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The Four Seasons Lobby

There’s been quite a few parties over the last week. The key locations have been the Club Monaco store which hosted the Premiere Party and the “In Her Shoes” party last night. The Lobby, which hosted the Endeavor party, the Trailer Park Boys party, and the Bettie Page party. The Chanel store, which hosted “Thank You For Smoking” and a few others.

To be quite honest, I’m not really into attending parties. I like movies. I’ve been going to three or four movies a day, ever since the press has died down on my own film. That said, last night on a lark, my producer Dan and I went to the party at the Lobby. I walked up to the bouncer and said, “I directed ‘Thank You For Smoking’. Can I come in?”

And the guy let me in. I think I probably could have said anything. “Hi, I directed Mustapha the Goat Puncher”. Welcome. Enjoy your evening.

However, if you are interested in doing business in Toronto and meeting everyone in attendance at the festival, the place to do it is the Four Seasons lobby. It is an inescapable Hollywood vortex. It’s actually pretty funny. It is almost more of a surprise when I walk through and recognize nobody.

My favorite sighting has to be Luis Guzman of Boogie Nights, Traffic, and Carlitos Way. We were waiting for an elevator together and I just looked at him and said, “Man, you fucking rock”. He nodded back with a touch of a smile in return and said, “Hey, that’s cool.”

However, if you really want to spend quality time in the hotel, you may want to get a room for the week. There was a fan in the lobby and I guess he was harassing people. He was chased out of the hotel and dropped to the ground in the driveway. The last I saw of him was five bellmen kneeling on his back, LAPD style.

I’ve seen quite a few movies now here at the festival. My favorites have to be:

The Notorious Bettie Page
The Worlds Fastest Indian
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
Tristram Shandy; A Cock and Bull Story
Walk the Line
Shooting Dogs

I’ve noticed a few responses to the blog. I hope I am living up to my expectations here. If you have any questions about my Toronto experience, feel free to ask.

Bidding War

When you dream about showing up to a film festival with your first feature, you think about a few things. You want a sold out screening with a line around the block. You want the audience to go head over heels for your film. And of course, you want the all too famous bidding war.

You can’t help but hear the many stories of competing distributors fighting it out in hotel rooms til the wees hours of the morning. An all night auction pumped up by festival adrenaline that makes executives feel like gladiators, whose only choice is win or die. I always wondered what went on in these rooms. Why does it take so f’n long?

Well, if you’ve been keeping track of this year’s Toronto Film Festival, then you’ve probably read or heard that my film “Thank You For Smoking” was the source of one of these wars. A battle so hard fought that two studios continue to claim to own my film. I’ve woken up to a quite a few humorous headlines. My favorite being, “Searchlight Smokes, Paramount Fumes”.

The truth is, I couldn’t be more excited about Fox Searchlight distributing the film. In my opinion, they’re the best in the business. For many years now, they’ve represented an unparalleled taste for great movies and a home for important filmmakers. I couldn’t be more proud to join that family.

You’re probably wondering why two companies claim they own the same film. As my main character, Nick Naylor, would say, “I can’t speak to that”. My own speculation, without a firm grasp of the details, is that it is hard to come close and then lose. I am certainly surprised that this continues to be a story day after day up here in Toronto. Certainly, nothing good can come up of that for either party.

The only positive light I can see coming out of all of this is the perception that “Thank You For Smoking” is a great movie and worthy of this attention. I only can hope that it will encourage more people to see it. I look forward to see people this coming Saturday at our final screening at the festival. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd this story attracts.

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing a ton of press. This is mostly in part to our very impressive PR man, Jeremy Walker. He’s been whisking me away to interview after interview with various North American press outlets. It’s the craziest thing. You walk into hotel room after hotel room, and each one has been converted into a different looking set.

And they give you all this free crap. One place, E-Talk Daily, even gave out roll away suitcases, filled with free swag. I’ve gotten everything from sunglasses and jeans to a brown faux-fur lined hot water bottle.

It’s actually a bit exhausting. I don’t want to bitch, but it’s hard to answer the same questions in the same careful and rehearsed way over and over all day. After a while, you feel like real tool.

The highlight of all of this was meeting Steven Soderbergh. We were doing press in the same courtyard and had the same PR firm. Chris, my PR rep introduced me to him. I went on and on about how much I admired his work and what he was doing for independent cinema. Yesterday, I saw his film “Bubble”. It’s fantastic. He’s living the dream. He gives directors like myself a continuously moving target, that pushes us to do greater things and reminds us why we do what we do.

After the party it’s the after party

The Ryerson Theater. 6:30pm. 1400 seats. Packed house. Premiere of my first film, "Thank You For Smoking".

The lights went down and the movie started. We have a fun opening title sequence that uses animated versions of classic cigarette packages. It looked fantastic on the big screen. All the actors got tremendous applause as their credits each popped up.

The first scene came up and the audience was immediately responsive. Laughing. Cheering. Embracing the main character, Nick, and the dark comedy in general. I can’t explain what it feels like to hear a thousand people laughing at something you wrote. Most of the dialogue in the script belongs to Chris Buckley. But every once in a while, one of my lines comes through and gets a huge laugh. It’s exhilarating.

I ran back to the theater manager a couple times to make adjustments to the volume, but the overall sound and projection was great considering this is not normally a movie theater and this was the first day of the festival. The masking on the screen was off, making it so you could see the splices from the negative cut in certain scenes. I imagine this is due to my film being anamorphic which is a rare enough aspect ratio and shooting style, that it wasn’t set up perfectly on day one. Perhaps I’m just being an anal director. It didn’t seem to effect the audience’s enjoyment of the film.

The film ended and by the time the first credit began to roll up, the audience was cheering. The end title theme song is “Greenback Dollar” by the Kingston Treo. Bill Macy, who was sitting in front of me, turned around and said, “How the heck do you know this song? It was old when I was your age.”

I went up on stage and began introducing the cast. Everyone got tons of applause, particularly Aaron Eckhart. Then, I brought up the producer David Sacks and the novelist Chris Buckley. The reception was incredibly warm and almost everyone in the audience stayed for the Q&A.

After we stepped off the stage, Buckley gave me a great big bear hug and told me how proud of me he was. Aaron couldn’t stop talking about how much he enjoyed the movie and all the little unexpected details I added in the cut.

After the screening, we all ran to our cars and headed over to the after party. A packed shin-dig at the Chanel Store on Bloor. They cleared out the whole place and it was packed. We arrived to a mob scene behind barricades. I did a few more interviews and took a few more photos on the way in.

I was brought upstairs to the VIP room, where Sidney Pollock was having a drink. He shook my hand and congratulated me.

Yes… Sydney Pollock. Three Days of The Condor. Tootsie. The Interpreter. I took one look at him and said, “You’re a legend.” We talked a few minutes. I asked him about his Frank Ghery documentary. He was very friendly.

People came up left and right with congratulations. Michael Madsen even said hello. It was a wonderfully vain experience. To be honest, the greatest part is just to know the film is not a complete failure. When writing and directing, there are countless days when you are certain that you will never amount to anything and your current project is simply the evidence for you own demise. A response like this at the end of it all is tremendously reassuring.

I spoke to a few newspaper journalists until my voice went hoarse. Then, I got hungry. But all they had to eat were these trays of snooty hors d’ouvres. Fortunately, Cameron Bright, our twelve year old star, ordered a bunch of pizzas. They saved my life that night.

After a few hours, our PR aficionado, Jeremy Walker, pulled Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, and I to go to a City TV event called “The Schmooze”. It’s a live television event, in which they block off an entire city block with an enormous red carpet that leads to a party inside the television station.

When we got there, the thousands of girls immediately started shouting for Brody… “ADAM…!” Brody is so gracious. He shakes hand after hand. Signs autograph after autograph. Leaning over the guardrail to pose for photo after photo. We were brought to the TV host for a quick interview. She gave me this big, who-the-hell-are-you stare. Fortunately, the actors introduced me. We answered a few questions then headed inside.

Later on, we went to a small party held by Michael Budman, the co-founder of Roots. I was particularly excited about this, as I am an enormous Roots fan. I wore Roots every day of the shoot of “Thank You For Smoking”. I told Michael this and he was impressed. He promised to give me a discount when I go into the flagship store on Bloor later this week.

Around 3AM, I crashed. I went back to the hotel with my wife. In the taxi on the way home, I called room service and ordered hot apple pie with ice cream. No cheese. (For those of you who saw the film).

I woke up Saturday morning and it all seemed like a dream. I went downstairs early to begin my day of press. As I stepped out of the elevator, an older couple stepped in. As the doors began to close, the wife pointed at me and said, “That’s him. The guy who directed the movie.” Then the doors shut. Welcome to my fifteen minutes.

I apologize that this blog has not been up to the minute. I’m sure that if you have made your way to this blog, you must be interested in my reaction to all the recent action surrounding my film. I have been a little busy for the last few days, but hope to be up-to-date by end of day tomorrow.

Night of the Premiere

Friday night. Three hours before my screening. I have a drink with my agent at the Hyatt. A couple people come by to wish us luck. I get back to my hotel suite and my wife and I get ready. I have a rare pair of sneakers for the premiere. Pink and Brown Nike SB’s. I have a matching pink shirt. (The idea was to emulate the pink look of healthy lungs, as opposed to the blackened tar look of a smoker). I know… it’s a bit much.

I’d been scrawling my speech onto various pads of paper. I went over to my parent’s hotel room and gave them a rehearsal of my speech. They dug it. They asked if I could do it without notes. Um… okay?

My wife and I went down to the Channel Suite at the Four Seasons. They’re sponsoring our premiere and have a “grooming suite” in the hotel to prep the actors. Everyone’s already down there. Aaron Eckhart was getting final touch ups. Maria Bello walked in already done up. Adam Brody and David Koechner were chatting in the corner. Bill Macy came in wearing this fantastic grey suit. I said, “Nice threads, Bill.” He smiled back, “Oh this old thing?”

I found a corner and continued to compose my after screening notes. You see, I have to introduce every actor. So, I’m trying to come up witty, charming, thoughtful, heart warming, brilliant things to say. But I’m sweating so much that the pen is hardly staying in my hand.

You’re car is ready.

We’re ushered downstairs one by one as our car arrives. Audi is also sponsoring our premiere. They’ve provided Audis to drive each cast member separately to the theater and then to the event. I was told, since my whole family is here, I would be taking an SUV…

They weren’t kidding. I walk out of the lobby to find a prom night forty foot SUV, with room for about twenty inside. “This has got to be joke”… No, get in the car, we’re late, we’re late, we’re late. We all pile in and start heading towards the theater. My dad says loudly, okay lets all take a deep breath. I crumple my notes into my pocket. Minutes later, we arrive at the theater.

There’s a line going around two blocks for the film. It’s really chaotic. I’ve been to quite a few premieres in my life, but this was the first one for my film… and it just feels crazy. I step out of the limo and head onto the red carpet. First… a blank stare. Then, they’re informed I’m the director and begin taking photographs.

Nearby, Adam Brody was signing autographs and doing press. Girls behind a barricade are screaming for him, “ADAM! ADAM, I LOVE YOU!” He simply looks back with a grin and says, “Come on, that’s not true.” One guy brought a four-foot poster of Adam to sign. It’s a little nuts.

I come around the bend and a few people start asking for my autograph. Now this is new for me… Very new. Before I start signing, it dawns on me… I can’t just give out my legal signature… The one I use on checks and taxes and on my driver’s license…. So, I quickly come up with a new scribble to represent my name. On paper, it looks more like my name is John Pitman, but hey.

One girl went to pass me a sharpie, when it slipped from her hand, dropping on my left shoe, and writing right across the toe. Well, I can’t imagine a better story around my hard-to-find kicks. How’d you scuff them? Signing my first autographs.

I do a bunch of interviews and take a lot of photos… Mostly with my dad. Then, they usher us into the theater. The place is enormous, but actually quite intimate. Jane Schoettle, my films programmer and a sweetheart, brings me up into the wings of the theater, then proceeds to introduce me. She was very kind. I got up in front of the audience and said the first thing that came to mind…

“I’m really scarred right now”

The whole place laughed. It was great. It opened me up to the rest of the speech, which I did off-book, thank you. I thanked the cast, Christopher Buckley (the author of the book, “Thank You For Smoking”), my agent Jeff Gorin, my co-producer Daniel Dubiecki, the producer/financier of the film David Sack, my parents, and my wife Michele, who taught me to be a better Canadian.

I ran off stage, found my seat, and the lights quickly went down.

Got to run to see a movie. I’ll log in later today and tell you how it went.

Checking into the festival

We landed in Toronto yesterday afternoon. We checked into the hotel and immediately went over to pick up our movie tickets. Next week, I have tickets to:

The Worlds Fastest Indian, Revolver, Little Athens, Walk The Line, Where The Truth Lies, One Last Thing, The Notorious Betty Page, Tristam Shandy, The District, The Squid and the Whale, Gentille, Kinetta, Brothers of the Head, Winter Passing, John & Jane, and All Souls.

I’m telling you - I don’t screw around. I came here to see movies. I’m very excited about my list. Particularly the new films by Guy Ritchie, Mary Harron, and Michael Winterbottom. I can’t quite believe I have a movie that’s playing at the same festival as these guys.

I check ed in with the festival and got my director packet including the all important name badge. However, the font is so small on the badge, that reading my name would require a level of intimacy that I don’t expect from most festival goers.

It’s a whole new experience, showing up with a feature. I’ve spent the last five years showing up with short films. In the past, they just pat me on the head and send me on the way. The feature gets you a much bigger smile, not to mention invitations to many parties I have no plan on attending.

When we got to the hotel I found out the trades wrote up my film, “Thank You For Smoking”, as one of the hot movies to buy this year for domestic distribution. It’s a little nerve racking. There’s a fair amount of expectation, but at the end of the day, the audience is either going to laugh or walk out.

I got dressed up for the opening night gala. I actually wore dress shoes (a film festival first for me). It happened at the Roy Thompson Hall, which looks kind of like a giant glass flan. The introduction of the film went on for about an hour. When they finally began to run the film around 9pm, someone in the balcony yelled out, “finally!” She was quickly hushed. Yikes,

Four hours later, we were at the Ryerson for the screening of “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic”. This was quite a different audience. This was the midnight crowd. My people. (No, I don’t mean Jews). They were screaming from the moment we walked in the theater. The movie was hilarious. I highly recommend it… as long as you find humor in a girl serenading retirees at an old age home with a song called, “You’re going to die soon”.

If you think that’s funny, then 1. You’re my king of person 2. You should see this film.

It’s now Friday morning and I ‘ve got to start worrying about my screening in a few hours. Don’t worry - If I commit suicide, I’ll be sure to blog first.

Day 1 Toronto Film Festival

I’m on the 6:45am flight from Los Angeles to Toronto. Daniel Dubiecki, a producer on “Thank You For Smoking, described the flight best. He said, “It’s a field trip”. That’s what it feels like. It seems as though every single passenger is headed for the festival as if this were some sort of school trip.

Starting at the gate, then continuing onto the plane, all you see are screenplays, press notes, and copies of the trades. All you hear is film talk. Who directed that? Do you have tickets? I heard it’s his comeback film.

I just finished writing my introduction to my own screening and my cast. I came up with most of it last night, lying in bed, unable to sleep. I haven’t slept much lately. Been having nightmares of empty screening rooms and people booing me out of the theater.

If you’re a little curious about who I am, and why they chose this schmuck to write a blog, perhaps I can give you a little background on myself.

“Thank You For Smoking” is my first feature. I adapted the screenplay from the novel of the same name five years ago. (The book rocks. You really owe it to yourself to read it). I’ve spent the last few years directing commercials and short films, waiting for the opportunity to direct this film. If you’d like to check out my short films, you can check them out at or you can see my commercials at

Tonight, I’m seeing the festival opener, “Water” and the midnight comedy, “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic”. I’m also going to drop by the opening night party. I’ll tell you how they go.

8 Hour Trip to New York

Last night, I got on a red eye to New York to show the film to executive producers as well as a reporter from the Globe and Mail. I had to hand carry the film back and forth as a security precaution. Because of piracy concerns, the few copies of the film that exist are kept under watchful eye. Today, that watchful eye is me. I’ve been checking my backpack every ten minutes to make sure the Digibeta is still there.

Everyone seemed to be thrilled by the screening. After, I went for lunch with the reporter. He’s doing a piece on my father and I. Doing an interview always makes me feel like a tool. You’re just talking about yourself on end. And there’s always a concern that the journalist would like nothing better than to reveal your utter toolness.

However, this guy seemed very nice and I’m hoping for a fun article. We’ll see when I get to Toronto. Just to give you an idea of my travel schedule… I arrived in NY at 8:15 this morning. I’m now flying home. My flight took off at 4:25pm. It was an eight hour trip to New York.


Okay, good. The Digibeta is still in my backpack.

I keep thinking about Run Lola Run when the lead character leaves the bag of money on the train. De taj! De taj!

Getting ready for Toronto

We're finished.

Five years ago, I began writing the screenplay for "Thank You For Smoking". Last night, we finished mixing, thus completing my first feature. I am happy to report that there will be a print in the projector on September 9th when we're scheduled to premiere in Toronto.

I woke up this morning, slept in, and began pouring over the festival catalogue. So far, I'm very excited about "Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic", "Takeshis", "Brothers of the Head", "Neverwas", "China Blue", "Bubble", "Shooting Dogs", and "The District"... and I've only made it halfway through the schedule.

Tomorrow, I'm heading down to Deluxe to review the final answer print for Toronto. We used a digital intermediate process to color the film and I couldn't be happier. It's incredible to see the film projected after months of watching a low res uncolored version on the Avid.

Spoke to Adam Brody and JK Simmons yesterday. Both are psyched about the festival. I told them how big the Ryerson theatre was. No one can believe it. My wife downloaded a photo of the place and emailed it to me. The place is huge. I'm terrified of introducing the film. Wish I could make a short film that introduced the film in lieu of a speech.

Well, that's enough for a first entry. I'll let you know how the answer print screening goes.