Theresa Plummer-Andrews recounts her typical experience as one of the most sought after buyers at one of the world's largest markets.
Everyone I know goes on the yearly pilgrimage to Cannes exhausted before they even get there. They have spent weeks bringing their notes up to date and juggling meetings in a schedule to which is almost impossible to keep. All of this happens on top of their normal working day, and in addition to the meetings they have had with people flying in to London before going on to Cannes!
Every year myself and my colleague Michael Carrington, swear we're going to organize ourselves so that we have a schedule with some breaks in it. This wondrous thought gets more difficult as the kids business booms and the competition for good programming for the UK market gets greater. The MIP market expands year after year and we now have to try to cover five floors of the most complicated building ever dreamt up by an architect together, with the new "tent village!" We also have to cover the meetings scheduled in various hotels and apartments along the Croisette. It's hard on the brain so copious notes are made at each meeting. Mind it's a killer for the feet as well, so rule number one is never to buy new shoes to wear during the day at MIP. A Few Givens Most days start with the morning ritual of hunting for the MIP badge in your hotel room, finding it and losing it again as you write up the faxes to go back to the London office together with the notes from the previous day's meetings. Then you scramble around again looking for that damn badge with the dreaded thought that if you don't find it you're going to have to pay Reed-Midem a lousy 7000 French francs to replace it, and all the time it's been where you put it earlier - in the pocket of your handbag! The little morning walk into the Palais is rather pleasant and quite interesting. Some people stroll along knowing they are early for their first meeting whilst others half-run, half-walk, with tight expressions on pale faces, having overslept and missed the 9 a.m. catch up with the boss. We've all done it at some time or another and it's an awful feeling. The market for us is a mixture of screenings with distributors and meetings with producers, co-producers, financiers, packagers, video companies, etc. Most of these people are highly professional and have bothered to find out what type of program we show on the BBC, so they don't trouble us with anything unsuitable. In contrast, there are the meetings during which we have to patiently explain that BBC Children's cannot possibly schedule a documentary on transvestites in Outer Mongolia. It's time wasted and is aggravating because it's prevented us from seeing someone else who might have had the animation hit of the century.
There is a huge amount of children's programming at MIP and I would say 90% of it is unsuitable for us for one reason or another. Some of it is out of our age range and we spend a great deal of our time explaining what we do and don't show and what our age limits are. Other programs are so violent they're offensive, and yet more is just plain dross and I wonder how the people raised the money to produce the pilot in the first place. I could put that money to better use!
The first two days of the market your feet don't hit the ground. But by the third day "the mid-market blues" descend and a weariness takes over as you haven't found anything wonderful, or if you have, it's going to cost more money than you can afford from the tiny acquisitions budget the BBC allows. You're tired and guilty because you haven't had the time to see all the people who have left messages at the BBC stand - and you want to go home! However, the fourth day dawns and it's back to the old routine. Life's okay and you've found a treasure which will enlighten and enchant the little horrors of England - and you can afford to buy it!
In the good old days we would leave the Palais at about 6 p.m., race along to a cocktail party, head back to the hotel for the luxury of a bath, go out to dinner and then hit the Martinez Bar until the early hours. This latter activity stopped when producers started pitching new projects at 1 a.m., and the last straw was a pitch for a five minute animated series at 2:30 a.m. inside the ladies loo. Beware, there are a few hours of each day which are mine, even at MIP, and I am inclined to be a little bit touchy at the thought of doing business in the loo! The End is in Sight! And so the last day arrives to see us at the BBC stand packing up all the cassettes, scripts, projects and publicity material that we have accumulated during the week to go back to London on a lorry. Then it's off to see the person who had harassed my assistant for an appointment, only to find he/she has already left and their stand is being torn apart. Alternatively the person is still there but the MIP people have whipped up the carpet and disconnected the televisions, which is highly annoying for everyone. Back to the stand at lunchtime to buy champagne for the gallant people who have manned the BBC stand all week. Spare a thought for them as they have been abused, spoken down to and shouted at all week as they have patiently explained to all and sundry that they do not have the diaries of the BBC buyers; that they will give messages to them; that they are not responsible for the fact that the buyer did not get back with a time and date, etc. It's not an easy job and people should at least try to be polite and not shoot the messenger. At the airport inCannes there are all the usual suspects on their way home with blitzed brains, livers and stomachs. We've caught up with most of our personal and business friends again (if only for five minutes in the middle of a corridor), either found or sold some gem programming, met at least a million new people and all we have to do now is get home, unpack and go into the office to do the follow up. Don't ask me why we go through all this on a twice yearly basis, but we do and it's the survival of the fittest! The reward comes, later - when something you have bought captures the imagination of our viewing audience and is successful. Eureka! Theresa Plummer-Andrews is Head of Acquisitions & Creative Development for the BBC.