TIFF Tips: A Beginner’s Guide
It’s that time of year again where the city of Toronto begins gearing up for the Toronto International Film Festival. The buzz of excitement begins to fill the air, and the planning begins. For some, it’s the must-do event of the year. They book off vacation time from work, meticulously research the films playing the festival, and organize rigorous schedules in order to see all the films that made the cut to their short-list. For others it’s a dreaded time, with the inevitable traffic chaos and road closures over what they see as an inconsequential and unnecessary event, or superficial celebrity worshipping.
However, there are then those people who are in the middle. Every September, they view the festival from afar with curiosity but never quite sure how to get involved. Perhaps they want to attend the festival and see some movies or attend a Premiere but the whole process seems daunting and confusing. We are here to help.
UPDATED FOR 2016
Over the many years I’ve been attending the festival, I’ve heard many questions from people about attending. People commonly ask if the festival is open to the public, and if a regular film-goer can attend. They also express confusion about figuring out how to learn which films are playing, how to choose what to see, and how the whole process works. The most common question from those who have never attended is always “how do I get tickets?”.
The Toronto International Film Festival is the largest public film festival in the world, so it is absolutely possible to get tickets for regular movie-going audiences and those not part of the film industry. The intention here is to pass along all of the knowledge I have learned over the years as a walk-through of the process. This step-by-step Beginner’s Guide to the Festival will hopefully demystify the process of learning how to figure out what movies are playing, how to choose which ones to see, and how to get tickets.
This guide is geared towards getting one or more tickets to individual screenings (these are called ‘Single Tickets’, as opposed to ‘Ticket Packages’). For someone that has never attended, I usually recommend this method until they get an understanding of how the festival works, it’s the easiest way to see a film at the festival! The Ticket Packages can be confusing to someone who doesn’t have the experience seeing how everything runs or who doesn’t have the knowledge of the terminology used by the Festival. We do offer a full “Getting Tickets – Packages & Single Tickets” Guide as well.
First things first, you should decide what or at least when you would like to attend.
For 2016, the Festival runs from Thursday, September 8th to Sunday, September 18th. One of the first steps is to figure out when you can attend the festival. Films play all day, every day during the festival for all 10 days. Decide whether you can attend during the day, evenings after work, only on weekends, etc. This is a crucial step in learning how to plan your festival, and will also be a determining factor on which movies you can see.
The second step is to learn about the films that will be playing at the festival. Starting on July 26th and continuing for the next 4 weeks into August, TIFF will be making announcements for the films selected to the festival. The films are broken out into several different programmes that cover different themes, genres, or types. More information about each section can be found on TIFF’s Festival Films page. On this page, the complete selection of films will be shown. If you hover over each film image, you’ll see a tag on it that states which programme it is from. Click that tag to filter the films to that programme.
It is important that you spend time paying attention to the film announcements as they are made, and spend time reading up on the films on the TIFF website, going through each of the different programmes. You will need to decide what types of films interest you and that you would want to see. See our Guide to all Festival Programmes (full details on 2016 programmes are yet to be revealed so this list may change), to help select your films in different genres, themes or category you’re interested in. TIFF also has a YouTube channel where they will be uploading trailers for as many films in the festival as they can. This can also be a useful tool to help you decide which films you want to see. Occasionally a trailer has been released already for films and TIFF has not added it to their channel, so try general YouTube searches as well to see if there is one for the films you’re interested in.
All of this research and planning about which films you want to see will be needed for when the Festival Schedule is released on August 23rd 2015. The schedule is the complete listing of when all the films selected for the festival will be screening and at which theatre. This is now also when you will need to know when you can attend the festival. The schedule is released on the TIFF.net website and there are also paper booklet copies available from the TIFF Lightbox and the Festival Box Office in the building next to David Pecaut Square. On the day the schedule is released, TIFF will also release this year’s guest list and more detailed summaries for all of the films playing.
As you begin to pore over the schedule, you can do two things. Look to see when the films you identified as ones you were interested in are playing. Also look to see what films are playing during the time you can attend. I’ve often found films that weren’t originally on my radar by seeing what fits in my schedule. During your available times, make your first choice, but also make a second and third choice during that point in the schedule in case your first choice is sold out when tickets go on sale. Each film plays 2-3 times over the duration of the festival. The first screening of a film is typically the most difficult to get into, the third screening is often the easiest. If you hope to spot the celebrities or cast members of the film, they usually are only present for the first screening, occasionally the second.
Start building a schedule for yourself of films that you want to see by narrowing down your selections for the times you are able to attend. I often circle my selections in my paper copy of the schedule. Some people find tools such as TIFFr useful to plan. If you plan to see multiple films in one day, be sure to leave yourself enough time between screenings for travel time between venues and lining up. I find that 90 minutes is usually a good amount of time from the end of one to the start of the next unless your next screening is at the same venue, in which case you can leave less time in between.
In the schedule you will see films designated as either Regular Screenings or Premium Screenings. The films listed as Premium are red carpet premieres that often have members of the cast in attendance. They are usually the films that have a highly-recognizable cast and typically occur at Roy Thomson Hall, The Princess of Wales Theatre, The Visa Screening Room (Elgin Theatre), and Ryerson Theatre – and will cost more. Regular screenings are non-red carpet showings, and can be happening at any of the theatres with the exception of Roy Thomson Hall which is normally reserved exclusively for premium Gala screenings (in recent years there have been weekend Regular Screenings held at Roy Thomson Hall so that is a possibility now). A complete list of venues can be found on TIFF.net (when the information is released) and in the schedule booklet.
Once you think you have your schedule set, including back-up choices, be prepared for the day single tickets go on sale. This year, Single Tickets go on sale Sunday, September 4th, 2016. The tickets that go on sale on this day are the ones that are left over after all of the donors/members have selected theirs (they always get first priority), and after all of the package holders have made their selections. This is why some films can appear already ‘Off Sale’ on this date. The day before the single tickets go on sale, TIFF sometimes releases a page on their site that lists everything that will be Off Sale for the Single Ticket sale day. This will allow you time to adjust your schedule if needed and find backup choices.
For more information about the single most important aspect of attending TIFF – actually getting your tickets – read on…
So single ticket day has arrived, now what? What do you need to know? The tickets go on sale at 7am. You can try getting tickets one of three ways. 1) You can try calling the box office. 2) You can line up in person at the Festival Box Office at Metro Hall, next to David Pecaut Square (people often camp out overnight for this). Or, 3) You can try the TIFF.net website. Most people will attempt to buy from the website.
Buying Tickets Online
This year, TIFF has partnered with Ticketmaster to handle ticket sales and transactions. You will be prompted to create an account if you have not already done so. As this is the first year the new setup, we are not sure yet what the procedure will be. It is unclear at this point whether or not there will be a virtual waiting room as in years past but it’s a safe bet there probably will be. The following information is how Single Ticket Day has gone in the past.
When you go to the TIFF.net website, you will immediately see a large button to buy Festival tickets. When you click that, you will be placed in a virtual waiting room with a countdown. This countdown appears to be somewhat arbitrary. Often once it reaches the end, it starts again. Sometimes you can refresh the page and be bumped up with a shorter countdown. If you’re lucky you may get through quickly. However, with so many people trying to get tickets, be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting. It may take several hours before you finally get through. If you are willing to risk not getting your first choices, you can generally avoid the heavy wait times by trying later in the day or waiting a day.
Once you’ve finally successfully passed through the virtual waiting room, the online ticketing process is generally pretty straightforward and easy to follow. It’s a step-by-step process that guides you to pick your films. You can search by date or by specific film. For 2016, TIFF has introduced “Surge” pricing for in-demand screenings. Certain screenings will have a $2-$7 upcharge in ticket price due to increased demand and their prime time slot. For single tickets, the Regular screening tickets are listed as From $25 and the Premium screening tickets are listed as From $49. Once you make your selections and complete the checkout, you will be sent a confirmation email. Your confirmation details are what you use to pick up your tickets in person, either at the Festival Box Office – or at the venue of your first film. Bring your credit card and photo ID.
*NOTE: Due to the partnership with Ticketmaster for the 2016 Festival, TIFF has now introduced a Print-At-Home ticket option, as well as the ability to digitally transfer your ticket to another user. Since this is the first year for this, we are unsure at this time how this will work. As far as we understand at this time, you will still be able to pick up your tickets in person at the box office in advance of your screening or at the theatre on the day of the event.
‘Off Sale’ Screenings
If you were unable to secure tickets for the film you wanted when single tickets went on sale, don’t give up hope! Check back on the online box office on the day of the screening, starting at 7am. Sometimes more tickets will be released and you may be able to get one of them. If the screening is still sold out, you can always try the Rush Line. On the day of the screening, if the film sells out in advance, a Rush Line will form at the theatre 1-2 hours before the start time. Once all of the ticket holders have gone in, if there are still any empty seats from people with tickets not showing up, they will sell them to the people in the Rush Line between 10 minutes before the start of the film to about 10 minutes after it starts. This year the Rush tickets are $20 for Regular screenings and $40 for Premium screenings. I always try to line up early in a Rush Line because often you will get ticket holders come looking to sell or give away extra tickets to people at the front of the line (or sometimes they randomly pick someone in the middle of the line). If this happens and you successfully score a ticket, you can then go line up with the rest of the ticket holders. This is technically frowned upon by TIFF, as all ticket sales in advance are supposed to be FINAL SALE, so you may have to be discreet about it.
Attending Your Films
See our guide to The Venues & Surviving the Lines!
If you need to pick up your ticket when you get to the theatre for your screening, go a little bit extra early in case there is a line. Find the Box Office at that location and present them with your Confirmation information. Once you have your ticket in hand, you’ll want to show up to the ticket holder line at least an hour ahead of time. People line up early so that they can get a good seat inside the theatre, since there is no reserved seating. When you arrive at the venue, if you are unsure of where you are supposed to go, just ask one of the many volunteers. There will be a lot of them around and they can guide you.
Once you are in the ticket holder line, you are normally let into the theatre about 15-20 minutes before start time. If you’re attending a screening that will have a red carpet arrival, don’t bet on seeing the stars. Your line will likely be no where near the arrivals and it will be nearly impossible to catch a glimpse of the celebrities before you’re inside. The actors will be brought out on stage to introduce the film so you will see them there.
Once you’re inside the theatre, the search is on for a seat! It will likely be packed full so you will have to sit next to somebody. If you want a good view of the actors on stage, you’ll have to take a seat close to the front. Once the film starts, the correct thing to do is turn off your phone or any electronic devices. The people who made the film are often in the audience with you and it is incredibly disrespectful to them and the rest of the audience if your device causes a distraction or interruption. You are now attending a film at TIFF!
For Next Year
Once you have some experience going, I would then suggest perhaps getting a ticket package the next time. If you can afford yourself the opportunity to have time booked off work or to be available during the daytime, many great deals can be had. The ticket package process can be a little tricky for first-timers trying to learn the lingo, so I usually recommend they do it after they’ve attended the festival at least once using single tickets. The ticket packages are bought in advance of the schedule and even in advance of even knowing what all the films in the festival are going to be. They are bought during the summer, before Single Ticket Day. Information explaining more about buying ticket packages vs. single tickets is covered in our Getting Tickets: Packages & Single Tickets guide.
And that’s it! Hopefully this guide has assisted in teaching you how to navigate the Festival and has made the whole process a lot less intimidating.