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Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham and Andrew Matlock attending a yacht event.
Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham and Andrew Matlock attending a yacht event.

A CANADIAN ABROAD

For a startup, Cannes is worth the price of admission Add to ...

The first thing you’ll notice at the Cannes Film Festival is how beautiful everyone is. You’re constantly surrounded by grade-A genes ideal for stocking a colony ship should the apocalypse strike. And then there’s the fashion. Filmmakers in the South of France have distinctive style: dress shoes with no socks, pastel pants, cream jackets, sleeveless blouses, Wayfarer glasses as far as the eye can see. It’s as if the entire Hollywood system stepped off of the set of The Talented Mr. Ripley. A far cry from our entrepreneurial roots in jeans-happy Kitchener, Ont.

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I run several media and tech ventures organized under Industry Corporation, an umbrella company with a council of stakeholders in tech, finance and media. Our leadership includes Hammad Zaidi, a senior partner at the Los Angeles office who’s a film fest veteran by way of his ancillary film distribution business.

Two years ago, I went along with Hammad to MIPCOM, another Cannes event that skews toward TV, digital, and consumer products. It was there that Industry – a fledgling company at the time – established beachhead relationships with major Hollywood studios to engage in greater game development. This good fortune propelled us into the mainstream, and snowballed our operations into other media verticals and tech subsidiaries. We couldn’t believe our luck: How rare is it to go to a trade show and come out of it with the foundation and tools to begin a real entertainment empire?

Not that rare at Cannes, apparently. After attending this year’s festival, it became more apparent that people go to Cannes to get business done. The onslaught of A-list celebrities on the red carpet parallels a distribution market called ‘the marché,’ where thousands of producers, distributors, indies, and students collide in chance encounters that fuel the film industry. The marché isn’t just networking and card swapping; it’s buying and selling. Deal-making in booths, on patios and across beaches. The momentum is palpable and noteworthy for those here in Canada wishing to engage with a critical mass.

Cannes is fun, but it’s also serious business for a handful of reasons: first, it’s expensive to attend. I didn’t exactly arrive on a private jet or a super-yacht like some of the oligarchs, but the expenditures add up. Higher prices weed out most of the would-be peddlers wanting to break-in by slapping scripts on windshields or ‘getting discovered’ in cafés. Second, to have any credibility or hold a moment of attention, you have to share valuable accomplishments. Read: you may be creative, but your ideas can pay the bills and then some. The fact is that everyone serious in Cannes has already done well, after putting in their time and taking some risks. So imagine their collective surprise when they find out Industry began just a few years ago. And when they ask “what do you do?” we say: “video games and music operations, software and touchscreen hardware, financial technology and client services, and even a little TV and film on the way.”

And then they say, “my God, how did you sprawl that fast, and why are you at the film festival if your focus isn’t movies?”. We followed a very atypical startup route, and while Industry will focus on movies one day, for now the festival is still a major meeting ground for the greater entertainment business. Having short attention spans and being passionate about lots of things meant that Industry and its many product-based operations were never a good fit for single-focus venture financing. We self-financed, charted a unique course through some trial and error, and never lost sight of our overarching creative objectives: to entertain, educate, and innovate (in a way that does indeed pay the bills.)

Hammad and I attended this year’s Cannes for dozens of meetings across all our verticals. Highlights include the bolstering of our touch-screen subsidiary’s distribution network, and some successful co-investor talks for a new venture yet to be announced. Visiting the shores of Cannes has always given us a great return on investment, in both credibility and cash flow, regardless of how young our companies are.

The most peculiar thing about the event? Movies, rather than being viewed as wonderful, two-hour escapes, become products. You see into the guts of what puts a motion picture together. The surprising thing is that there’s no dilution of the joy; the inner mechanics of a production take on their own magical form – primarily because the people running the show genuinely love the business they’re in. They’re happy and excited to be at the festival, seeing old friends and living an exhaustive party schedule, like a Hollywood-themed spring break that starts at 8 in the morning and doesn’t stop before the next day.

Canada had the most films of any country in competition this year. Kudos to our schools, progressive governments, and agencies that have fuelled our country to match California’s media economy. It’s a big reason why Industry and its subsidiaries are planning on keeping our headquarters in Ontario. Keep an eye on the media industry here; the growth over the next ten years will surprise you. And with any luck, Cannes will only get more Canadian.

Andrew Matlock is the CEO of Industry Corp., a multimedia and technology umbrella for numerous ventures and subsidiaries across the entertainment and innovation spectrums. They have offices in Kitchener, Ontario and Los Angeles, California.

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