Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Story in the Toronto Star

Yesterday the festival issued a press release on changes to address customer service and Visa Screening Room issues from last year. This is in line with the letter they sent out a few weeks ago to previous festivalgoers that I already commented on:

Peter Howell, a film critic for The Toronto Star, asked me for comment on the changes in a story published in today's paper:

Welcome to all Star readers who are visiting here for the first time! I know there will probably be a number of people who will not agree with the price increases, but if you generally assume prices for anything will tend to rise over time, I don't think the changes are completely off the chart. And while not perfect, I think the compromise of opening up more Visa Screening Room screenings back to ticket package holders and guaranteeing at least one non-premium screening addresses the problems last year with the venue. In terms of the additional days available for the advance order process, I still think that came from the lateness of Labour Day this year; it will be interesting to see if the 2010 festival retains the same schedule.

The festival also released the names of some of the films that will be screening at this year's festival:

Some important upcoming dates to remember:

July 6, 10am All ticket packages on sale to Visa cardholders
July 13, 10am All ticket packages on sale for Visa, Debit and cash

You do not have to buy ticket packages now; you can also buy individual tickets on September 4, 2009.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

TIFF Donors

In case you are wondering if you should donate to the festival, or how donations affect the Advance Order process, this article describes the benefits and impacts. Full information on the donation levels can be found at

Notable benefits for donors include:

  • As of June 1, 10:00 AM, donors can start purchasing ticket packages; all others have to wait until July 6.
  • As of August 27, 10:00 AM, donors of $1,000 or more can start purchasing individual premium tickets (i.e. premium screenings at Roy Thomson Hall and the Visa Screening Room); all others have to wait until September 4. A lot of the literature out there seems to imply all donors can purchase early, but the TIFFG site states the benefit is only available to $1,000 donors and above.
  • Tax receipt for donations above $10.
  • Priority in the Advance Order process at the Benefactor level and above (i.e. a minimum donation of $250); priority increases with the donation level.

Donor levels include:

  • 52/7 Circle Level: $5,000
  • Gold Level: $3,500
  • Silver Screen Level: $2,000
  • Film Club Level: $1,000
  • Associate Level: $500
  • Benefactor Level: $250
  • $150
  • Ambassador Level: $100
  • $50
  • Supporter Level: $25

I had the chance last year to talk to Jesse Hawken, Assistant Manager of Customer Relations at TIFF about the donor benefits in the Advance Order process. Previously, donors were served out of the industry box office, and had a private allotment of tickets. However, as of last year, the process changed in that any unused donor-allotted tickets were returned to the pool available for the general public.

In 2008, there were 78 boxes in the draw, with an additional 7 boxes for donors, separated by donor level. None of the donor boxes were full, and each donor box is about 1.5 times the size of a normal box. No screenings were completely cleared out by donor orders.

One benefit resulting from donations is providing student and senior pricing for screenings at the festival.

On a separate note, Hawken also talked to the Visa Screening Room, and that the changes there for the 2008 festival were a consequence of not wanting to raise prices. He did say the festival would look at the Visa Screening Room for 2009, and their published commitments so far would seem to indicate they followed through on that, especially the guarantee that there won't be any gala films that can't be accessed by the normal ticket packages.

Service Changes for 2009

The Festival outlined a number of changes to improve service for this year's festival, including:

  • All Gala films will have at least one screening accessible to Festival, Daytime, and 10-ticket Package holders, subject to availability. This was a problem last year, when there were 8 films that screened only at Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening Room and thus could not be selected by package holders who did not have a gala or Visa Screening Room pass.
  • Package holders will have increased access to the Visa Screening Room. This apparently is being accomplished by having about half the screenings at the Visa Screening Room be regular public screenings, while the other half or so will be premium public screenings. Last year, you could not see films at the Visa Screening Room unless you had the Visa Screening Room pass, or bought individual premium tickets.
  • Reduction of wait times for advance order pickups. The Festival is searching out an appropriate location that meets their "needs for traffic flow and access for all box-office functions." This might mean not using the Toronto Life Square location for the advance order pickup like last year. On pickup day on September 3, there will be increased hours of operation, and they will be doubling the number of operators available for the ticket exchange process.
  • Distinct criteria for premium screenings. Premium screenings will always be the first showing of a film at Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening Room, and have at least one of the following three criteria: be a red carpet event; be at least a North American premiere; include a Q&A with either a director or a principal cast member. Note that the majority of films will have their first screening in a non-premium venue, and many will have a Q&A, even in subsequent screenings.
  • Individual ticket sales will begin on September 4, 6 days before the start of the festival.
  • The film schedule will be released on August 25, and Advance Orders are not due until August 31 at 1:00 PM, which is three days more than last year.
  • Completed Advance Orders will be available for pickup in September 3 (note, this is a Thursday and not a holiday), before the Labour Day long weekend.

It sounds like the Festival has listened to the feedback coming out of last year's event, especially around the Visa Screening Room. It will be interesting to see how the Advance Order process will work for films there, since package holders will be able to see some, but not all films at the Visa Screening Room (i.e. premium screenings there will still require individual tickets or one of the Visa Screening Room passes). The additional package types for the Visa Screening Room provide a fair bit of variety and do seem to make things more accessible.

Hopefully the venue chosen for Advance Order pickup will facilitate the pickup process better this year. The one main problem at the Toronto Life Square location in the early part of last year was people cutting in line, since the line started at street level but the box office was three flights of escalators up. By the end of the festival, they had instituted a system that cut down on people cutting in.

Having additional time for the ordering process and having the long weekend free are both a plus, although I think that may be due in part to the date on which Labour Day falls this year (it's a lot later than normal). Hopefully this will persist into future years as well. On the downside, you will now need to take a vacation day for Advance Order pickup if you expect to have to do ticket exchanges.

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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