The jet set has arrived. The red carpet has been rolled out. The hotels are filled with fans and paparazzi. Film stars in ball gowns and starlets in bikinis are out day and night competing for their moment in the spotlight on the French Riviera.
It can only mean one thing: It's that time of year again -- it's the Cannes Film Festival.
But behind the glitz and glamour, the flashing bulbs, the lavish parties and the superyachts docked in the marina is a serious, hands-on business.
While the stars pose and preen on the steps of the famed Palais des Festivals, the lower ground floor of the building hosts the hustle and bustle of a vibrant film market. It's a Western version of an Asian bazaar, with thousands of stalls selling a very special product: movies.
During the festival, more than 4,000 films are bought and sold with an estimated $1.55 billion changing hands. According to Market Executive Director Jerome Paillard, "For many companies, Cannes may represent 50 percent of their yearly business."
At the market the difference between an arthouse and a mainstream movie doesn't really matter. The stalls offer big-budget films and arty movies and niche titles in genres like martial arts and anime. What matters is that the films sell well.
"The market is something completely different from the festival. Many films presented here are never going to make it at the film festival, but they still may sell very well," Independent Film and Television Alliance Executive Vice President Jonathan Wolf told ABC News .
Movies considered "independent" at the market are not necessarily more arty than the big-budget movies, as some festival-goers might assume; at the market, "independent" means only that the movie is "primarily financed from sources outside the seven U.S. major studios," said Wolf.
Therefore, "Million Dollar Baby," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy are all considered independent, to the surprise of many festival watchers.
And yet despite being in a separate world, the market takes advantage of the festival's fame.
While the Cannes Film Festival lures thousands of people from all over the world with its glitz and glamour, many clients flock to the bustling market.
Exhibitors, distributors and producers said they are attracted by the international atmosphere they find here. Some of them close their deals in Cannes, while others get enough contacts to finalize later on during the year.
Clad in red stilettos with a mouth that owes a certain something to the talents of a plastic surgeon, Kimberly Kates cuts a different figure from all the other producers crowding the market.
Kates hardly hides her past as a Hollywood actress who worked in movies like "Highways," starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Fed up with acting, she turned to production and now heads Big Screen Entertainment Group, a production company that is presenting "Baby Sitter Wanted" -- a cross between a thriller and a horror movie.
To her, the Cannes market is the place to network with a lot of people from all over the world.
"What is great about Cannes is to be able to understand the pulse of what is wanted and needed internationally," she said.
And the market helps clients do that by organizing speed-pitching.
Speed-pitching works like this. Five producers at a table have five minutes to present their projects to the person sitting next to them before they have to move on and start all over again with someone else.
It's quick and apparently effective, as "you can make invaluable contacts," according to Julie Bergeron from Producers Network, the group that organized the meeting.
"It makes a change from cocktail parties. Here, everyone is forced to come straight to the point," Bergeron said.
For one representative of Arrow Entertainment Inc., it is the variety of buyers attending the market that makes it vital.
"We are trying to distribute "Saving God," a film with a Christian theme that will open in the states in more than 3,500 churches in October 2008," said Maria Ware from Arrow Entertainment.
This is why she believes a Christian buyer, maybe a Latin American or an Italian buyer, is desperately needed, and she hopes that at Cannes -- with its mix of international attendees -- she might secure the right deal.
But the market is not the only place to make deals at Cannes. Many of the big distributors and major studios rent rooms and suites in luxury hotels on La Croisette to make their deals, and journalists are not invited to the party.