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.”