So you want TIFF tickets? Good luck. If you have a full-time job that you enjoy and want to keep, serious TIFF-ing is probably not for you. I'll assume anyone reading this is not a TIFF member, because the least they should do for you is walk you through this.
So this is how it works. Everyone has the option, at various assigned times, of buying a ticket "package" or individual movie tickets. There are two basic packages: My Choice, where you choose the films you want to see, and TIFF Choice, where they are chosen for you. Like a la carte or omakase.
In case you're interested, a couple of websites attempt to explain this process with flowcharts, which are inherently tedious and effective only in Cosmo quizzes. This one says "If you don't particularly care about which films you see, then buy a TIFF Choice package.'" Who exactly are the people who don't care about which films they see? You wouldn't line up for hours at the cinema for an arbitrarily chosen film the rest of the year, so don't be all desperate during TIFF. This isn't prom.
Also, before you dive right in, know that there are a lot of bad films at film festivals -- even TIFF. A film festival is primarily a tool for distributors to watch films and then decide if they think they would be popular with the public. Most of these films have not been seen before (that's what "world premiere" means), and therefore have not been rated or critically reviewed. So whatever you go see could be terrible. Just saying.
Now, here's your step by step guide to acquiring TIFF tickets:
1. Check the festival lineup. Do you want to see just one or two or many? Are you interested in hyped-up movies with Hollywood types or smaller obscure documentaries and indie films? If you only want to see a couple of films, stick to individual tickets and skip everything until step 8 below. If you want to see more than say five, buy a package.
2. If you really can't be bothered to select your own films, buy a TIFF Choice package based on theme or film timings. They have a few themes, such as Midnight Madness (horror films), Canadian Content etc. They also have Costco style "value packs", which are basically discounted tickets. One such pack is the Daytime Sampler, which is a package of movies that begin before 5:01 p.m. This is good for those who have unused vacation days or are "self-employed" (we know you're a dealer, you aren't fooling anyone).
Another kind is the Premium Sampler Pack, which has tickets to Gala Screenings. These are the big Hollywood films where the stars of the movie show up along with the director, and usually do a Q+A after the film. Those red carpet pics you see in UsWeekly from TIFF are usually from these screenings. Take a look here for all the TIFF Choice pack options. Remember there are no exchanges, so you're pretty much stuck with whatever they give you.
3. If you want to see specific films, buy the My Choice package. This is where it gets a little confusing. You have the same options as the TIFF Choice ones, i.e. Daytime, Regular, Premium (Gala) and Back Half. By the way, I'm still not entirely sure what Back Half is -- I think it's sloppy seconds, as its purchasers get to choose their films two entire days after all other package requests have been fulfilled.
4. TIFF will email you the day before the schedule is released, telling you the "randomly assigned" day and time to log onto the website to select your tickets. What they don't tell you is that there's always an online queue. So whatever time they give you, start clicking "Log On" at least 15 minutes before.
5. TIFF doesn't release the actual schedule of film screenings until much later, lest they make planning too convenient for you. This year, it comes out Aug. 20. So now check out the film timings on the TIFF site and decide which showings you can realistically do. Remember that you'll need to line up at least an hour before the start time for decent seats, especially somewhere such as Ryerson Theatre.
6. From August 27-30, purchasers of all packages other than Back Half and Daytime can make their selections. You have one hour from the time you log in to complete your selections. If tickets to your film choices are sold out and you can't find anything else you want to see, they issue vouchers you can use later. You also won't be able to log back in after the hour is up, so you basically have one shot to get it right. This is as annoying as it sounds.
7. Have lots of backup choices when you go online to choose your films, because you'll probably get less than half of the ones you want. You really don't want to be stuck with vouchers, mostly because they can't be redeemed online. So basically, if you want to swap your voucher for a ticket later, you'll have to go to the TIFF office on King St. and line up. There are a lot of people waiting to do the same thing, and it takes a very long time. So the smart thing to do is just pick movies that look like they won't be terrible and get the tickets. You can always sell them on Craigslist or give them away later.
8. For those who didn't buy packages, individual film tickets go on sale Sept. 1. You can line up at the box office, but trying online is quite effective. It might say OFF SALE, but it lies. Just keep refreshing the page because tickets do pop up. Check at various times throughout the day. You can also apparently do any of the above by phone at 416.599.TIFF.
9. Daytime and Back Half purchasers get to choose their tickets on Sept 2. These are basically the dregs, but you get what you pay for. Also on Sept 2., you line up at the festival box office to pick up your physical tickets. Take food, drinks, cigarettes, whatever... you'll be there a while.
10. During TIFF, you can also "rush" any film, which means you get there around two hours (seriously) before the film's start time and line up for leftover, unreleased tickets. You won't know if you get one until 10 minutes before showtime. Alternatively, if there's a particular film you didn't manage to get tickets for, wake up at 6:50 a.m. on the morning of the screening and log onto the TIFF ticketing site. There's a good chance you'll manage to snag some. An almost fail-safe but more laborious way of securing tickets is to go to the TIFF box office before 7 a.m. and line up on the same morning.
11. Remember that most good movies in TIFF will be picked up by distributors and shown in theatres eventually, possibly even this year, so sitting tight and doing none of the above is always an option. Happy TIFF-ing!