How the TIFF gift lounge hustle works

They're waiting for a visit from Rachel McAdams or Ellen Page, but what's in it for them. Take a peek inside a TIFF celebrity gift suite.

They're waiting for a visit from Rachel McAdams or Ellen Page, but what's in it for them?

Giveways galore... if you're on the list. The scene inside the 2015 Tastemakers gift lounge. (Mercedes Grundy)

A trip to TIFF doesn't begin and end with film premieres. Not if you're an actor — or a director or producer. Before many of them leave Toronto, they'll pick up some freebie souvenirs — goodies way better than whatever's in their hotel tuck shop — at a gifting lounge or three. These suites pop up in hush-hush locations all over the festival, but in 2005, when Leesa Butler and Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski founded Tastemakers, their Hollywood-style celeb lounge, it was a relatively new concept in Canada. What's inside? And what's in it for the companies, large and small, putting their gear in the hands of Oscar contenders and Twitter influencers? Let's take a peek.

Lisa Mattam, founder & president of Sahajan

Just how new is the gift-lounge experience to Lisa Mattam? Her products weren't on sale until August. But during the first weekend of the festival, the Toronto-based entrepreneur will be sharing her organic skincare treats — body oils and face serums — with visitors who come through the space.

Business owners like Mattam don't know who'll be visiting the gift lounge in advance, though they get a heads-up about the guest list the night before. Her dream is to get her skincare line "in the hands of someone who believes in organic products, believes in natural," she says. "Someone who has a similar value set."
Orphan Black actress Kristin Booth gets ready for a VR experience inside the 2015 Tastemakers gift lounge. (Mercedes Grundy)

There's no guarantee that perfect spokes-match will appear, but she doesn't think of the gift lounge as a gamble. It's "low-risk," she says. When she looks at the resources she'd invest in doing her own media push, doing a gift lounge costs her less. "And there's increased exposure — and I get to meet up with cool brands as well," she says.

"I didn't know what to expect because I've never done anything like this and I've never participated in a media day," she says. "But you know what? It's amazing."

Karl Campbell, actor

Karl Campbell's done gift lounges before, but this is the first time he's taken treats home. The Toronto-based actor (Hyena Road) would visit them when he bodyguarded for stars including Nelly Furtado. "It's funny because I was usually on the other end of it. So yeah, it's a little different. Being on this end, you really appreciate what the brands are doing," he says.

Campbell sees the give-and-take at play. Just as brands are looking to match their products with the right entertainment-industry advocates, he's looking to find a good match, too. "As an actor you definitely want to support a brand that suits you and your character and everything that you're doing. I'm all about positivity, living a good lifestyle."

"Being an actor, it's a difficult thing. It really, really is," says Campbell. So let's not mince words. Free shoes can make a difference.  "As an actor there's a style you have to project. You want to be hip and modern and trendy. All the fashion brands definitely help." 

Leesa Butler, VP operations of Tastemakers Lounge

"I really hope we see some of our Toronto starlets," Leesa Butler says, sharing her hopes for this year's gift lounge. Rachel McAdams, for instance, or Sarah Gadon or Ellen Page.

Stars like them would leave the suite with complimentary swag. The trade-off for the brands handing out the giveaways? It could, if they're lucky, prove more valuable than Sorels and spa visits.

Stars including Brad Pitt, Shirley MacLaine, Sigourney Weaver, Samuel L. Jackson and Ethan Hawke have picked up treats at past Tastemakers gift lounges. (Mercedes Grundy)

"The best case scenario is that somebody famous is snapped by paparazzi and they land on the cover of Us Weekly wearing something they received in your gift lounge," she says. "That actually happened with Joe Fresh, with Brad and Angelina's kids wearing their kids' wear. And you know, months after the lounge, there it is."

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