TIFF 2007 (Vickie’s diary): Lamenting TIFF’s ticketing system

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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.


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