An Interview with Michelle Lemmon of TIFF

Senior Manager, Marketing & Strategy

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Events TIFF

With TIFF 2017 wrapping up only a few weeks ago, we were excited to interview Michelle Lemmon, Senior Manager, Marketing and Strategy to get her take on the festival and other upcoming events TIFF has in store.

Abacus:
How was the preparation for TIFF this year?

Michelle:
Since Festival is yearly occurrence we have the timing to a tee. On the marketing side, we always start our preparation in April and May. It intensifies in August, in that first week of September leading up. One thing that was different this year for the festival was we reduced the amount of films by about 20%. Which was a strategic decision made to allow a more tightly curated festival experience. To have a higher quality of film in the festival. So far the reaction from the industry and the media and film fans have been really overwhelmingly positive on this move. No one really felt like they missed out on anything.

Abacus:
What were you hoping TIFF attendees would get out of the festival this year?

Michelle:
We have a great mission statement of transforming the way people see the world through film, that we always try to have people experience film. That’s the great thing about the festival is there are such a breadth and depth and variety of film. Anything from world contemporary cinema to our platform program, to our big galas, special presentations, and documentaries. All of the programmes offer a  nice variety that offers something for a Cinemaphile , as well as a casual film viewers to for them they can pop in and see. There’s always a great variety that people can see.

Abacus:
What kind of marketing did TIFF do to raise awareness and drive ticket sales?

Michelle:
Festival is a unique thing in that we don’t have the titles locked when we have our first sales cycle for ticket packages.  We have a sales window early in the summer for packages in June. This is where people can buy their 10-pack to a 100-pack, premium-pack, and then we have our first press conference near the end of July where we announce some of the titles. When programmes get locked, we announce more titles weekly. Film packages go on sale until about the beginning of August, and then we have a bit of a sales dark period. Individual ticket sales go on sale the end of August. In that dark period, we really focus on trying to raise the awareness of individual films by helping to promote trailers and the film programmes, and the films in the programs. When it comes time to select individual tickets or your packages, we want to provide people with a large list of film titles that peak their interest instead of them  going for the four big titles that have the Oscar buzz, but you’re able to pick maybe one or two of the big titles but then also add in and see some hidden gems. In terms of marketing, we have a multi-phased campaign that includes general brand awareness with our festival [m2] creative in market to remind people of the dates and when they can buy tickets as well as our film and film programme pushes on a more tactical level.

Abacus: 
More on a personal note, what was your favorite movie this year?

Michelle: 
Always so tough to pick a favorite. I can narrow it down to three.

Abacus: 
Sure.

Michelle:
I really liked “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, which is the film that won the People’s Choice. It was just a really strong story. I also really enjoyed the closing night film, which was a French comedy called, “C’est la Vie”. I find some of the French comedies, … they’re just different and they’re just very funny. And also being a marketer, I have a real soft spot for Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!”.

Abacus:
What were some of the memorable moments from TIFF this year, do you think?

Michelle:
Some of the memorable moments were some of the different things that we did this year.
We had two free screenings, one of “Dunkirk”, and “North of Superior” at the Cinesphere this year, which is a venue that we haven’t really shown anything at, in a long time. Something special with the “Dunkirk” screening was that Christopher Nolan did attend and he did a Q & A after the film with Cameron. That was pretty special. Also, we had Lady Gaga who did a performance at Visa Screening Room at Princess of Wales this year, before her premier of “Five Foot Two”, her Netflix documentary. And then “The Shape of Water” premiered at the Elgin theater, which parts of the film were filmed at the Elgin theater and all over the GTA, and really celebrated the Toronto film industry. It was Guillermo del Toro’s new one. It was really special to see a lot of the crew and the cast in attendance and to watch it in one of the venues where it was filmed.

Abacus:
Now that the festival is over, how does TIFF still keep viewers engaged?

Michelle:
We do have really great social channels, produce great content and keep our audiences entertained for the other 354 days of the year. We have an in-house video team who will work year-round on shaping pieces. We also have a weekly podcast called “TIFF Long Take”. We are a year-round cinema here so we always have films playing from our new release and Cinematheque programmes running We do always have something going on and then throughout the seasons, we have various subscription programs and film retrospectives.

Abacus:
Do you want to speak to something that’s coming up soon?

Michelle:
Sure. I’ll give you a cross-section of a couple of cool things, things starting up again in the fall, with our Reel Talk series, which is two programs, Sneak Preview and World Contemporary Cinema. I personally think Sneak Preview is a hidden gem here at TIFF. What it is, is, you buy a ticket and you don’t know what the film is, so you show up, and then you find out right before the screening. It’s all English language films. It showcases the best from Hollywood galas to small budget indies, to art-house dramas, to home-grown documentaries. Last year we showed “Miss Sloane”, and “The Founder”, and Michael Moore’s “Trumpland”. You get to see the screening before the films are released before they hit wide release. And then there’s always a thought-provoking discussion after the film, led by a film critic or a subject-matter expert. There’s also treats prior to that screening of coffee and pastries and bagels, which is always a bit of a hit.

Abacus:
Always when food is involved.

Michelle:
Yeah, it’s on select Sunday mornings at 10 AM. One of the other big programs we have coming up is Black Star, which is a program with the BFI. It’s the exploration of Black acting talent. The program shines a spotlight on the creativity and charisma of the trailblazing performers and it celebrates the transatlantic wave of Black British talent breaking out on the screen. Films in this series include Sydney Poitier in “The Heat of the Night”. And also ranges to something more contemporary like Denzel Washington in “Malcolm X”.

Abacus:
Why did you choose to work with us and include Facebook advertising to market the festival?

Michelle:
I think the great thing about working with you is that we’ve seen success and an improvement with our Facebook advertising. We’ve really been able to see and track conversions. It really complements when you’re doing a layered approach to a campaign and have an awareness piece where we have out-of-home and newspaper ads. Then also layering on the Facebook in which we’re seeing real-time conversions or seeing creatively what’s working, what’s not. And we’re able to make adjustments to optimize. So we’ve seen a lot of success with that for the festival.

Abacus: 
Awesome. That’s it. Thanks so much for your time Michelle!