Lines of Sight

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Film Festival thoughts

The 34th annual Toronto Film Festival has come to an end.

A few things got better, some things got worse and most stayed the same (i.e. bad). One might think that after 34 years, the event could get it right.

What got better

• The main red carpet area was greatly enhanced:

No more TV crews in the background.

The arrival area was lit with just enough light to shoot late-night arrivals without having a jet-black background. Plus, the light was even daylight balanced. In previous years, night events were very dark, lit only by the existing one or two orange street lights. I suspect the new lighting was meant for the event’s own TV needs and not for photographers.

Look how nice and bright the background is, at about 9:00 pm :

The cool thing was that one light was floating in a large, helium-filled, round “softbox”, high above the arriving celebrities. They also had a few spotlights on a tower which lit the fans in the background. Apparently, the lighting company had only three days notice, and didn’t have enough time to properly assess the location’s needs or to bring in enough big gear. I’ve already suggested that, for next year, the number of lights be at least tripled. [Added 2010: Alas, this nice lighting was a one-time thing.]

• The red carpet tent had a clear roof to let in some light. Not only did it make the tent look bigger and more open, but it also let in some light during afternoon events. Imagine that.

What got worse

• The main red carpet area was greatly enhanced:

Compared to last year, the new TV area was tripled in size and the area for stills was cut in half.

On opening night, there were 20 video cameras, one row deep, in the 10-section-long video pit. There were 42 still photographers, three rows deep, packed into the 2-section-long photo pit.

Do the math: that’s 42 still photographers in the same space as 4 video crews (each crew is two or three people). (The large media tent was assembled in “sections” and that’s how I measured). On another night, when “Oprah-TV” showed up, the photo pit was reduced another 25% to accommodate them.

Thankfully, the weather for the entire 10-day entertainment event was perfect. The video area was fully-covered in case of rain but only half of the stills area was covered.

The entire red carpet area should have been rotated 180º and doubled in width (and of course, the stills area should’ve been more than doubled in length). Apparently, the event was told this five months ago by someone who helps run movie red carpet events around the world, and yet, the Toronto event chose to ignore her advice.

• Press conferences were done with the talent sitting behind a big table with big microphones, glasses of water and big place cards all in the way. Last year, the talent sat in chairs, used wireless mics, and water was placed on small tables slightly behind the chairs.

However the press conference did have nice light: front-lit with four softboxes and a small amount of hairlight.

What stayed the same

• The press conference room was much, much too small. I suspect a number of fire regulations may have been violated with all those people stuffed into that room with only one exit. More space has always been available but the event won’t use it.

• No media work facilities. Yes, there was an Internet lounge for everyone and anyone at the event to use but there was no power (?!) and they blocked FTP access (port 21).

There was an outdoor “media lounge”, (good thing it didn’t rain), which had two electrical outlets and totally useless Internet access. Plus, it was too bright to edit in the direct sunlight.

Remember the old wire service saying, “there’s a deadline every minute.” This is especially true in today’s World Wide Web. News photographers need to transmit images asap. For press conferences that run back-to-back over many hours at a time, photographers need power and Internet access to transmit during the conferences. Having a chair to sit on would be nice, too.

• Big flash brackets. There’s a reason why most photographers don’t use these and that reason is:

Of course, those “Tupperware bowls” that some photographers use to bounce their flash also extend up just as much. Why are you bouncing when you’re standing outside?

• Publicity people in the way. In the photo below, the people circled are local publicists. Even more showed up after this photo was taken.

These folks do nothing, nothing, except get in the way. No exaggeration. Once the talent arrives, they swarm around the celebrity like the proverbial moths to a flame. Why do publicists outnumber the arriving talent by at least 6 to 1?  Remember: if you’re not in focus, you’re in the way.

• When Mariah Carey and Oprah Winfrey showed up, the dozens (note the plural) of people who flooded the arrival area and red carpet area were all publicists, handlers and even more security. These people were solely responsible for the crowding and chaos that ensued. It was not the fans behind the steel barricades; it was not the media behind steel barricades. The chaos and confusion was entirely self-inflicted.

• During the film festival, a bit of a kerfuffle occurred between a photographer and actor Colin Farrell. (That marks the first time I’ve used “kerfuffle” in a sentence). Every paper in the world reported that the photographer was yelling at Farrell’s sister to get out of the way, to which Farrell took offence.

The truth to the matter is that the photographer was yelling at a publicist (see photo above). Said publicist insisted on walking alongside Farrell and she did nothing but be in the way. Farrell’s sister was walking ahead of him and she had already passed by before the yelling began. His sister was well aware of the photographers and she carefully ducked below the cameras as she passed quickly by.

The following day, a publicist for Farrell’s film (not the publicist who was yelled at) approached the photographer in question and, with a big smile, thanked him for all the extra publicity the film got because of this kerfuffle. (Hey, I used that word again).

• Security people in the way.

Spot quiz: If a celebrity starts signing autographs, which is the bigger security threat: the hundreds of screaming fans standing an arm’s length away from the celebrity, or, the photographers (whose identities are known to the festival) contained within a steel-barricaded area 58 feet away? So why do security people completely and continually swarm behind the celebrity and totally block the photographers?

• The lovely, old Elgin Theatre in Toronto has an entrance large enough for about 11 photographers. Yet the film festival packs triple that number into the tiny space. (TV got four times the amount of space than photographers and TV has far fewer people).

One might wonder if it would be possible to use the huge Sony Centre, which is only 1,817 feet away. Although the Sony Centre is currently closed for huge renovations, it has the perfect, large entrance for celebrity arrivals.

• Why do “reporters” applaud during a press conference? Why do “reporters” ask exactly the same questions at each and every interview? Why do “reporters” have to congratulate the actors and directors on their film?

• Why do some “photographers” need an infinite number of point-and-shoot flash pictures of the celebrities? Whatever happened to quality, candid portraits?

• Why does the film festival think that its better to show more and more films each year? The Toronto Film Festival has become too big and has lost its focus. Its seems to be aimed more at corporate sponsors and big movie studios than movie fans and Canadian filmmakers. Why is the film festival so bent on competing with other film festivals? Whose ego is involved?


The film festival’s media office did a nice job of handing out many hundreds of pages of paper to each media registrant. At least 97% of my paper was thrown in the recycle bin without anything more than a brief glance. Ironically, the e-mails from the media office always contained a footnote saying how important it was to save the environment by not printing out the e-mail.

The person (Bruno?) who ran the press conferences did a good job of accommodating the photographers and video guys. He was quite flexible in changing the various rules on an interview-by-interview basis to suit the media’s needs. Of course, he was limited by the small size of the room.

Cheryl, who ran the main arrivals area, was perfect. She’s been doing this for years and she knows exactly what photographers need. I can’t count the number of times she pulled publicists and security people out of the way of photographers. If photographers needed someone moved or a celebrity to come back, they’d yell, “Hey Cheryl …,” and she’d make it happen.


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