TIFF CELEBRITY STALKING 101

It’s the perfect time to be a proud Torontonian when the Toronto International Film Festival (a.k.a. “TIFF”) rolls into town. TIFF has really ramped up the past few years with high profile celebrities strutting down the red carpet and numerous films being nominated in The Oscars shortly after. For us everyday folk, it’s such a treat to finally get a glimpse of The Stars – and if you’re really persistent, even get an autograph or a photo with one.

Last year in 2011, I made my first attempt at TIFF Stalking by strolling around Yorkville, hoping to magically see a celebrity. We ended up at the Hazelton Hotel and swore we saw the back of Ben Affleck’s head (because only he has that head shape and was confirmed to have been a guest at the hotel before). We also caught a glimpse of a brunette woman in a white dress, which I assume was Megan Fox (our Google searches confirmed she was wearing a white dress that night as well haha).

Later we were much smarter in our stalking and managed to catch Tilda Swinton at the new Ritz Carlton Hotel and also scoped out a few film galas, namely: Ides of March (we saw Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and only glimpses of George Clooney and Ryan Gosling), A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen) and Drive (Bryan Cranston and Ryan Gosling). Could you tell I was totally swoon with Ryan that year? Who wasn’t! My height disadvantage certainly impeded my view of the stars though.

This year, we’ve ramped up our TIFF Stalking skills and have been pretty successful. You can read about them in my upcoming posts… but in the meantime, I’d like to share with you a few tidbits on how to do some Grade A stalking.

#1) DO SOME PREP WORK!

For me, I’ve found that the best bet to see a celebrity is at the opening screenings or galas for their movies. A few weeks before TIFF begins, the official TIFF website will have all the movie screen times and locations listed out. Look for the PREMIUM screenings or the first showing of the movie (even if it’s not a big gala). Generally speaking, the director and/or actor(s) will show up for the first one. Write down the ones you want to attend. You may need to compromise a few of them, as some showtimes overlap, so you’ll definitely need to prioritize. It might be helpful to list them all out anyway in case you have time to run from one venue to another or want to catch them as the film screening is over.

Also, apparently there are “Lists” out there that confirm which celebrities are attending TIFF Galas. I haven’t seen an official listing, but I’m sure you can Google it closer to the date to find out if it’s worth waiting at a venue or not.

#2) DECIDE HOW EARLY YOU WANT TO GO… OR RATHER, HOW LONG YOU’RE WILLING TO WAIT

If you want and autograph or photo with a celebrity, you’ll have a better chance being in the first row of the red carpet area. I’ve never managed to be in the front row, but it seems like other TIFF stalkers are even more hardcore than me and could potentially wait 6 hours or more. Otherwise, if you’re perfectly happy just seeing a celebrity and getting a good photo here and there, you can risk not waiting as long.

If you’re short like I am, you will definitely want to get there earlier, otherwise all you’ll see are throngs of fans in front of you and no celebrity (despite them only being a couple of metres away from you).

For larger galas (like the ones at Roy Thomson Hall or Ryerson Theatre), to be in the second row, I’d say you’ll want to get there 3-4 hours in advance. For smaller venues (like Princess of Wales, Elgin Theatre, Winter Garden), perhaps 2 hours would suffice.

It really depends on how high profile these actors are and how long you’re willing to wait for them.

#3) BRING ESSENTIALS

- TIFF Schedule (of the list of places you want to hit)
- Water and Snacks (always good to stay hydrated and nourished)
- Camera or Phone Camera
- Sharpie Marker & Notepad (if you want an autograph), or something specific to that actor like a movie poster, DVD box, etc. I find that celebrities tend to gravitate towards books or pictures rather than a tiny notepad
- Stool or Step Ladder (if you’re short like me… seriously, everyone gets twice as tall once cameras and phones are out; they’re great to sit on too while you’re waiting)

#4) WHERE TO POSITION YOURSELF

It really depends on the venue. Generally, you will want to look for the Step and Repeat (thats the backdrop area where celebrities pose for media photos and interviews. Its a white background with a bunch of logos on it – usually TIFF and the City of Toronto). Once you locate the Step and Repeat, you can usually figure out the route that celebrities will take to get there.

NOTE: There are a lot of media reps and photographers standing right across from the Step and Repeat, so you may not want to stand in the same area unless you think you can battle the professionals hahaa.

Otherwise, you can stand on the walkway area before they get to the Step and Repeat backdrop.

At Roy Thomson Hall (at least for the past 2 years I’ve been), the Step and Repeat is located inside the long tent to the west side of the venue. The TIFF cars (Audis and Cadillacs) drive up pretty close to the tent area, so you may not want to go too far to the back of the barricades… And you probably don’t want to stand too far east past the tent area. Only the really cool celebrities will actually go beyond their walkway to meet and greet fans. Last year, George Clooney and Ryan Gosling did an amazing job at the Ides of March premiere by going fairly far past the tent entrance to satisfy their fans. The majority of celebrities will stop when they get to the entrance of the tent, then it’s essentially the end of that.

At Ryerson Theatre, there’s a tiny walkway from the street to the Step and Repeat, but then there’s this gorgeous long walkway past the Step and Repeat (closer to the actual school campus away from the street) that allows for a lot of celebrity face time. Anywhere along this walkway is pretty good, provided the celebrity wont just rush by.

At Princess of Wales and Elgin Theatre/Winter Garden, the walkways are über tiny from the street to the Step and Repeat to the entrance of the venue. There’s generally a small designated area for fans to stand, otherwise you will need to go across the street where your views will be pretty minimal unless the celebrity is cool enough to stop traffic and walk across the street, which has happened before. I’ve seen fans who rush from the street to the walkway area when celebrities come out – but you’re also risking tha you’re running into traffic and you sort of ruin it for everyone else who has been waiting there longer.

If you’re short like me, you’ll want to make sure you’re in second or third row… But positioning yourself along the walkway is still key. No point in being first row in an area hidden from where celebrities will generally walk unless you have a super zoom camera lens.

Once you’ve done a few of these at the same venues, you’ll get the hang of it and will be able to scope out the best spots for next time.

#5) PHOTOS OR VIDEOS?

Personally I like to shoot video in HD, as it’s not always predictable where the celebrities are going to go or whose hairy arms are going to get in the way of your shot. When I get home, I go through my footage and take screenshots. Of course, they won’t be high resolution screenshots (unless I’m doing something wrong and there actually is a way to get them), but it all depends what you want. I’d rather get a good shot of them from a video than not getting anything at all.  But then again, I’m not about to go printing these photos out to sell to anyone either… so it just depends where you see your strengths and what your end goal is.

#6) STALKING ETIQUETTE

Seriously, don’t be an ass. We’re all here for the same reason and to have some fun.
- Respect those who have been there first. They’ve waited longer and deserve to be at the front.
- Don’t expect that your friends are able to join you later if they show up really late.
- Don’t be pushy and don’t shove your camera or notepad into people’s faces. Otherwise, you deserve an elbow to the crouch.
- And for my sake and all the other shorties out there, if you’re clearly much taller than someone else behind you, be nice and let them stand in front of you. Everyone still wins.
- Actors are NOT monkeys… you can yell out their name and direct them to look into the camera etc., but the more obnoxious you become to everyone around you, the less likely the celebrity will actually go towards your way… they’ll just be intimated and avoid your area entirely. Nobody wins.

#7) RELAX… ENJOY… HAVE FUN!

Since you’ll be waiting for awhile, make a day of it with your friends. Also take the time to get to know other TIFF stalkers; the majority of them are pretty easy going and interesting to talk to. I’m sure they have their share of stories too.

And of course, watch a TIFF movie for yourself! There’s a sense of community when you watch a screening with other TIFF lovers and you may even get to ask questions to the director and fellow actors too (aim to go to the first screening). You’ll find a lot of interesting indie films that may never be released in Toronto and truly express raw film-making and ambitious talent.

WARNING: It appears TIFF Stalking is getting uglier and uglier now with the Paparazzi shoving their way through the crowd to get their paraphernalia signed so they can sell it for big bucks. I had my first encounter this year with a group of jackasses who did just that and didn’t understand why fans and celebrities alike would be upset at them for getting in everyone’s faces… *shudders*.

And that’s it! Sounds simple but it takes a lot of patience. You can do the Yorkville/King Street or hotel stalking, but there’s never a guarantee with that. I’ll stick to the movie premieres for now. Although I’ve gone from Total Newb to Somewhat Experienced Stalker status, if you have any other tips, feel free to share them with me and comment, as we’re all fans of TIFF and the madness it brings to our city.

Stay tuned for my recap on my TIFF Stalking!

DAY 1: Looper, Rust & Bone
DAY 2: The Place Beyond the Pines, Spring Breakers, Seven Psychopaths
DAY 3: Inescapable, Disconnect, Passion, Therese Desqueyroux