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Festival News
Your time is up: Schmoozing
Joan, how are ya? Loved your work in ... Oh hi, Andrew, nice to see ya. You were great in ... Liz! How's it goin'? ...

The Globe and Mail
September 14, 2002

Parties are ruined by it. Friendships fall apart because of it. Even marriages break down as a consequence. And, of course, dignity and self-respect all but disappear because of it.

Schmoozing. The art of puckering up, sucking up, backslapping and false intimacy that characterizes so many people's impressions of how to do business and get things done.

Now, schmoozing oozes through many professions but few do it as much, and as insidiously, as the film and television industries. With this year's Toronto International Film Festival wrapping up and the Atlantic Film Fest kicking off, it's time to scour the sickly grease that fuels so much of our cultural industries.

You see, all those film-fest parties, they're not about movies. Who has time to see movies at a film festival? It's all about who you know, and who you were seen with -- even if you just met. Having fun is never part of the equation. Look at L.A. There, everybody schmoozes, nobody drinks.

We would never say that, unto itself, schmoozing is evil. Far from it. Getting to know people in order to get ahead is a form of forward motion in a world that is all about moving up. But there are those who schmooze to work and there are those who work simply to schmooze. We all know them, the people whose business cards should rightly read: Networker.

They were all over the Toronto film festival this past week. These are the people who go to the parties and receptions with an agenda. They have staked out objectives -- one or two principal targets that they must talk to for the party to have been a success. This isn't necessarily the pitch session. It's the brief encounter that leads to the meeting that leads to the proposal that leads to the pitch. And by then it's spring and you're off to the Banff Festival.

A good schmooze is all about how you case the room. The schmoozer walks in, perfecting the voice. You know the tones, honey-dripped, practised lines that bounce admirably off glistening, ambitious faces. As they walk into the party, they see how full the room is of such faces. Across the room is Mr. NFB talking to some badly dressed filmmaker, both doing their own version of the schmooze dance. Fearless or shameless, the schmoozer cruises over. Being seen chatting with Mr. NFB will get the attention of the assistant to Mr. Televisonary, and that is the aim of this party, to score an invite to another party.

So over you go, introduce yourself, and say "I'm sorry to interrupt." Make a quick perfunctory glance at the filmmaker and make note-to-self to get to the gym more often so you never let yourself go like that. "I just wanted to say I love the . . ." Then, chat for no more than three minutes about what films he's seen, how great the party is, how great that party yesterday was, and "wasn't it funny when Norman made that remark about Robert and Sheila Copps?"

Then, having made sure you have been noticed, move on to bump into a VP of development or two who you'll pretend to talk to for a few minutes. Again, making sure you're noticed, as you move closer to your prey.

Even if they meet their objectives, schmoozers, like grifters, are never satisfied. Meeting up later with others of their ilk, the hard-core schmoozer will slag every party and event as "lame."

But let us remember, in this age of ever-diminishing expectations, that simply showing up does not entitle one to the keys to the kingdom. Nodding sycophantically as you listen to some terrible bore go on and on about how he's done this and met her and how smart and wonderful he is -- as you wait to tell him the same -- is not an enviable skill.

Do you know of things or people whose time should be up? Send us your suggestions at review@globeandmail.ca


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