Thursday, September 15, 2016

How to schmooze at TIFF

Story & photos by Allan Tong

It's day 8 at TIFF, the Americans have left and, while the galas and screenings continue strong, the parties are over. That's left me to reflect on schmoozing. 

What's schmoozing? That's the art of making small talk to impress someone at a festival party without overtly pitching them or blowing smoke up their ass. Newbies fail miserably at this, and one must learn the nuances through painful trial-and-error. However, to get a head start here are 10 tips:

1) Dress the part. I love the Jays, but I sure as hell wouldn't wear a Jose Bautista jersey to a TIFF party (the exceptions being Kevin Smith and Spike Lee who can wear any damn sports jerseys they want). Who want to look like a schlub or homeless? 

Men, wear a dress jacket at the very least. Tie optional. Jeans are okay as long they are clean and ironed. Dress shoes preferred, but you can get away with running shoes because it's considered anti-authoritarian.

Renown Hong Long-born actor Tzi Ma is a good example. Here he is on the red carpet at the Birks-Telefilm reception a few days ago to promote the feature, Arrival, in which he stars. Mr. Ma's ensemble is simple, yet suave.

Women have it tougher. The posher the party, the more dazzling the dress. And walking in high heels hurts like hell.

Sandra Oh, here seen at the same Telefilm-Birks gala and starring in Catfight, provides another good example. She oozes glamour and sophistication. You meet her and you immediately feel she is Somebody. So, does this mean you should mortgage your condo to wear a designer dress or suit? Of course not. Just wear something that makes you comfortable and confident. Remember: without confidence, you're dead.

2) Wear shades.

This is award-winning director Zacharias Kunuk, at TIFF this year to unveil his latest feature, Maliglutit (Searchers). Mr. Kunuk's films also premiere at Cannes and other A-list festivals. Besides those accomplishments, Mr. Kunuk is bad-ass. Why? Because he wears shades. Not only shades, but eyewear that's unique to his Inuit culture, which, in turn, makes him even more bad-ass. Weat shades. Who cares if you're inside a dark club and you walk into the waiter balancing a tray of Dom Perignon champagne flutes? Wear shades.

3) Carry a smartphone.
This tip goes hand-in-hand (literally) with point #2 as seen here:

Director Rose Legace and actor Werner Artinger look important, don't they? Who cares if they're not actually talking to anybody or if Werner had to borrow my shades that I paid $6 for in Kensington Market? They look powerful. Don't you want to schmooze them?

4) Speak in 24 words or less.
When somebody asks you, What's your project?, answer them with a few succinct sentences, like "I'm making a zombie musical comedy about a slave rebellion in the deep South." Don't talk about "symbollism" or how you were "inspired" by a dream, or how in act two so-and-so happens, or explain any supporting characters, or speculate that "maybe" this happens or that. The moment you stray past 24 words, the other person's eyes turn glassy and they're mentally going through their Google Calendar appointments for tomorrow (see tip #7 below). No one gives a shit about the details. If your 24 words are powerful and focused, somebody will want to learn more and even ask for a business card.

5) Carry business cards.
This sounds basic, but you would be amazed. Carry lots of them. They are the cheapest form of marketing. The only people who don't carry cards are studio moguls and Robert Redford. You're not there yet.

6) Ask what the other person does first.
Two reasons: By asking first, you flatter the other person. People (not only actors & actresses) love to talk about themselves. Secondly, you can suss out whether you want to stay in touch with this person or not. What's the criteria? If they violate tip #4 and babble, then they don't know what they're doing. However, if they tell you what work they have done and what they are working on now (succinctly), then get their card.

7) Maintain eye contact.
Study actor/writer/director Bobby Del Rio here. Well, maybe, you don't need to fellate a gelato, but maintain eye contact with the person you're talking to. (Bobby, by the way, stars in my improvised comedy series, Modern Love is Hell, that I'm currently developing with a veteran producer. Click here for a sample.) Now, if the other person you're talking to looks past you at the row of free Chardonnay lined up the bar as you explain your zombie slave musical, then move on. Don't waste time with wankers.

8) Exit gracefully.
"Pleasure meeting you and enjoy the festival," is a mature, succinct (that word again) way to exit a meet with somebody. Feigning an epileptic seizure is not.

9) Drop names strategically.
Good: I'm developing a comedy series with producer Amos Adetuyi who has a film at TIFF called Jean of the Joneses. (Chances are, the other person will recognize the name and/or his credits.)

Bad: My $85-million zombie slave musical stars Denzel Washington and Leonardo Di Caprio, and Spike Lee will direct it. (Who are you kidding?)

10) I can't think of another tip, and besides, Did we sign a development deal where I promised you 10? Get real.

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