Ottawa Life at TIFF: Behind the Red Carpet

As part of my media accreditation at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) every morning at 10 am I get an email. It is a red carpet RSVP call.  It informs the press of all red carpet screenings for the day and who from the film will be present. It's quite exciting to be honest. I receive the email, look it over and make my requests. Once confirmed I need to get to the theatre half an hour before the stars are due to arrive.

I wanted to give you an example of one evening covering two red carpet events.

The first was for the movie Hostiles, a new film starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. When you arrive at the red carpet, you are given a number and for this film, my number was 22. Each red carpet screening has about 20-30 spots for media. This one had 26.  The one to five spots are usually Entertainment Tonight, and those types of outlets. The other spots are made up of international media and print and web like Ottawa Life Magazine. You usually see crews of multiple people (host, writer, cameraman).  but by the time you get to the cool guy from Ottawa Life it’s just me and my phone. Very simple.

It’s funny though, as you take a look down the line of media you see people checking their equipment, checking their teeth and hair and sometimes just reviewing notes. For myself, I was just patiently waiting. I don’t tend to ‘freak out’ when I am around celebrities and as a result my resting heartbeat remained intact.

As this was all new to me it didn't take me long to figure out how it works. Your top stars, in the case of this film, Bale and Pike, speak to media in spots 1-5 and then their publicist ushers them towards the theatre. The supporting cast and writer/director will speak to all of us. There are exceptions. Jennifer Lawrence spoke to everyone at the premiere of Mother!

While I didn't get the chance to speak with Batman or Rosamund Pike I did get the chance to speak with Wes Studi, a supporting actor in the film. Not necessarily a household name but he was in my favourite movie of all time; Heat, so that was a thrill for me.

Another observation is that people covering these red carpet events don't always know who they are covering. It was very common to hear people from the media say ‘who is he/she?’ or ‘what have they been in?’  I supplied the answers but I couldn't help but think ‘Didn't you prepare?

Later that same night there was a premiere for the new film The Disaster Artist. This is a behind the scenes look at the film ‘The Room’ (a monthly fixture at the Mayfair Theatre)

The list of anticipated talent from the film included director James Franco as well as his brother Dave and Allison Brie.

At this particular theatre the way it was laid out was autograph/picture seeking fans were on one side and press was on the other. Dave Franco arrived and took some pictures with eagerly waiting fans but I don't recall him doing any press. His wife, Allison Brie, did a little press, took some fan pics and went in the theatre.

James Franco went through the whole line. As the director this wasn't a surprise and being familiar with his work I had several questions I could have asked. Now the person beside me was an interesting character. The supporting cast and writers came by and he just kept asking the same thing; ‘I am part of a new Film Festival and we would love to get you to come and be on our panel. Can you come?’

Since he had a cameraman with him the interviewees usually answered ‘If I can sure, give your info to my publicist’.

He didn’t ask about them or anything about ‘The Disaster Artist’, you know, the film they were there to promote. What made this more entertaining is between people coming up to him he would take out his phone and take what seemed like an eternity of selfies. ‘I’m on the RED CAPRET YO!’ He screamed into his phone.

Yup, this would be a tough act to follow.

This became even more entertaining as James Franco made his way to us. His publicist was visibly concerned with timing and confirmed with us that we had our questions ready. He went to the person beside me. I braced myself for what was about to come next…’I am part of a new Film Festival and we would love to get you to come and be on our panel. Can you come?’ The publicist was fuming ‘Do you have a question about the movie?’ She asked with a harsh tone?

‘I dont really know anything about it but I think you're cool man.’

James Franco then stepped up to me. I’m no red carpet expert but I knew how to handle the situation.

Me: ‘Hi James, Keith Whittier and I am with Ottawa Life Magazine.’ (We shake hands) ‘First of all let me say that I loved your performance in ‘127 Hours’ you totally deserved the Oscar.

James: Thanks so much man. We brought that film to the festival also.

Me: In Ottawa there is a theatre called the Mayfair where they show The Room every month so I appreciate the huge following. What got you interested in being involved with this project?

James: I read the book and I loved it. I had never seen The Room and I was just taken with the story. It was a story of guys with a dream who had been rejected their whole lives who got this film made and in some sort of weird circumstances made it this cult hit. I was drawn to the heart behind it and I had to do it.

Me: Thanks for your time.

We shook hands again and he went to the next media for their question. I knew all I had was a moment but I was able to display that I knew his work and ask a legit question.

The red carpet can be many things to many people. It can be frustrating if you are hoping to speak to that actor or actress and they don’t come to your ‘number’. It can be rewarding, as many people would say ‘I am so excited, we actually got….’ Fill in the name here.

For myself it was a learning experience. A lot of this years festival has been a learning experience but if my behavior on the red carpet with James Franco is any example, I learn quick.