TIFF 2014 Lookahead: A photo finish for the world premieres

It's a madcap rush for the filmmakers working to get their movies finished in time for the fest

TORONTO — The curtain opens on the Toronto International Film Festival in less than a week, and while the stars get ready for primping, some movie-makers are undergoing a far less-glamorous process — sitting bleary-eyed in editing rooms putting the final touches on their projects.

“We’re not actually finished the movie yet,” Jeffrey St. Jules, writer-director of Bang Bang Baby, confessed earlier this month. “We’ll be finished the score and everything right before the festival.”

Such is the harried situation that goes on behind the scenes before the fest, which is often viewed as a springboard to Oscar glory.

Last year, August: Osage County was so fresh out of post-production, mega-producer Harvey Weinstein took the unprecedented step of attending the first press and industry screening — before the world premiere red-carpet gala — seemingly so he could see how it would play out for its first audience.

“There’s always a million things you feel pressure about doing when there’s a film released at a film festival, whether it’s ticket distribution or getting the press ready or PR or organizing a party,” said Jody Shapiro, who debuted his doc Burt’s Buzz at last year’s fest and has been a producer and cinematographer on several Guy Maddin films.

“You’re just running on adrenalin, I think, as a filmmaker or a producer during that time — especially at a festival like TIFF, especially a world premiere.

“Sales agents, this, that — everything you can imagine boils down to pretty much a night of your life.”

This year TIFF has 143 world premieres, and while the annual movie marathon is proud of that tally, artistic director Cameron Bailey says he always encourages “filmmakers not to rush unduly for” the Toronto festival _ or for any fest.

“There will always be an opportunity down the line to premiere your film if you’re not going to make any one particular festival,” he said. “The most important thing is to make it the best film you can. If you can do that within our time window, great, but I think rushing for the sake of rushing is always a little bit risky when you’re trying to create any work of art.”

Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta, writer-director of the recently released I’ll Follow You Down, agrees.

“I know people who do rush it. In my experience it only hurts the film if you rush it for any festival,” he said. “If the film is going to be what it’s going to be, you kind of have to let the process breathe and embrace the process. I would never rush a film.”

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Terry Gilliam has developed a surefire way to make a festival or studio deadline.

I put in my contract ‘Six months of editing,’ ” he said.

Still, even the most veteran filmmakers can find themselves burning the midnight oil ahead of a fest.

“Yeah, you do that,” said Oscar-nominated writer-director Rob Reiner. “Sometimes that happens, and I think probably now for me more and more, because the kinds of films I’m making are more reliant on exposure at festivals and so on.”

Director John Cameron Mitchell admits he rushed to get Hedwig and the Angry Inch done in time for the Sundance Film Festival.

“But New Line was so behind that they let us re-cut after Sundance, which is very rare, especially when you’re working with negatives,” he said. “They probably spent another half a million dollars on us after Sundance, which doesn’t happen anymore, because first of all there’s no film anymore. People do do changes after festivals now because it’s cheaper because of the digital aspect.”

As cult filmmaker John Waters puts it, sometimes “you have no choice” but to scramble to make the festival deadline.

“Oh, I’ve done that. Certainly I’ve done it for Cannes,” admitted the writer-director-actor. “I’ve done it before, and it’s important, especially Toronto — it’s opening day of Oscar season.”

Bailey said if they see a title that’s been submitted for festival consideration and it’s not quite finished, they’ll talk to the filmmakers about the best move.

“We may say at some point, ‘Look, it doesn’t feel to us like you’re going to have the time you need to really finish this film the way you want to. Are you sure you want to finish it for Toronto?’ In some cases, yes, they absolutely do, and they can commit to doing that without compromise. And in other cases, no, they want to take more time, and that happens every year.

“We don’t push filmmakers to finish for our festival and I encourage them not to rush to finish for any festivals. It’s just not the best way to work on anything creative.”

However, they have seen films that have played at the festival “as works in progress,” he added.

“For some filmmakers, that’s a very risky thing that they get very nervous about as well, because it’s hard to expose your work before you’re completely satisfied that it’s finished,” said Bailey.

Eight Mile was presented in Toronto as a work in progress, The Hurricane was presented as a work in progress. Those films went on to do very, very well. And they were works in progress in the sense that there were just a few finishing touches that weren’t quite there. They weren’t rough cuts or anything like that. They were nearly there.”

As Wet Bum writer-director Lindsay Mackay sees it, the last-minute crunch is a help, not a hindrance.

“We’re rushed, but in a good way,” she said in mid-August, noting she was still doing colour correction and mixing on her movie ahead of its world premiere at TIFF.

“There should always be a good amount of pressure, I feel. There should always be a goal for a movie. We got an amazing goal and we’re really excited about it.”

Besides, having plenty of editing time doesn’t take away the jitters, she added.

“Regardless of whether or not what process you’re in, the first time you show it, it’s going to be nerve-racking no matter what. Even if you felt you had the most time to edit it or you felt like everything was perfect, the first time you show a movie, you have no idea how people are going to respond.”

“I’m onscreen, I don’t even know if I suck yet,” interjected Leah Pinsent, who stars in the drama.

“Yeah, it’ll be nerve-racking for you,” said Mackay, adding with a laugh: “You don’t suck.”

With files from Canadian Press reporter Laura Kane.