Amy Saun­ders

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SATURDAY FEATURE - Week­end Post

Amy Saun­ders hasn’t been eat­ing break­fast. She hasn’t had time.

The long-time public re­la­tions agent and founder of Al­phaPR spends nearly ev­ery wak­ing minute of the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val nav­i­gat­ing the labyrinthine sched­ules of multi-movie press days that some­times never seem to end. “I drink as much cof­fee as hu­manly pos­si­ble,” she tells me one evening to­ward the fes­ti­val’s end, hold­ing a much-needed cup in one hand and a stack of creased pa­per­work in the other.

Saun­ders is wait­ing to cor­ner press as they stream out of a latenight screen­ing of a film she’s rep­re­sent­ing, poised to gauge the crowd’s off-the-cuff re­ac­tions. She’ll be lucky if she’s home by mid­night – and by dawn to­mor­row, she’ll be back at it all over again. As a PR agent in the throes of the world’s most sprawl­ing and un­wieldy film fes­ti­val, it’s Saun­ders’s job to shep­herd a hand­ful of movies through the bed­lam.

She’s re­spon­si­ble for drum­ming up en­thu­si­asm, at­tract­ing the pre­cious at­ten­tion of times­trained jour­nal­ists and ar­rang­ing, with great metic­u­lous­ness, a riot of round­tables, jun­kets, oneon-ones and red-car­pet cam­er­a­calls, all while re­main­ing — and this is the tricky part — well-slept, wellfed, and at least marginally sane.

Saun­ders wakes up “as early as pos­si­ble” most days, she says, of­ten be­fore five. At once, she checks her phone: she’s look­ing for crises she may have missed while briefly in bed. This year, she’s han­dling the film Sheik Jack­son, so she looks in on the What­sApp group she main­tains with what she calls her Egyp­tian con­glom­er­ate — 20 Egyp­tians and a French pro­ducer, who will keep her ap­prised of the scut­tle­butt abroad. Then she must con­sult her “fes­ti­val bible”: the hulk­ing pile of pa­pers that de­scribe ev­ery de­mand of the end­less day to come.

“Satur­day, 8 a.m.,” to­day’s page head­ing reads. “Set up space, bring donuts and sparkling wa­ter and cups.” So she’s off to the cof­fee shop and the rented room that will be her press lounge — and mis­sion con­trol — all week long.

Thus be­gins the mael­strom of the press day. Re­porters will flock in one af­ter another all morn­ing and af­ter­noon, each pre­pared to speak to the avail­able tal­ent in self-con­tained 10-minute chunks. When Saun­ders used to work for Warner Bros., she’d pull her hair out keep­ing these ra­zor-thin slots on time, ush­er­ing writ­ers in and out be­fore po­litely cut­ting peo­ple off if they at­tempted to go over. These days her sched­ule ac­counts for de­lays with five or 10-minute gaps between in­ter­views.

But even then it can be a nightmare to keep things punc­tual — par­tic­u­larly when an ac­tor’s visa is de­layed, and another’s flight is can­celed, and another is stuck overnight in London. That kind of thing en­trains a mad rush of phone calls and last-sec­ond ad­just­ments. “It’s in­san­ity,” Saun­ders laughs. But she is well-equipped to han­dle the mad­ness. “I am a per­sis­tent moth­erf-----r.”

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