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TIFF 2014 Countdown: Celeb Stalking and Lauren Bacall's tiff

08/30/2014 06:29 EDT | Updated 10/30/2014 05:59 EDT

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You can feel the buzz around the 39th Toronto International Film Festival.

Everyone's talking about the most anticipated films, which actors they're hoping to see and the parties they hope to crash -- hope being the operative word. For a lot of us, the countdown started at the beginning of July when the ticket packages went on sale. Although, it's fair to say that the real countdown started at last year's closing gala party. Coming back to reality was hard because TIFF'13 was so jam-packed with Oscar-worthy movies and performances. And the star sightings were cool too: Michael Fassbender, Daniel Brühl, Brad Pitt, Dan Stevens to name a few.

It's those up-close-and-personal experiences that really make it for me and my TIFF friends. They're best if they're random. I'm not into stalking celebrities for pics and autographs, unlike the crowds I see every year gathering outside the main theatre locations hours before a premiere. I ask who they're waiting to see and more often than not the answer is: "I don't know. All I know is that celebrities will be showing up." It's a thrill for them, incomprehensible to me.

I've always found it to be more rewarding to be in the theatre. You're counted among the few who get to share this unique experience with the talent for that one night only. Sometimes you get to sit alongside actors who just showed up to watch their friend's film. For example, I was more intrigued watching Ethan Hawke joyfully chomping on popcorn and laughing during the premiere of Romance and Cigarettes. Seriously, who cares what's happening on the screen when the real thrill is watching a famous actor just being part of the audience. Colin Farrell did the same thing when he came to watch Campion's Bright Star. It was fascinating. He crept in with a fedora partly covering his face, friend in tow, just as the ads were playing. It made me laugh that he tried so hard to be stealthy considering how dark the theatre was.

Sometimes the stalking can take a scary turn. Take for example the mini-riot that took place in 2007 the night Brad Pitt premiered The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He and Angelina were being driven back to the Hyatt on Avenue Road via Yorkville. When the SUV had to stop for the light, it was swarmed by screaming fans wildly taking pictures. One young mother even took her toddler out of his stroller and lifted him in front of the windshield to give him a better view of the stars. It's such a crazy story it's hard to believe it actually happened.

I get the feeling that celebs feel more safe and anonymous during the daytime at TIFF. It's like they suddenly just blend in, such that they almost want to be recognized. Take for example my mid-day run-in -- again in Yorkville -- with Mads Mikkelsen, well known for his Le Chiffre in Casino Royale.

"Excuse me," I said. "Sorry to bother you but I have to tell you how excited I am to see your film."

"Oh, are you coming to the premiere tonight?" he said.

"No, I couldn't get a ticket so I'm attending the replay."

"Well, I can tell you that it's a completely different way of telling the story. I'm very proud of it," he went on. I thanked him for his time, wished him a good time and went to my next film.

That Saturday, I attended the 9:00 a.m. showing of Coco Channel & Igor Stravinsky. It's an ungodly hour when you've been attending evening galas for several days straight. Needless to say, no amount of caffeine was helping my mood until the director and Mads Mikkelsen arrived on stage for a Q&A at the end of the film. I was sitting in the fourth row, shot my arm up and did my best Horshack impression.

"Mr. Mikkelsen, you said that this was a different way of telling a story, was it part of the script or did you present it to the director?"

Wow, I bet that was the best question he's ever had during a Q&A.

"Thanks for your question. Yes, we chatted the other day about one of my movies using a different method to tell a story. Unfortunately, I was talking about Valhalla Rising."

Total annihilation.

Luckily he didn't think I was a total ass when I apologized for my stupidity as I left the theatre. Such a nice guy.

Then if you're lucky, you'll find yourself having an up-close-and-personal moment with a Hollywood legend, along with 300+ other people. It's so priceless that you must pinch yourself several times just to know you're really there. The gala at Roy Thomson Hall for The Walker in 2007 was billed as a star-packed movie that echoes American Gigolo twenty years later. The big buzz was that Lauren Bacall and director Paul Schrader would be attending. The event started normally with the usual introductions and speeches. The movie started, also as usual. Then 45 minutes in, something wasn't right. This scene doesn't make sense with the last scene, I thought. It's like the movie is out of order. In fact it was. They stopped it, turned up the lights and announced a 20 minute intermission. Soon we were back in the theatre for an impromptu Q&A as they reordered the reels. It was nearing 10:30 p.m. and Bacall was clearly irritated. Her mood worsened when someone asked when she first realized it was true love with Bogey.

"I'm not going to answer that highly personal question!" she snapped. Knock out!

Next, someone asked Schrader a question about one of his films. He started in on a very long and involved answer. Meanwhile, Bacall was impatiently shifting in her chair. First she crossed her right leg over her left and held a bottle of water in her right hand. Then she moved the bottle to her left hand, harrumphed and shifted again so that now her left leg was over the right. Schrader went on with his story. The harrumphing and eye rolling continued. The story went on and on. Bacall became crosser and crosser. It was fascinating to watch.

Suddenly, Bacall spoke up: "I'm sorry, but I can't hear him and have no idea what he's talking about. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for coming, but it's late so I'm going to leave. Goodnight."

Shut.Up. Did that really just happen? Awesome.

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