for years. Every actor and director know they are a leader in their place and bears this responsibility. If an actor plays a strong role, it means strong leadership and quick decision-making, which in my opinion, is the essence. There is a saying that the worst decision made is better than none. The faster you make decisions, even if you are sometimes wrong, the quicker you apply them in your business and life, the more successful your strategy can be. Without a doubt, this also applies to the film industry because creating a film sometimes takes years. Coppola presented his film at Cannes and said he had been thinking and making it for 40 years. Imagine - that's a human lifetime spent making one film. True, the movie in question - "Megalopolis" didn't win this year, but it was the most attractive.

Host: I've heard highly controversial comments about it from all kinds of people. As you said, everyone is their own media and takes responsibility for the words and photos they post. Let's say the film is successful, and the actor did an excellent job, but their behavior on social media is opposite to the film's philosophy. Can this influence the audience and make them refuse to watch and boycott the movie because of the actor's behavior on social media?

Maxim: This applies not only to the film industry but much more because actors and directors are public figures. Therefore, everyone follows them and watches their behavior off-screen and outside their movie roles. Of course, if you make a mistake on social media – if you write or do something quite arrogant or aggressive, naturally, you will push away many people. We have been experiencing the "MeToo" movement for more than ten years now, with all these accusations against actors, regardless of whether they are in the wrong. The court reinstated some of them, but you know that old joke about the two Jews: Isaac and Moshe have coffee, and a spoon disappears. Moshe calls him and asks where the spoon is. Finally, he found the spoon, but the bitterness remained. In the same way, on social media, you may have made a mistake, but you may not have. Everyone needs to be very careful. There is much greater publicity there than in the film industry. A million people may watch a film, but one of your posts on social media, which is controversial, inaccurate, or inappropriate, can be read by billions.

Host: Also, billions of people can repost and share it.

Maxim: Everyone interprets it through their perspective. It depends on whether they've had two glasses of rakia or a glass of wine, if they read it early at 6 AM, and their mood. That's why it takes a great deal of professionalism, I'd say, from every actor, not just for what they play on stage or on screen.

Host: Obviously, these expectations related to social media for public figures won't go away. They've always been interesting for the public and have been fodder for both vultures and swallows, so to speak. Let's talk about your personal experiences at the Cannes Festival. When were you last there?

Maxim: When I first went, it was truly a great experience. A company invited us along with the actress Teodora Duhovnikova. I didn't know Teddy before that. We had lunch, got acquainted, and stayed in Cannes for a few days. The most exciting experience was that the chairman of the jury was Robert De Niro, and I decided to give him an unconventional gift. What would you bring as a gift to Robert De Niro? The first things that come to mind are the Bulgarian symbols - an Orthodox icon, rose oil, and a souvenir from Bulgaria. Then I read in a newspaper that a Bulgarian student, Radko Kotev, had discovered the fifth solution to Apollonius's problem, which to most people is entirely unfamiliar. I then read that it's a geometric problem whose last solution - the fourth one - burned in the library in Cairo during the great fire in the 18th century. However, Radko Kotev, then in the 10th grade at the Mathematical High School in Sofia, solved this problem purely geometrically. I went to the high school, found him, and told him I was going to Cannes and wanted to bring a gift to Robert De Niro. He sat at a desk and drew the geometric solution to the problem, which we put in a frame. As the jury chairman, Robert De Niro was super busy, but his PR advisor received us along with Teddy Duhovnikova. We handed her the gift. Three or four years ago, she emailed me that the gift - Radko Kotev's solved mathematical problem - still stands in Robert De Niro's office. Learning this brought me great joy because mathematicians and successful people, even in cinema, are something Bulgaria can be proud of. This year at Cannes, besides all that we saw as a Bulgarian presence, there was another that no one knew about. Now, for the first time, I'll announce it. There is a new production company in Bulgaria - Global Q Productions, managed by a very famous American producer - Moshe Diamant, who has been living in Bulgaria for several years, and Martin Campbell, the director of "Casino Royale," "The Mask of Zorro," and several other big productions. They created the company in Bulgaria, and the whole team was at the Cannes Festival because we wanted to make Bulgaria an attractive destination for filming. It is interesting enough with the few studios it already has, but there is a lot of potential. Last night, I spoke with Moshe, who is currently in Beverly Hills, and he told me he made a strong presentation. I hope, and this is my dream - for the big investors and filmmakers to recognize Bulgaria. There are many well-prepared people here, and great movies can be filmed. The legislation is very good, and the taxes are very low. What we see on screen - Maria Bakalova and all these successful people - is very important, and we need to sell Bulgaria to producers and directors to become interested in our country for its filming possibilities.

Host: I add that there is undoubtedly potential here; many important films have been shot in Bulgaria, not to mention just "The Black Dahlia."

Maxim: Moshe Diamant is the producer of "The Black Dahlia." That was his first encounter with Bulgaria, after which he decided to stay here. He married a wonderful Bulgarian woman, and so on.

Host: I would only add that the film should involve Bulgarian creators. If this can happen, it would be even better. Whether it's a director or an actor, we would already be far ahead if we at least wish for that.

Maxim: If more film productions are shot in Bulgaria, the chance for our creators - actors and TV crews to participate in these shoots, to develop and become better professionals, and for us to be present at world festivals is much greater.

Host: Thank you very much! Maxim Behar was our guest. Thank you for being with us!


Watch the full interview here.

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