How Do You Sell a Movie That Hasn't Been Made Yet?

At Cannes, a glimpse into the weird world of ads for films that don't have distributors—films like Rent-a-Cat, Lesbian Vampire Warriors, Hitler Goes Kaput!, and Zombieass

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A general view of the venue at the 65th international film festival. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Monday night at the Cannes Film Festival drew throngs of journalists to the big soiree for Critics' Week, a sidebar category of works selected by a committee of French film critics. The invite-only affair was held in a spacious tent on the beach, with dressed-down critics, more sharply outfitted film people, and trophy dates of both genders downing cocktails at a vodka bar, dipping fruit in a chocolate fountain, and crowding the dance floor (pictured below) to groove (somewhat awkwardly) to mainstream hits spun by the DJ.

The party provided the opportunity to chat with a few people outside the bubble of journalists and publicists I've been living in over the past week. A few friendly revelers I met were distributors, those mysterious, business-card-wielding professionals who spend their days in a parallel Cannes universe known as "the market," where independent filmmakers negotiate the deals that will actually get their movies shown.

One of the more amusing and surreal things about the market is the presence of big, flashy movie posters displaying catchy titles and sensationalistic images in order to lure potential clients milling about. Some of the films being advertised are completed, while others are still in pre-production (meaning the actors have been cast but shooting hasn't begun yet).

As I strolled around the "market" with my French counterpart Guillaume Guguen, we noticed some intriguing-looking films being shopped around—though we were struck by how odd it seems to promote a movie that hasn't even been made yet. A few examples:

Who said Cannes was only for film snobs?

A version of this post also appears on France 24, an Atlantic partner site.

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Jon Frosch is a film critic for FRANCE 24 based in Paris. His work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Village Voice, The Hollywood Reporter, and others.

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