Fancy fetes require Concordes and cash

Elaborate bashes mix star-gazing, fund-raising, and business

HOLLYWOOD – Throwing a party has always been a great way to show your wares in Cannes. This year, however, with increased number of films in the fest and at the market — and more people in general thanks to the dot-com onslaught — having a flashy and well-orchestrated bash is more important than ever when attempting to stand out above the Croisette crunch.

“There are 4,000 media types around, so Cannes is a great place to promote your product, but there’s so much competition,” says Denmead marketing honcho Nikki Parker. “The thing is to try and make something a little different.”

AmFAR’s annual Cinema Against AIDS benefit has always drawn attention because of its A-list quotient. This year’s blowout will be held at Palm Beach and feature dinner by chef Roger Verge, a Victoria’s Secret runway show/Webcast as well as a cocktail party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John.

Such lavishness doesn’t come cheaply. Even after filling 650 seats at 65 tables for $25,000-$100,000 per, organizer Dennis Davidson of Dennis Davidson and Associates says they’ve been chasing sponsors since late last year to boost the charity donation level.

“Miramax has been the principal sponsor for a number of years,” Davidson says. “This year, Harvey (Weinstein) persuaded Victoria’s Secret to come on board as co-sponsor. We also have sponsorships from Air France and Mondera, the jewelry maker.”

Although rumor has the cost of the party in the millions, Davidson says they’ve already raised a record amount for a single-day AmFAR event. “I couldn’t begin to tell you (how much sponsorships bring in). It’s very difficult to tell because people are giving you things that can’t be priced.”

Those gifts include donations from models Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Stephanie Seymour, Daniela Pestova and Karen Mulder of the fees they’d normally receive for catwalking. Fashion industry estimates put those numbers as high as $25,000-50,000 apiece. Air France has also committed to flying the models, stars and other VIPs from New York to Nice via Concorde shortly before the show — no small boon to beleaguered organizers dealing with celeb-sized egos.

Even more important is figuring out whose ego deserves stroking and whose doesn’t.

“The biggest trick is keeping the integrity of the door: You’ll have some big name or exec who’s given their ticket to their assistant or whoever and that’s not the person you want taking up space. Or people say they’ve lost their ticket or left it at the hotel and you get this huge bottleneck at the door,” says Davidson, who diplomatically keeps a snag desk just away from the entrance.

Zen seekers

Although not as complex as the AmFAR blowout, Zentropa’s Cannes plans present similar dilemmas.

The Danish production company will throw a shindig at a villa in the hills for Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” for 800-1,000 people. Although Zentropa’s Cannes coordinator Tine Pfeiffer won’t be specific about costs, Parker says villa parties can cost between $20,000-$40,000.”It’s not really high concept or anything,” Pfeiffer says. “It’s mostly to give the people who’ve financed the films a chance to meet and mingle.”

Even so, security can still be a headache. “Two years ago for (von Trier’s) ‘The Idiots,’ the problem was that there were really big wooden gates and they were either open or closed. So when we opened them to let one person in, people rushed it,” Pfeiffer says.

She notes that things could have gotten even worse with “The Idiots” had the encroaching mob hopped the walls. “Luckily, the only fence they could climb was right up against a cliff and no one tried it,” Pfeiffer says.

This year, besides having good gates, the villa Zentropa has engaged is providing shuttles, which means crashers would have to find the in-town pickup point even before storming the parapets.

To VIP or not to VIP

One thing the party won’t have is a VIP area. “VIP rooms are usually very boring,” says Pfeiffer, who fondly remembers Channel 4’s all-inclusive “Trainspotting” bash at Palm Beach in 1996. “They flew in Damon (Albarn) from Blur and Ewan (McGregor) and all the British talent for that party and had no VIP room. Somehow it’s more fun when all the celebs are around you.”

Celebrity accessibility can make or break the vibe and success of a Cannes party, agrees Davidson, pointing to a successful 1991 bash for “Truth or Dare.” “There was no VIP room, just a couple security guys in case some nut came up and tried to bother her,” he says. “She got on the dance floor with everyone else.”

On other side of the VIP debate is Denmead’s Parker. “It’s difficult,” she says. “It depends on the client, but with all the media there, if you have any kind of talent, they have to have some place where they can go with a couple friends and not be hassled.”

For the Cannes Market bash that Denmead is organizing on the first Thursday of the festival, Parker will address the VIP dilemma by staggering arrivals. “From 8 p.m.-11 p.m., we’ll have about 600 guests and VIPs — like celebs and heads of the city — then it’s opened up to 1,500-1,600 altogether, including middle managers and the like.”

Play Money

While not hampered by the near 11th-hour Cannes line-up announcement that haunts film launch party planning, the Market fete had other challenges. “Cannes Market tends to rely on sponsors a little more because it doesn’t have a big studio behind it,” notes Parker, who started lining up backers, such as Jaguar, as soon as last year’s bash was over.

But while uber-glam events such as AmFAR sit at the top of the budget spectrum, the market-related bashes are a bit easier on the pocketbook. “Generally you pay just for drinks and food and normally you don’t have a rent charge (for beaches or hotel banquet rooms),” Parker says.

Prices for parties vary, she says, with basic costs for “a nice cocktail for two hundred” with canapes commanding in the region of about $35,000-$45,000 — or $175-$225 per person. That includes two-three 2-3 hours of full open bar, photographers and security. At the upper end is something like the party Denmead orchestrated for Rysher’s “Private Parts” in 1997, which ran $200,000 for a sixties-themed night of music, fireworks and go-go dancers at the Majestic.

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