Monday, September 03, 2007

TIFF #2 (Vickie's diary): Here Are Your Tickets...Sort Of...

Every year, something somewhere goes awry with TIFF’s ticketing system.

We all know how I feel about their lottery but, random drawing aside, there is still an abundance of annual flaws with the way orders are handled and processed.

This year, it seems, a number of out-of-town packages wound up stalled in customs, so people who forked over a sizable chunk of change for the “privilege” of having their program books and order forms expedited overnight by FedEx instead wound up twiddling their thumbs for hours while they waited for their pricey (delayed!) deliveries to arrive. Given the extremely brief turnaround time before those same orders had to be shipped back to Toronto, it had to have been a pain in the ass.

Anyone wanting to use TIFF’s online program book and schedule was equally frustrated by the extremely s-l-o-w servers, which were clearly overloaded by a sudden surge in users. How can the fest execs not yet realize that the sheer volume of movie fans converging on their website on program-book day is a recipe for crashes? Surely they could afford to dip into their deep pockets to fortify their online presence so that users can navigate smoothly and quickly to get the information they desire without waiting and waiting and waiting for pages to load. There were also a number of problems with the ordering pages in previous weeks, where screens froze mid-order and, by the time they un-froze, things were sold out.

Then there are the order forms themselves and the needlessly convoluted process whereby first choices are made, second choices are made, vouchers are crammed into envelope windows for drop off, other vouchers are redeemed for pick-up...and new vouchers are handed out to replace unused portions of “film-package” tickets. This year, they’ve added yet another step – voucher scanning at pick-up! Good grief. Festival newbies are, no doubt, overwhelmed by the whole shebang, and even some veterans wind up confused by the additional steps added (presumably solely for the amusement of the fest staff) each year.

Today, I was reminded why I never, ever include second choices in my orders: the potential for irreversible human error is simply too great. This morning was order pick-up day, and it is notoriously busy. I arrived at the box office at 8:35am for their scheduled 10am opening, and there were already a couple hundred people lined up when I got there. (By the time the doors opened, the line serpentined all around College Park and it was another hour before I got to the front of the line to pick up my stuff.)

Anyone who’s read my TIFF diaries in the past knows how much value I place in chatting with your linemates. It’s a great way to meet people, talk about movies, trade TIFF stories and discover new films to see...or find out about ones to avoid. It’s also a great way to pass the time when you know you’re going to be sitting or standing in the same spot for a lengthy amount of time. And, on order pick-up day, it’s a fantastic way to hear firsthand how the festival can continue to screw up a process they themselves created.

In the past, I’ve heard stories of people who wound up with duplicate tickets, or the wrong tickets, or tickets to two movies showing at the same time because whoever processed their order actually gave them their first AND second choice films for a single timeslot. Guess what? It’s STILL happening. One woman in line behind me was frustrated because whoever handled her order this year did just that...twice!...and then *didn’t* give her other tickets that were marked as still available as of this morning. Another friend of mine was peeeeeved – and ready to give the box office manager some serious what-for – because they’d not only doubled up films (giving her both her first and second choices) for some timeslots, but had put those tickets on her coupon book instead of her day pass...meaning she was then told she was “out” of coupons when, in fact, it was the box office that had incorrectly used them up. Someone else in line had a similar 1st/2nd choice snafu, where they didn’t get *either* even though the 2nd choice film was still available.

Seriously, WHY must they make this process so insane? And how many different ways can they find to twat up their work? The main problem with these problems is that they can’t be fixed – if you get the wrong tickets, or no tickets, too bad. No refunds. It’s up to *you* to fix *their* mistakes by picking new movies. Whaaaa...?

The line-up to exchange tickets was already huuuuuuuge this morning, with many people sending friends to stand in that line while someone else waited to pick up orders. As the minutes ticked past, I started to wonder if my too-good-to-be-true order confirmation would prove to be a cruel joke played on my by the fest. Thankfully, it was as the confirmation email had promised and, for the first time ever, I won’t be spending tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at the TIFF box office trying to get tickets.

But I certainly feel for the people who will be there, especially the ones who are there through no fault of their own, but as a result of a system that only seems to work about 70% of the time.


Maria said...

Terrific analysis! I'm one of the out of town buyers that RAILED at TIFF because my package was held up in customs...AGAIN! This happened last year, and I called TIFF a week before the mailings, to ask if they had put measures in place to prevent what happened last year. They assured me that all systems were a go. WRONG!! I was pissed. It spoils two days because I had to stay home all morning for the day it was SUPPOSED to be there, and then had to re-arrange my schedule to stay at home a second time.

I kept asking them, what happens if my package gets held up making its way to TO? There is no way I'm going to be penalized and they better have a Plan B. Last year they did have a Plan B, because in all fairness, that was probably the first time out of town tickets were held up. This year, when I kept asking for a Plan B, I never got an answer. It was .."Well, we'll cross that bridge when it comes".

Uh, no that is totally unacceptable. Thankfully, my package made it into TO in time and I received my movie confirmation yesterday. I arrive in TO this Thursday, so all lines for initial ticket pick up are gone. I didn't realize it was that insane on day 1. Wow! I'm glad I pick mine up later.

TIFF is really an incredibly well run festival, and I've met a lot of festival workers who do a great job. But this ticketing/buying system has been its crux for years. I understand mistakes are made on an event like this, but OWN up to them, don't penalize us.

Vickie said...

So, how did you do with your picks?

It seems, from what I've been hearing that, despite all the screw-ups, most out-of-towners did fairly well and got most, if not all, of their selections.

I *do* suspect that the fest actually has a separate process for the out-of-town orders, even though they claim those orders are processed in the same lottery as everyone else's orders. But I just don't think they could risk so many non-Torontonians potentially winding up without tickets, and thus have some sort of secondary ticketing process set aside for them.

Maria said...

I received 80% of my choices, which I'm pleased with because the #1s I really wanted, I got!

On the out of town ticket deal, I'm not sure if they do anything different and I'm not asking them too. It's just we don't have the advantage of being there and can't control the delivery system, so if it gets hung up and doesn't make the deadline for the advance draw, there needs to be way to get our picks in. Last year, they said we could fax or email our picks in if the package didn't make it on time on the second attempt. And our picks, just like the local crowd, are supposed to be thrown in one of the boxes.

From what I'm hearing, many people, local and out of towners, are doing well this year on picks. So all is good. But always room for improvement :).

This year, they didn't commit to similar plan.

Vickie said...

Oh, I definitely think they need to handle the out-of-town orders separately -- imagine flying across the continent or across the pond only to find out you were in box 65 this year and only got 11 of your 30 picks? I'd be totally fine with a separate system for folks having to courier their stuff back.

I'm just saying I think the fest is already doing that, though not publicizing it. I don't know of any out-of-towners who have had really bad luck with their selections, and it can't just be a coincidence year after year. I mean, surely somebody in L.A. or NYC or Pittsburgh wound up in a bad box at least once, right?

(Note: if you're reading this and you're an out-of-town festgoer and you HAVE had awful luck, by all means post your story and how you handled it once you got to Toronto! :-))

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

I too wondered if they did the out of towners seperately as they appear to have gotten almost all their choices from the ones I've heard about.

The line ups were insane today. Insane. Start to finish It took me 6h and 15min to get my tix, but I left with 45 hard tickets and no need to visit the box office again until next year.

Maria said...

You waited over 6 hours???? Wow, I had no idea how crazy is was!

Vickie said...


Holy hell.

Though, I can't say I'm surprised. It took me an hour, and that was first thing in the morning. The line grew and grew and grew, so it was bound to take ages for folks arriving later.

Or is that six hours of combined waiting time (pick-up + exchange)? Either way, yikes.

the liberal samurai said...

I've been using the out of towners package for 6 years and have always gotten 95% of my selections. Usually the only ones I don't get are elgin evening shows (which are probably sold out through the elgin packages) and last year I didn't get a ticket for the midnight madness Borat (that was upsetting). This year I got all 50. And I've heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that the out of towners do get some preferential treatment. 2 years ago fedex didn't indicate my package was accepted uptil 30 minutes after the deadline and I still got 95% of my selections. It might be an interesting exercise for someone local to try the out of towners package... Of course the extra 150 is a little steep!

Anonymous said...

I was lucky - I got all my picks BUT sure enough I was "double-booked" with a first and second choice given to me at the same time. 5 hours for one exchange but you do it - you leave nothing to chance.

Vickie said...

Honestly, HOW do they keep screwing up the double bookings?? I mean, it's green vs. yellow. Two vs. one. If the people doing the processing are that overworked that they keep making these mistakes -- which only inconvenience the actual ticket buyers -- perhaps shorter shifts or a larger pool of workers is in order.

Samurai, I figured as much. ;-)

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Yep, 6hrs. Actually 6 hrs and 15 min.

2 hours in the pick up line
3 hours in the exchange line
1 hour 15min processing my order (my order got completely messed up, but the box office guy was really great and I only ended up making 5 substitutions out of 45 tickets).

Vickie said...

They really should provide snacks.

maria said...

Wow, that's intense on the ticket line Shannon. I know Starbucks likes to come by on some of the longer movie lines...or, I think most of them are long these days :).

Samurai - thanks for that piece of info. I didn't even think they treated out of towners differently because honestly, I mostly hang out my friends in TO at the festival. You're darn right about the $150 price tag we have to pay. HAHA.

Anonymous said...

I've been in Montreal for the weekend...diligently checking my emails to see what movies I got...still no email as I write this at 10:33PM on Monday night...I guess it will be a surprise when I pick them up tomorrow!

Vickie said...

Yet another flaw in the system. Sorry to hear that, anonymous, and good luck tomorrow!

heather said...

My friend didn't get the confirmation email either...but luckily when she went to pick them up today all of our tickets were present and accounted for. So good luck!

Paul said...

I have an opposite story this year. Although I think they could do better (multiple draws... ie, you put your first order in, and any unfilled tickets / filled tickets can be used in another 1st / 2nd choice situation, minimizing exchanges the day of pickup... entirely ONLINE selection where you can say "For this first pick, go to this second pick, and *gasp* add a third pick as well").

This year, I tried something different... for a couple of shows, the second pick I wanted was on a completely different day... so I wrote in words, "Hey, the second pick for this show is on this day". And when that first show was sold out, they actually flipped to that other day and gave me tickets to the second pick I asked them for! It was awesome!

Albeit, I'm sure there are other problems... this is the first year I've not had to go super early (even the first email year, I got all 10 tickets filled, but didn't get an email, so I had to line up to be sure). I'll tell you, that ticket swapping line is the worst. I remember being in lines for over 6 - 7 hours in previous years.

I heard they didn't let people put a friend on the inside line while they waited on the outside line. I think that rule is silly. If you have friends, use them, if you don't, well then.

Paul said...

Sidenote: I'm putting the films I'm seeing and times they're at on my blog at ... keep an eye out for me if any sync up with you!

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

FYI if you didn't get your email confirmation you can still view your order (after it's been processed) on the TIFF site by going to thier online box office system:

Select "Buy Now" at the top
Select "Check Order Status" on the left
It prompts you to log in
Then you click on your order and it gives you the detail of the tickets.

It might be mute point now as most have thier picks, but just in case...

The Mad Hatter said...

I'm astounded Moxie had the patience to hang around for six hours to get her tickets sorted out. Hell, I was grumpy when the volunteer told me that my wait would be ninety minutes.

And I have to agree with you Vickie...just make your first choices off the top, and fill up whatever you don't get as you go along.

designwallah said...

9:44 PM and is completely down! Big-ass error messages all over the screen.

Vickie said...

OMG, you're right!

Yikes. That can't be good on the eve of their 7am start of single-ticket sales day.

designwallah said...

10:14 Pm - Back up!

Anonymous said...

This was my first film fest ordering process.

Ordered 10-pack of films.

Was 1st person to submit pre-order in Box 1.

Got 100% of my films.

Picked up tix in 10 minutes.

To all you hosers who procrastinate to 48 hrs before the film fest, you deserve all the crap you go through.

This is a very easy process if you follow directions and plan accordingly.

I saw on CTV today all these dumbasses waiting outside from 3am onward.

Totally unnecessary.

People are idiots.

Jim said...

I have been attending the film festival since 1992 and have always gotten all of my film requests using the out of town service. In those early years there was no email so the only way to know what I got was to show up and find out if I got my choices. I had no idea how the process worked and I was worried that one year I would show up (after a nine hour drive)and end up with almost useless vouchers. In 1995, when I picked up my tickets, I asked how the out of town service worked. The guy I talked with said that he was in charge of that service. At the time, they only had about 600 packages sent out. He said that they want to encourage people to come from all over the world so they handle the out of town packages differently. I have been very lucky every year. But that does nothing to make that Wednesday to Saturday period at the end of August the most stressful and anxious time of my entire year.

Maria said...

Thanks for the scoop! I'm with you- the last three days or so in August is so anticipated and fret with worry ...every damm year!