Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk the red carpet at TIFF, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and navigating the hoards of fans and photographers? If you’re not someone like George Clooney you may never find out, but the people who work in publicity get a small taste of what it feels like every September. Often armed with clipboards and tasked with acting as a sort of gatekeeper to their celebrity charges, publicists take care of everything from dealing with the army of press that descend on TIFF each year to ushering talent all over the city to helping fans snatch that one perfect moment with their idol – all while dressed stylishly and operating on little sleep.
Toronto-based distributor Entertainment One has 17 films in the year’s Festival. Before the madness fully sets in, Charlene Coy, eOne’s Director of Publicity, took a few moments of her much-coveted time to fill out a TFS Questions questionnaire.
Name: Charlene Coy
Occupation: Director of Publicity, Entertainment One
Describe a typical day at the office: In publicity, there is no typical day (which is the best part of the job!). Generally an average day could consist of: multiple coffees to get through back-to-back strategy meetings; press screenings; media calls; keeping up with an average of 50 hourly unread emails in your inbox; reviewing film clips to pick which ones we should make available to press; reading press notes; calls with filmmakers; working on an L.A. press junket…the list can go on .
Describe what led you to this job: For me, I was around the entertainment industry growing up. I never knew what a publicist was, but I always bought every magazine, watched every entertainment show. I was lucky to get introduced to various mentors in the industry who recommended I try a number of jobs in the field that eventually brought me to film publicity. Now I get to work towards getting those features out there for others to read and watch!
What do you like best about your job? When you’re with talent and a fan approaches who is really too shy to say anything. As the publicist, you have the ability to bring them over to meet the star and take their picture for them. The elation in their eyes shows you how you just had a small part in making a moment quite memorable for a fan.
What’s the most difficult part about your job? As a publicist, you are a gateway between media to celebrity. You deal with a lot of people in between who all have different opinions, personalities and temperaments. It takes thick skin to manage it all at times.
Is there some aspect of your job that might surprise people if they found out about it? Most surprising might be that publicity is not a 9am-5pm job. You have to constantly be available to all time zones, emails, emergencies. It is a commitment.
How does your job change during TIFF? Lack of sleep, the need for more caffeine, you don’t brush your hair as often as you would like; you’re lucky to remember to change your clothes when you have only been home for 3hrs in-between press days.
Describe a “typical” day for you during TIFF: There’s not a typical hour, let alone a day you are normally greeting talent at their hotel and taking them from media interview to media interview. In between, you’re coordinating plans for the premiere that evening, and confirming the press schedule for the next day’s activities. During breaks from interviews, you are taking talent to gifting lounges, photo sessions or press conferences. Just when you think the day is winding down, you’ll have 10 minutes to eat your one meal for the day (normally something you can eat on the go) as you’re running to the red carpet premiere. Post screening, you are going to the film’s after parties. By the time you drop talent back off at their hotel at the end of the evening, you have 4 hours to go home, sleep, shower and get out the door to start it all over again.
What’s your favourite thing about working TIFF? Everything I just listed above. The sense of accomplishment that you could balance it all!
Do you get a chance to watch any movies during TIFF? Not normally. One of the perks to our job is that we get to watch the films a few months/weeks prior to TIFF. During the festival, there’s no time to stop as you’re always planning for the next day.
One thing that’s a must-have survival item during TIFF? It’s a tie ““ Tylenol and Breath mints (no gum because you will forget you have it in your mouth and inevitably a camera will catch you or talent chomping away .very embarrassing)
Favourite TIFF memory? There are too many to list. Every year, you walk away with your High/Low ““ Best and worst moment. By the time 11 months pass and you’re preparing for the festival again, your worst moment from last year now makes you laugh (sometimes it ultimately turns into your best moment).
Favourite well-known person you’ve encountered at TIFF? As a rule, you normally don’t pick one favourite never name names. That said, I have been extremely lucky to have met some of the greats, from Lauren Bacall to Robert De Niro to Woody Allen.
Any advice for people attending TIFF? Keep your eyes open on the streets of Toronto ““ you will see celebrities at Starbucks, or shopping at The Bay.
Name your favourite movie genre. Why do you like it? I don’t really have a favourite, I like most genres. You can never go wrong with a good doc or comedy.
What is your favourite Canadian film or filmmaker? Again, I can’t pick a favourite ““ I have been lucky to work with some of our greatest ““ Cronenberg, Egoyan, Maddin, Villeneuve, the list is long.
What is your favourite aspect of the film scene in Toronto? The adrenaline in the air. I thrive off the challenge to make sure everything run smoothly, and when it doesn’t, I like the challenge to ensure no one was the wiser!
Movie snack: sweet or savory? Both! Chocolate covered pretzels are my favourite!