Screening

It’s ten o’clock in the morning, on a rain-washed street in London’s Soho district. The clubs are dark and closed. The Thai Cottage restaurant won’t open until lunchtime. The coffee shop on the corner sells early morning caffeine shots. Yes, for the London media set, this is early morning. This isn’t the up-with-the-lark early birdism of sunny California. In media London, nobody’s at their desks before ten. They’re all out late at night partying, sorry, having meetings in popular local venues. And then the next day they sidle into the office after the rush hour is over.

I am the only one standing outside the screening rooms. This isn’t your afternoon or evening Event, with nibbles and wine and smiling marketing girls. An earnest, dapper Japanese man, still on Tokyo time, hands me a single glossy card about Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: The Movie. He has a stack of twenty. The cinema seats maybe fifty, in plush super-luxury.

Another five people arrive. They are young and bored. None of them really wants to be here. They are the newest workers in their respective offices, dumped with the worst of the pre-MIP tasks – watching a Japanese cartoon at ten in the morning.

All the real action will happen in France, at the Cannes MIPCOM fair. That’s where the buyers from the distributors are being wined and dined by the distributors. That’s where the goodie bags and perks are. That’s where people are splashing out on lunch. That’s where, in a week’s time, the higher-ups will be living it up. But before the movie world converges on France, there’s the pre-MIP screenings.

Nobody has time to watch movies in Cannes! They’re too busy being “entertained”. So the week before, they send out the expendable soldiers to catch film after film at special screenings, so they can turn up in France knowing what they want. Or rather, what they don’t want.

If a film is really huge, if it really has buzz and momentum and Tom Cruise, then you don’t need to revise for it on a wet April morning. These screenings are for the wallflowers – the ones that didn’t get invited to the ball. And yes, that usually means the Japanese cartoons.

Pro audiences are the worst in the world. Within 20 minutes, I am alone in the cinema. The others waited just long enough to make sure this wasn’t another Paprika, another Akira, another Howl. As soon as they confirm it isn’t, there’s no need for them to stay. They don’t want it. They walk straight out without a backward glance. They will write a single line email to their boss, and that’s another meeting he won’t be taking in France.

I stay to the end. I’m only here because I was genuinely interested in seeing the film. The Japanese exhibitor grabs me outside.

“You’re Jonathan Clements,” he says.

I ask him how he knows.

“You stayed to the end,” he says with a sad smile. “And you laughed at the Kurosawa joke.”

He stacks his remaining cards and looks at his watch. He knows who I am. Which means he knows I don’t actually have anyone to report to. Nobody’s buying Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, not today.

(This article first appeared in Newtype USA, November 2007 and was reprinted in the collection Schoolgirl Milky Crisis).

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