Reel Life at Cannes

A 19-hour day and lots of practical savvy helped build my business at the fabled film festival. My B-school education didn't hurt, either

After earning an MBA at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, I decided to pursue an entrepreneurial path. With three partners, I formed filmBUZZ -- the first market-research firm to focus exclusively on independently produced motion pictures.

Before entering business school, I was a research analyst for Viacom (VIA ). While working on a project for The Sundance Channel, I realized that very little information had ever been collected on the independent-film space, even though two TV channels had been launched around the genre. Plus, independently produced films such as Pulp Fiction, The Blair Witch Project, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had generated major profits for their respective distributors.


  At Anderson, I became inspired by the culture at the Harold Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, which is designed to prepare MBA students for the challenge of management in entrepreneurial environments. Shortly after graduation, I jumped at the opportunity to put what I had learned to practical use.

My partners and I spent the first year gaining practical experience in the independent-film sector and slowly building a brand. We formed strategic alliances with nine film festivals nationwide and polled audiences on hundreds of narrative and documentary feature films. Our work was quickly recognized by the press, and as a result of our efforts, I was asked to appear on CNN and Bloomberg as a media analyst.

As with most startups, the process of building a business has been anything but easy. At our first festival, a shipping glitch caused my partners and me to scramble around St. Louis for 10,000 pencils the day of the event.

In my two years leading the company, no two days have been alike. My position requires me to switch gears constantly. I'm responsible for setting filmBUZZ's financial strategy, ensuring that our research is accurate and timely, developing marketing plans, creating strategic partners, and motivating employees. More often than not, I operate in a "virtual office" at film festivals worldwide.

Here's a snapshot of my experiences at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, the film community's biggest international event:

7:00 a.m. I wake in my apartment in Cannes and grab the five trade magazines that I've gathered from the previous day. I read about the latest deals that were struck and the top "buzz" films to see that day. I jot down Fahrenheit 9/11, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Mondovino, and Bad Education as movies to check out.

7:30 a.m. After showering, I gather my staff for a quick meeting. The next time I'll see them all is at the evening cocktail party, so I need to lay out our strategy for the day.

8:00 a.m. Grabbing a cup of coffee on my way out the door, I read over my notes to prepare for my upcoming media interviews.

8:30 a.m. Someone from the Hollywood Reporter interviews me. Questions range from how I started filmBUZZ to trends that I'm identifying at the festival. Given that we have little money for marketing, I rely heavily on publicity to generate clients and build the firm's brand identity.

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Gregory Kahn can be contacted at

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