Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Buying Tickets for the Festival

To buy tickets in advance (as opposed to during the festival), you buy passes and/or coupons when they go on sale in July (see the previous post for exact dates). A pass allows you to see multiple films all related by some sort of theme; there's usually a pass that lets you see all the gala screenings, and another for a collection of films selected by the festival programmers to give novices an introduction to world cinema.

Coupons, on the other hand, aren't linked to any film; a coupon is exchanged for a ticket to a film of your choice. Coupons come in packs of 10, 30, etc. You must buy coupons if you want to select films in advance of the festival opening.

At the time passes and coupons go on sale, you can also pre-order a festival guide. This is a thick book that has a description of every film in the festival. Each description is usually accompanied by a colour photograph of a scene from the film. While you can plan your festival without a guide, I find it makes things a whole lot easier, plus it makes a nice souvenir. If you don't buy a guide, you can look at the official festival web site once the schedule has been released to read up on each of the films.

If memory serves me, you'll get passes/coupons in the mail a few weeks after ordering. You will *not* receive the guide, if you ordered one, at this time.

So, let's say that you've bought a pack of coupons because you want to select films yourself. Once the final festival schedule is published in August, you have to go down to the festival box office to pick up your guide (if you ordered one), a festival schedule which lists the dates and times for every movie, and an order package (typically one package per book of coupons). After you have done this, you typically have somewhere between 2 to 4 days to submit your choices (the exact dates will be announced by the festival). Note that if you've bought a pass instead of coupons, you don't usually have to submit any choices, but check your passes to confirm.

Using the schedule, you fill out an order form stating your first choice of movies, and how many tickets you want. If you have a book of 10 coupons, then you can select 10 movies for yourself. Or you can select 5 movies for you and a friend. You also specify a second choice for each time slot. If one of your first choices is showing on Thursday at 8:00 PM, you should look for another movie on the same date, around the same time, to serve as your second choice.

Once you have made your selections, you drop them off at the festival office, and they are placed into a numbered box. Immediately after the order forms are given out, the festival staff put out box #1 to receive completed applications. Once that box is filled up, they move on to box #2, then #3, and so on until the deadline for receiving orders has been reached.

Once all orders have been received, the festival randomly draws a number from 1 to how ever many boxes they ended up with. The number drawn is the box at which they start processing selections, and processing continues from there in ascending numerical order. So if they draw 46, and there are 100 boxes total, they'll process box #46, 47, 48, ... 100, then circle back around to #1, then 2, 3, etc. until they reach #45. So if your order form ended up in box #45, you're probably screwed.

The advantage of this system is that you don't have to rush through making your selections once the schedule is released in order to get in one of the first boxes. You could drop off your selections right before the deadline and you might still get processed first.

If you have more than one order package (because you bought multiple coupon books) you could try submitting your packages on different days, so they end up in different boxes. This might increase your chance of getting at least some of your films, though it probably guarantees you won't get all of your films. You could submit all your packages at the same time, which means you might get everything you want, or you might get nothing.

Anyway, once the festival gets around to processing your order, they will attempt to get you tickets for your first choice movies. If your first choice no longer has any space left, they'll try to get you tickets to your second choice. If that is filled up, then you won't get any movie for that time period.

A few days after the order deadline, the festival will return all completed orders. You line up at the festival box office to pick up your order packages. Note there is usually a large line at this time, so plan on spending a hour or more depending on when you get there. Don't forget to bring your coupons with you! When you pick up your package, you will be told how many of your choices you received, and you will have to submit that many coupons to receive your tickets. If you submitted choices for 10 films, and they were able to fill 6 of them, you will have to give the festival 6 coupons.

If you were lucky enough to receive all your choices, then you don't have to do anything but show up for your films. If, however, some or all of your choices were not filled, then you can still use your coupons to try to get other films. First, look through the schedule and find some other films that you might like to see. Check the boards outside the box office to check which films are sold out and which are still available; there are usually plenty of films with room left at this point. Once you have made some choices, line up at the box office. When you get to the front of the line, you can request tickets for your new choices. If there's room, then you can submit your remaining coupons in exchange for tickets. I think at this point you can still only use coupons to buy tickets; you can't buy tickets with cash or credit cards until the festival actually starts.

Alternatively, you can keep your coupons and just use them during the festival. However, at that point you are competing with the general public; you should try to use your coupons as soon as possible while films still have room. I'm not sure, but I think the festival reserves a certain number of seats for sale during the actual festival.

Films that tend to sell out quickly include all the gala performances, anything by a famous director or with big name stars, or anything that's gotten good advance buzz. Of the remainder, there's usually plenty of worthwhile films left to see. In fact, you're probably better off seeing some of the smaller or less well-known films, since it's less likely you'll see them in commercial release here in North America.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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