SIFF Opening Night Gala, Part Two (Text)

Now that you’ve seen some pictures from the May 20th Opening Night Gala, it’s time for the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say).

It all started with a transfer.  I had just grabbed an issue of The Stranger, Seattle’s free alternative newspaper, which had a full SIFF guide inside, along with synopses of each movie and (if seen) a ranking of a star if it was good, or MUST SEE if it was…a must see.  Unfortunately, I grabbed a paper as the bus pulled up, which meant that I didn’t have time to find my transfer (and then was worried because, though I had gotten the transfer with a free ride pass, good for any time, my transfer did not say that I could use it for peak travel times, which would translate to an extra 25 cents).  So I sat down and found my transfer soon after the bus pulled away from the curb, showed it to him, and said, “Do I need–”

He nodded at the transfer, and I put it back in my pocket.

I found the Artists Entrance at Benaroya Hall relatively easily, and checked in at the desk on the second floor.  I then took my camera out of my bag and put it in my jacket pocket, not sure whether or not I’d be outside.  After that, I joined the rest of the volunteers in the green room.  I was supposed to find somebody once I arrived, but I forgot her name, and figured somebody would soon direct me where to go.  I also ended up talking to a guy who had done SIFF many times before.  His name was Alan.  As fate would have it, he had lived in Japan when he was eight years old, but hadn’t been back.  Guess everyone has been to Japan.

Then a woman came into the room, calling out people who had the 4 to 6 pm shift, venue volunteers, and several other things I missed.  But, since everyone got up at that point and followed her, so did I (even though my shift was supposed to be 4:30 to 6:30).

Our first task was putting inserts in the SIFF program guides.  We either grabbed a box of programs or shared one with someone, putting the insert-full programs off to the side where, at uneven intervals, someone would pick them up off the floor.  We continued chatting as we did this, finishing in about fifteen minutes.  As we headed toward the lobby, one of the volunteers heard a rumor that Paul Dano (who was starring in the movie playing that night) would be there and almost started freaking out.

“Why didn’t I bring my camera?” she lamented.

Then, we had downtime, allowing me to take a couple photos of the lobby (the other one is in this post, top of the page:

During the lull, Alan said how disorganized SIFF was when it came to assigning tasks to its volunteers (I imagine he’s talking about the special events, only, as I volunteered on Sunday night and it was very organized).  He said they outdo themselves every year.

Anyway, our next task was to man the doors for reserved seating.  All reserved seat tickets would have an L or R (for left or right side) on it, as well as the seating area (orchestra, first tier, second tier) and a letter (for the row) and number( for the seat).  Also, they would be green tickets.  Since I took the first tier, here’s a picture of what the first tier’s reserved sections looked like:

We were given reserved seating signs to stick to the doors, but alas, no tape.  So while one volunteer went to look for tape, some of us got creative in where to stuff these signs (no, not THAT creative).  I got tape, but Alan missed the tape guy.  I decided to station myself at the door to sections J and M, since there was a somewhat possessive woman sitting in the N and P sections.  Once it was time to man the doors, Alan grabbed sections Q and R.

(That’s my door in this shot.)

But, we had some downtime before the masses would arrive. While we waited, Alan and I sat down and watched part of the movie that would be playing that night, The Extra Man.  Sometimes the soundtrack was played in sync with the movie; at other times, the movie played silently.  And then, dramatic music was cued (not for the movie, but for the opening of the gala) as one of the main characters (played by Paul Dano) opened a letter.  I’ve never seen such a dramatic letter-opening scene, which gives you an idea of how music can play with our emotions.  I also saw a scene in which Dano’s character steals a little black dress from Katie Holmes’s character, and then proceeds to have one of his female friends make him up to be a woman, only to have Kevin Kline’s character walk in on this scene.  There’s also a nice pigeon scattering scene, which should be in Roger’s movie glossary, if it isn’t already:

scattered pigeon scene
pigeons are shown walking around on the ground only so that they can scatter in a later shot

As much as I could tell from watching bits and pieces of the middle of this film, sometimes with sound, sometimes without, sometimes with completely inappropriate sound (like the “dramatic” letter-opening scene), it looked quirky and charming, but not great.

Volunteers watching the movie before the gala began.

At 5:40, we were given our five minute warning (doors would open at 5:45), which I used to use the bathroom, though what I really needed (and what wasn’t there) was a water fountain.  On the way to the bathroom, I passed a window through which I could see the Red Carpet, which I mentioned in my previous post.  Talking to Alan again, he said there was a rumor that some VIPs would be at the screening (though I later found out about the “Red Carpet Experience” that one could pay for).  Here’s another picture of that area:

I mentioned before that I decided to man the door leading to sections J and M (and had to put the reserved sign on the inside of the door, once one of the green jacket people opened all of the doors at around the five-minute warning mark). Now, if you were to zoom in on the reserved map above, you’d notice that J and M are not in the reserved seating area.  When I asked the house manager about whether or not they were reserved (to his credit, he came by before the doors opened to make sure we all knew what was going on), he mentioned something about yellow tickets for Row J.  So I thought that there were other tickets that reserved seats for people, in addition to the green ones.  Therefore, when another usher sent people down to section J with white (regular) tickets, I politely told them to go back up to the front, where they were politely turned around and sent back to me.  So I went to find the house manager.  Apparently, what he forgot to mention was that white and yellow tickets are the same.  So I went back to the couple to apologize, looked at the map again, decided that my section wasn’t reserved, took my sign off the door, and moved down to the last reserved section, S and T.  At least, we all thought that it was the last reserved section.  According to the map, it was.  According to two tickets given to me five minutes after the gala was supposed to start, it wasn’t, as those tickets were for section U.  And there were people sitting in their seats who were (rightfully) pissed off about having to move.

So again, I went to find the house manager, but I found the woman who ushered the main doors (a green jacket person) first.  She said, at that point, that all seats were open.  I went back down to tell the other two ushers the news (“When were they going to tell us that?” Alan asked), and then told the couple with the reserved seats.  Luckily for them, me, and the people who had moved to really shitty seats almost parallel with the screen, there were two empty seats in either section S or T, which the couple with the tickets moved to (after thanking me for finding out what was going on), which allowed the other people to move back to their much better seats, and left everyone feeling happy (and me feeling relieved).

Oh, and territorial woman turned out to be pretty nice.  Maybe she had just been surprised when we had opened the door and interrupted her viewing of the film ahead of time.

Anyway, the gala started soon after that, with multiple honored guests speaking (blah, blah, blah), including the mayor.  Lots of thunderous applause for the sponsors (yay money?).  I thought I grabbed a program with a list of the speakers in it (those inserts that we had stuffed inside), but I can’t find it, so it either fell out, or I misplaced it.  That’s been happening a lot recently (misplacing items).

Since no one told us what to do once the gala began, at around 7:30 the female usher who had been working with us went to go find a seat, while Alan headed off to the lobby to see if there was anything else we should be doing. After a pause, I headed out to the lobby, too, asking the green jacket if she had seen where he went.  She hadn’t, so I decided to head back to the green room, stopping briefly at a TV set up to broadcast the gala.  One of the film’s directors was speaking.  Then the movie began, and I continued on my way.

Amazingly, I remembered how to get back to the green room.  As I suspected, Alan was there, but I noticed the food first.  He had told me, at the beginning of the night, that the volunteers had been fed last year, but he wasn’t sure if we were going to be fed again this year.  Well, we were, with warm burritos, chips, and soda (I grabbed the last one).

When I signed out and got my vouchers, the woman said I had been scheduled for 4:30 to 6:30.  I had nursed a nagging feeling all night that I was not volunteering in the correct place (especially since I had signed up for production, and ushers would have signed up under “venue volunteers”), but this confirmed it.  But, wherever I had been needed, I hadn’t been missed, they did need me as an usher (for that last door), and I got two vouchers instead of one, PLUS I got to eat for free, AND I gave SIFF more of my time than I would have had I actually volunteered in the correct place (checking when I got home, I found out that I should have been a line manager, which meant that I would have made sure that everyone was in the correct line outside).

It’s rare when I make a mistake and it turns out in my favor, so I’m not complaining.

And so began my first film festival.


One thought on “SIFF Opening Night Gala, Part Two (Text)

  1. Makes my head spin! Volunteer duties seem more interesting than any movie would be. You have caught it all in your literary camera–missing tapes, scattering pigeons and the posessive lady who turned out to be nice.

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