Cannes do 

January now seems so very long ago.

That's when The Blair Witch Project, at Sundance. The buzz that followed was huge. The festival had to add extra screenings to meet demand. A distributor, Artisan, picked up the film for national release, now set for July 16.

Roger Ebert has since written that "Blair Witch" "is already the third most-buzzed about film of the summer, after "The Phantom Menace" and "Eyes Wide Shut," and may move into second place by mid-June." A unique horror documentary, "Blair Witch" pulls off its inspired conceit by pretending to show the "discovered" footage left by filmmakers who vanished in the woods while pursuing a documentary about a legendary witch.

Picked to open the Florida Film Festival at Enzian Theater on June 11 (also midnight June 18, with a morning seminar) the film has christened the UCF grads as independent filmmakers to watch. But overnight celebrity comes along just once. And as that fame kicked in -- with the filmmakers whisked last month to Cannes to screen "Blair Witch" in the Directors' Fortnight of the most famous film fest of all -- they logged their days in a diary for Orlando Weekly.

"‘Surreal' is an overused word. We discovered this in France," write co-producer Mike Monello and writer-director Eduardo Sanchez. "We also discovered the true meaning of ‘luck' and a few new examples of ‘awe.' For five goofballs from Orlando schlepping a Hi8 horror film, Cannes was a truly educational experience. Here's our lesson plan."

Cast of characters: Haxan Films

Dan Myrick, writer-director
Eduardo Sanchez, writer-director
Robin (Rob) Cowie, producer
Gregg Hale, producer
Mike Monello, co-producer

Sunday, May 16

Sanchez: We arrive at the airport a few hours early because of the whole international-flight thing and find out that the plane is to be delayed a few hours. No problem. We all head over to the arcade and play games. I lose a few times in some batting-cage game, and then Cowie wipes the floors with me in foosball. Not a good way to start a trip.

Monday, May 17

Sanchez: A long and grueling flight in coach, but then we're in France and the torture is forgotten all of a sudden. We are zoomed out of Nice to Cannes in a truly swank Mercedes with a crazy-ass driver. I would soon realize that everyone drives that way in France.

I enjoy a nice day in Cannes, innocent to the fact that this will be one of the last times I will have free time this week.

That night we go to the party for "Felicia's Journey," a film by Atom Egoyan, and drink and stuff and have fun with the guys from Artisan. Our first big party on the beach with all the men in tuxes and beautiful women in exquisite dresses and me in my Old Navy cargo pants. I see Ron Howard walking around eating and don't bother him. Let the man eat, you know?

Monello: Our plane arrives in Nice around 10:30 a.m. Waiting for the luggage, we meet James Meigs, editor-in-chief of Premiere magazine. He saw our film at Sundance and has been a great supporter. He asks for a ride to Cannes, and we happily oblige. After going through customs, we are greeted by Jeremy Walker, our publicist on the film since before Sundance. Ed and Dan go into one car; Rob, Gregg, James and I hop into the other.

We make the half-hour drive into Cannes while James gives us the lowdown on how to attend the festival. He tells us to get to the parties early and just go with the flow and have a good time. He warns us that the French are notoriously strict about not letting people in after the doors close, which is a good thing, in my opinion.

Rob, Gregg, Kevin "Foxy Fox" Foxe (our executive producer), his wife and I all get to share a one-bedroom/one-bathroom hotel room with a loft. Ed and Dan -- the writer/directors -- share a two-bedroom apartment with a wrap-around balcony, a living room that's larger that our hotel room, TWO bathrooms (each equipped with a bidet) and lots of fancy schmancy furniture. Damn Andrew Sarris and his "auteur theory" of filmmaking.

Our room is an interesting little affair. There's a small hallway with a set of bunk beds on the side. The shower and sink are in one room, the toilet in another about half the size of a port-a-let and twice the size of the elevator in the hotel. The hallway leads out to the kitchen and another single bed. Some stairs lead to a loft with two more single beds. From the balcony, I can see a small patch of the Mediterranean between the two hotels in front. Tiny, but it sure beats Sundance, where we had four people in a room with two single beds.

Jeremy picks us up from the hotel about an hour later to search for chow. We head straight for the "Croissette." This is the strip right in front of the beach that leads all the way to the famous red carpet, where the stars walk into the "Palais" and the fashion police inspect your clothes before they let you in to see the movie. One of the first things I see is a large billboard for Disney's "Tarzan." There really is no escaping the shadow of the Mouse.

We get our official badges for Directors' Fortnight, which gets us into pretty much nothing. It's all good, though -- the beautiful Mediterranean climate doesn't really inspire me to sit in a dark theater all day watching movies. We meet the Artisan gang as well as some folks from Summit Entertainment, which is handling foreign sales for "Blair," and our international publicist. There's a whole team of people working on the film's behalf at the festival, and this is a strange feeling. Thankfully, someone hooks us up with tickets to one of tonight's parties.

Most of the parties at Cannes take place on the beach, and this one is no exception. Mel Gibson shows up, surrounded by a team of bodyguards who quickly pounce on anyone attempting to great the mighty Mel. I wonder why he would show up at a party if he didn't want to meet anyone, and all of a sudden about 100 paparazzi flash off a gazillion photos and it hits me: His publicist sent him.

Most of the parties at Cannes take place on the beach, and this one is no exception. Mel Gibson shows up, surrounded by a team of bodyguards who quickly pounce on anyone attempting to great the mighty Mel. I wonder why he would show up at a party if he didn't want to meet anyone, and all of a sudden about 100 paparazzi flash off a gazillion photos and it hits me: His publicist sent him.

Tuesday, May 18

Tuesday, May 18

Sanchez: Dan and I do interviews all morning, including one with Roger Ebert, who turns out to be the coolest of guys. He's just this regular guy who happens to be the most recognized film critic in the world. He's snapping off pictures of all the celebrities we pass with his camera, and his eyes get all star-struck and everything.

A quick lunch and then more interviews until 4 p.m., when Dan and I take part in the "American Directors at Cannes" panel discussion moderated by the same Mr. Ebert. Clearly the highlight of Cannes for me, we meet Spike Lee, Ron Howard and John Sayles. They were pretty cool but they all seemed to be suffering from the same media overload that Dan and I were. Then we head up to the table to sit with them and talk about our films and everything, and we crack a few good jokes, and I'm very nervous so I drink too much water and have to excuse myself right in the middle of it so that I can go pee.

Didn't really talk to the others too much, except Ron Howard said he was really excited about seeing our movie and that he was happy for us coming out of nowhere and making this film the way we did. Spike made a quick exit after the event, but Roger, Ron and John stuck around, and we even got them to sign our Cannes poster.

The panel was a great moment for all the Haxan guys. Gregg's eyes were all watering when we first got up there, and I felt for him and wanted to go down into the audience and pat him on the head and say, "It's all right, Greggy. I'm about to shit my pants up here, so I'll check in on you after the show." This was it, though, a clear indication that we had arrived to a new part of town in the film industry. Don't know which part or even which town, but I think you know what I'm saying.

We relax that night. A relaxing night in the south of France in May. Filmmaking is a tough occupation.

Monello: I'm somewhat disappointed about the lack of general idiocy surrounding the festival. Listening to people talk, however, I really get a sense that the people attending the festival love movies. Hell, most of them have made movies their life's work. E! Entertainment Television always makes the festival look like Mardi Gras, but don't believe the hype. The city of Cannes, on the other hand, is a lot like International Drive: expensive souvenirs, tons of restaurants and a bevy of jet-lagged tourists who are too busy looking up to notice that oncoming car (or in this case, Vespa scooter).

Ed and Dan hold up well alongside Spike Lee, John Sayles and Ron Howard at the "American Directors" panel, managing to crack the best jokes and at the same time answer a few questions. I knew they were good when I saw John Sayles crack a smile. Roger Ebert ends the conference by saying he "loved 'Blair Witch.'" He's the one, baby.

Later on we have a nice meal and decide to skip the parties. Walking over to the theater for our tech rehearsal, we see hundreds of "missing persons" posters everywhere featuring the faces of our three actors. Jeremy Walker has had them plastered all over town.

The projectionist throws the first reel of the film on and we adjust the brightness, volume, etc. This is the first time I see our film with French subtitles. I was disappointed to see that they didn't translate all the "fucks." They told us that the dialogue is pretty rapid in the movie so they dropped all but the "essential" expletives to make the subtitling easier. Fuck.

Tomorrow's the big day.

Tomorrow's the big day.

Wednesday, May 19

Wednesday, May 19

Sanchez: The day of the "Blair" premiere at Cannes. At Cannes! Do you understand this? Five morons from O-town in the south of France in May premiering their Hi8 film at the biggest film festival in the world. Absurdity doesn't have enough synonyms to adequately describe this.

Dan and I do interviews and photo shoots the whole morning. It's amazing how many times you can answer the same questions over and over again and keep your sanity. At this point, Dan and I are reaching our limit. We're not looking too good.

Monello: The big day. Geesh, I really can't believe that our little movie is going to have a screening in the Directors' Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival. The same section that launched both Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch. The same festival that made both "Easy Rider" and "Pulp Fiction" household names.

Walking along the Croissette, we notice that all of the "missing persons" posters are gone. Jeremy tells us the French like to keep things clean and the posters were down by 8 a.m. this morning, but they were still up when everyone stumbled out of last night's parties, so it was worth the work.

At 2:30 p.m. there is a press screening, which we do not attend. At 4:30, Ed, Dan, Gregg, Rob, Kevin "Foxy Fox" Foxe and myself field questions from the press at the Directors' Fortnight tent. The international press really seem to dig the film. At one point, a woman accuses us of lying to people about whether the film is a true story or not. She seems particularly upset about the opening title card. Gregg looks at her and says, "‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away' -- it's the same thing." She doesn't seem to understand, and later I realize that Gregg opened a sore wound for the French: "The Phantom Menace" doesn't open there until October.

We head back to the hotel to get ready for the premiere. The gang at Artisan is taking us out to a swank joint for dinner first. It was a fancy seafood affair. First time I've had lobster in years. I'll have to make a note to eat more lobster in the future. And while I'm at it, I'll have another glass of that wine, please.

Dan and Ed take the stage to intro the film. Some guy translates their opening comments into French, so when Ed tells everyone to stick around after the movie for a little song-and-dance routine, half the audience laughs. The translator does his thing, and then the other half of the audience chuckles. The translator looks hurt because Ed got a bigger laugh with the same joke.

We leave the theater and have a few drinks, only to return for the last scene. The audience is dead still -- we got 'em! When the credits roll the audience applauds. Holy crap, it plays in France!

We leave the theater and head over to the party that Artisan is throwing for the film. There's already a crowd of people trying to get in! Artisan has turned the beach into a forest, complete with props from the film. A DJ is spinning tunes and mixing in dialogue from the film. I look at the other guys and we are all simply stunned. They hinted that the party would be "art-directed," but I didn't realize to what extent.

This is surreal beyond my imagination. Lots of indie-film people show up, and a few celebrities, too. The whole night, people kept telling me things like "Spike Lee is here!" and "Kevin Smith is over there!" One woman pointed over my shoulder and squeeled in heavily accented English, "John Leguizamo is standing over there!" I quickly turned around but was disappointed to see he didn't have his "To Wong Foo" outfit on.

Jeremy makes Dan and Ed leave sometime around 3 a.m., and I feel bad they can't stay and make the night last longer. In the end, though, it doesn't matter because the DJ stops spinning tunes an hour later and everyone is forced to leave.

What a night.

What a night.

Sanchez: An incredible party for us all, and a really unexpected moment for me. Maybe for the other guys, too. Just this overwhelming realization of what was going on here, for God's sake! A connection with the other guys in a series of "I love you" hugs and just a sense of holding onto this moment because it was special. Then executive producer Kevin "Foxy Fox" Foxe dropped his pants and flashed us his little elephant trunk and ruined the whole moment for us all.

Thursday, May 20

Sanchez: The mother of all press days. They schedule interviews starting at 9 a.m. the morning after our premiere party.

We sit down and do 10-minute TV interviews from 9 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Dan and I both wear our seemingly pretentious sunglasses, but they're actually there to hide the dark circles around our eyes. We've gotten five hours (tops) of sleep a night, and the jet lag is still kicking our asses.

Lunch with press. Eating and being interviewed and doing photo shoots at the same time. A hell of a challenge. More interviews after that until 6 p.m., and then we go eat a 12 or so course meal with the Artisan people. Then the freakshow of freakshows begins.

The top Artisan dogs take Dan and I to this place called the Hotel du Cap or something, which is the most exclusive joint in that part of France. Thousand-dollar-a-night rooms and huge gardens and huge entertainment people and huge egos. It was like another world. Owners of professional sports teams hanging with Schwarzenegger's agent hanging with Tom Jones hanging with Harvey Weinstein (of Miramax Films) and Elle Macpherson. Strange night. I ended up hanging with a really beautiful woman who talked a lot about herself, and I met Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith, so it was a cool time, but nothing I would want to do on a regular basis.

Monello: Rob, Gregg and I hit the city to explore. We stumble across one of the theaters holding "Cannes Market Screenings." There's a huge rally of scantily clad women and guys dressed in costumes. It's the gang from Troma Films, the fine folks who gave the world "The Toxic Avenger," promoting their latest flick, "Terror Firmer." The guy handing out flyers is screaming to everyone in earshot that it's "scarier than 'Blair Witch'!" When I ask him if it really is he says, "Not really, but it's got a lot more naked women!" We decide to check it out. I went to the largest, most prestigious film festival in the world and the only movie I saw was the latest "Troma" movie.

Friday, May 21

Sanchez: A few more interviews in the morning, and then I go on a shopping spree to try to find gifts for all my family in like an hour. Found some good stuff, though. Got some expensive perfume for my mom and a talc for my grandma. She's big into talc, you know?

Walking around this afternoon was truly a treat. Cannes is a beautiful place, and the weather was glorious. Things were good. Then it was off to the condo to pack.

And that's the deal at Cannes. I saw no films, but I had a blast between the work. I look forward to going there in the future maybe and just hanging and seeing films and once again being in the south of France in May.

Monello: Gregg and Ed leave for L.A. today to do the Fangoria Convention. The rest of us head out to hang out. We decide to venture away from the touristy Croissette and see the real Cannes. We stumble into a toy store, and I find what may very well be the score of the year -- an original Mr. T A-Team action figure in French packaging still in the box!

Saturday, May 22

Monello: Jeremy calls us up. We've won an award! The Prix de Jeunesse, or "youth prize." It is voted on by a jury of seven European kids between the ages of 18 and 25 and is the only prize we are eligible for. We are ecstatic! We head over to the theater where Dan graciously accepts the award. Unbelievable. We go out to dinner and head over to Le Petit Carlton for celebratory drinks. The bartender gives us a round on the house.

Sunday, May 23/Monday, May 24

Monello: Jeremy Barber, the Artisan exec who bought our film at Sundance, takes us to the exclusive du Cap for lunch. Yet another amazing meal. We walk the grounds of this cash-only, $1,000-a-night hotel where Hitler stayed for two years during the war. It's so far removed from anything I know, I have a hard time comprehending it all. Celine, our favorite international publicist, gets us tickets to the exclusive Premiere magazine after-awards party. We dance and drink until 6 a.m. The car is supposed to pick us up to go to the airport at 10 a.m., so I decide to stay up. Rob and Dan crash and I go for one last walk up the Croissette. The streets are quiet and the stores are closed, and on every block there's a guy in an orange jumpsuit sweeping the debris. The sky is a beautiful bright-red as the sun rises. I walk to the beach and touch the cool Mediterranean water. Perfect.


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