Beam me up, Biscotti.

Published on September 20th, 2011

Alex writes about his experience working for TIFF, and what it feels like to have Adam Brody walk by you.

There is no way to write about any of this without sounding like I’m constantly bragging. At no point can one say, “I stood 3 feet away from Robert De Niro and shot an interview with him,” without sounding like a jackass. The only possible way that you can blurt out a sentence similar to this without sounding like you’re trying to be cool is if somebody asks you the question, “What celebrities have you stood close to and held a camera in front of?” And this is a question that has never been asked of anybody, ever. But with that in mind, I’m going to brag. I have to. I recognize that all but about nine sentences in this post will read like Humble Brag tweets, but there is no way I can pretend to write about film without writing about the last couple of weeks of my life.

I recently worked as a videographer for the Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped up on Sunday despite the fact that most people stopped caring about it last Tuesday when the Hollywood stars left town. My job description read as something that seemed like a pretty cool way to get paid: shoot some red carpet interviews, some question and answer sessions, and maybe just happen to walk by James Franco at some point*.

*I suspect Franco’s infiltration of my job description was merely another arm of his ongoing artistic genius that involves his role on General Hospital, publicly line dancing to Achy Breaky Heart, and wearing an oddly fuzzy sweater while making hilarious faces at his TIFF appearance.

 

 

Over the course of TIFF, I only got to see a couple of movies, but I got to see the stars and filmmakers of many. The only person I was particularly excited about seeing before the festival was Jason Statham, and when I saw him walking down the red carpet to our camera, I (only half-jokingly) asked TIFF’s interviewer if she could try to get Statham to punch me in the face. I watched Jason Patric get so bored during a Q&A session that he decided to just walk around the stage, at one point turning around to feel the fabric of the curtain behind him for what appeared to be an exceptionally long time. I walked by Adrian Grenier, and realized that his eyes are a perfect representation of his mostly shitty, recently-ended television show: they’re pretty to look at from a distance, but he looked really vacant once you took a second to see what was going on in there. I saw Clive Owen not be allowed into a party because it was at capacity, which seemed odd. During my aforementioned interview with the guy who played Travis Bickle, he made an incredible De Niro face, which I captured on camera. I got to shoot a long form interview with Tilda Swinton, which taught me that she is both an interesting person and really does look that much like David Bowie. It seemed like I walked by Roger Ebert every day of the festival. During a red carpet where the interviewer didn’t know much about the actor, I got to quickly write a question for Albert Brooks and hear his answer two minutes later. I also made sure I got a picture of me shooting Seth Rogen on the red carpet, partially because I lack professionalism, but mostly because I think Knocked Up is one of the best movies of the past decade.

Interesting people seemed to walk by me constantly, although these people were maybe only interesting to me; at one point after seeing Brian De Palma walk down a red carpet and have nobody notice him, I looked around, dumbfounded. ‘This was the guy that directed Scarface!’ I thought, before I realized that all of his movies are terrible when you watch them past the age of 17. I made eye contact with Gus Van Sant, and I’m pretty sure he could tell how much I hated Elephant through our ocular exchange. I walked past Max Fischer’s headmaster Brian Cox, and passed by a homeless Hugh Laurie every day at King and John on the way to the festival. I also may have walked past Anne Hathaway, but that seems unlikely; it was probably just another brunette with gigantic Disney eyes. I stepped off an elevator and bumped right into Harvey Weinstein, who did not punch me in the face, as I have been lead to believe Harvey Weinstein does to everybody. Guillermo Del Toro unexpectedly showed up to the screening of Drive I was at, and I watched as two shocked and extremely excited fans animatedly talked to him for about ten minutes before the screening started*. I also got to watch Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks take turns making fun of a probably drunk Ryan Gosling for Breaker High and Young Hercules, each asking, “Now was this before or after the Mickey Mouse Club?” when the shows came up. I also heard a director say, “At one point I didn’t feel like I was making the film, but that the film was making itself,” and after seeing his movie I can confirm that he is as big of a douche as that quote makes him sound like.

*This was actually one of the most adorable things I have ever seen. Del Toro was so clearly engaged in the conversation, and those guys looked like I would look if I ever got to do the same with Michael Bay. Between that and finding out Del Toro is a big fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, maybe I’ll lay off on talking shit about Pan’s Labyrinth for a while.

 

 

 

 

As anybody who has ever worked on any sort of video production knows, the majority of your time is spent waiting. TIFF was no different. I would guess 90% of my time was spent waiting for Clive Owen to show up on the red carpet, or waiting for adorable nerds to stop talking to Guillermo Del Toro and take their seats, or getting kicked out of a screening and waiting for the movie to end so you can shoot a question and answer session. Basically, I had a lot of time to kill, which I spent talking to various volunteers and employees at the venues. Everybody who wasn’t freaking out over security concerns for the celebrities was extremely nice, and for some reason conversations were easy to start, despite that not being a skill I excel at*. I met a bunch of interesting people, all of whom I had decent conversations with. I met a legitimately hilarious Irish usher named Carly, and her coworker/graphic design student Heather. I met a musician named Robin who taught me some sort of handshake built around the hook from Nelly’s 2001 single Ride Wit Me, and talked to her friend Dan about how present Dadaism was in the mystical soap opera Passions**. I also talked to a bunch of other unmentioned but interesting people about a variety of topics, and all of these conversations started the same way.

*While I think I tend to make a decent conversationalist, I’m not a good conversation starter.
**This was one of the most interesting conversations I have had in a while, if only because Dan also told me his mom is really into hair metal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the initial hellos, conversation would quickly turn into what work we have done throughout the festival. And without exception, once I started telling people that part of my job was to shoot red carpet arrivals and interviews, I got asked the same question: “What celebrities have you seen?” This question would lead to me listing some people, which would quickly evolve into a conversation about whichever one of these celebrities the other people liked. (This was Ryan Gosling 80% of the time, as most of the people I talked to were female.) We started out talking about what said celebrity seemed like in person, which would then evolve into a conversation about some of their work, which would turn into me actually getting to learn something about the person standing in front of me. Basically, talking about these people was everything I loved about movies.

Going into the festival, I didn’t expect to be particularly star struck; Joseph Gordon-Levitt might be the best working actor not named Don Cheadle, but he puts on his tailored vest one non-sleeve at a time just like the rest of us. I know it’s not cool to be star struck, but then again it’s kind of unnatural not to be. I spend so much of my time watching these celebrities’ work that seeing them in a different medium, as in seeing them in something that’s not really a medium at all, is kind of a pleasant shock. There is no one star that everybody is interested in, but when you and another person are a fan of the same celebrity, you have something in common. Perhaps you both liked Half Nelson, or remember the scene in the hockey rink when Sean Hanlon first sees his name in lights. And when we see a celebrity in person, we’re finally seeing them on our level. We’re used to seeing them on a screen, and sharing an appreciation of their work with others, but never actually being able to see them in person. We’re not meeting these celebrities, they’re merely walking by us, but discussing that experience is kind of the same as discussing one of their films.

This desire to see celebrities in person is not just a North American phenomenon; when I was shooting red carpets for foreign films that I knew nothing about, I always found it endearing to watch members of other cultures freaking out about somebody I didn’t recognize walking by. (I assume it was like how a native Tanzanian would see some foreign exchange student losing their shit when Joseph Gordon-Levitt showed up to premiere Mysterious Skin at the Zanzibar International Film Festival.) I often complain about the way people value celebrities, but I realize now I haven’t really been looking at it both ways. Seeing the crowds of people standing together, waiting for Keira Knightley to show up, changed my opinion a little. These people were there for a glimpse at one of their favourite celebrities, but in doing so kind of proved why celebrity and film is borderline important. These people, and their movies, are conversation starters. When you meet somebody with a similar interest in a film or an actor, you have something in common, which can then lead to them teaching you an ironic handshake or informing you that their mom really digs Motley Crue. We learn about people through their interests, and then we learn things about them outside of their interests. Wanting to be a celebrity for no other reason than to be famous is weird, but wanting to be near a celebrity isn’t really.  You won’t learn much about the celebrity as they walk by you on the red carpet, but seeing them might allow you to learn more about somebody else in the future. And while I’ll choose to watch Taxi Driver again instead of waiting two hours to catch a glimpse of Robert De Niro in person again, I don’t mind that I did. Seeing De Niro kept me from being a Travis Bickle-esque loner throughout the festival, which is probably just as valuable as his actual performance.

 

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