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Jeffrey Travis on Shopping his Economic Thriller at Cannes

L.A.-based independent filmmaker Jeffrey Travis (Flatlands) brought his latest short, Pollution, to the Short Film Corner at Cannes, and he’s using the trip to also look for a foreign sales agent for his new independent feature, Dragon Day. Below he talks about stalking the aisles of the Cannes Film Market, and why he hopes international buyers will warm to a dystopian near-future drama that imagines a U.S. destroyed by a cyber attack from China.

Filmmaker: So how has the Cannes Film Market been for you?

Jeff Travis: It’s been interesting. Before I knew very little about the whole world of sales agents, what they did. I think coming to Cannes is a little overwhelming — you see the sheer amount of films and business that goes on. The scales fall off your eyes, and it can be a little disconcerting for a director — maybe less so for a producer. But you feel like you “get it.” Cannes changes you. There’s no going back.

Filmmaker: What stage is the film in, and what’s your specific objective here in Cannes?

Travis: The film is still in post, we haven’t screened it entirely for anyone yet. We’re trying to get a sense for, once the film is done, what’s the best path to distribution. With my film Flatlands we did a hybrid model of self-distribution that did very well financially for my producers and I. That’s one option for Dragon Day, but it is its own film. We’re trying to listen to sales agents, asking them what potential they think a film like this has in the foreign market. They’re saying, “You don’t have any big names in it,” but the timeliness of the topic, and that it’s more of a genre film, [makes] them feel like it could do fairly well.

Filmmaker: How did you pick the ones to talk to?

Travis: I had a couple I was talking to before I arrived, and one that even gave us a contract and offer. But we didn’t finish negotiating it, so we said, “Let’s just go to Cannes and keep talking.” And, we’d also see who else is here. For the others I just asked for referrals from filmmakers I knew. Most filmmakers I’ve met are really unhappy with their sales agents, so, either there are mismatched expectations, or there are a lot of crappy sales agents out there. And also, I literally grabbed that market guidebook and made notes, going through the alphabet, walking to their booths and saying, “Hey, my name is Jeffrey Travis, I’m a filmmaker, and I have a feature in post, I have a two-minute trailer and would you like to see it.” About half the time they’d say “yes,” and out of that, some would say, “This probably isn’t for us,” but a couple have been really positive. I think a lot of it is just developing a relationship.

Filmmaker: How much of the new movie is based on economic fact and how much on fantasy?

Travis: Sadly, a lot of is based on economic fact. I wrote the film based on some of my own anxieties and fears about the sustainability of our economic system. I grew up in Argentina where we had a giant economic collapse in the ‘80s with rampant hyperinflation that was caused by the government printing money. Although this is a more dramatic scenario than what happened there, it’s still kind of scary. Also, as my background is as an electrical engineer, I know how vulnerable our computer systems are to being hacked. This is a topic nobody has really explored yet in depth. There are movies that came out in the ‘90s like The Net, or Enemy of the State, but there seems to be nothing contemporary that’s really grounded in reality that [dramatizes how] someone halfway across the world could destroy most of our infrastructure with the right tools.

Filmmaker: So, it’s like a cyber Red Dawn?

Travis: Exactly – a cyber Red Dawn, a cyber Pearl Harbor.

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