top of page

Saga of the Standby Line at the TCM Classic Film Festival

April 11, 2014

For me, the TCM Film Festival experience is usually a bit different than other bloggers and accounts I read. Since I’m arriving late to the blogging party, I have no media pass, nor do I possess a pass of any other kind, due to work and financial constraints. However, living in Los Angeles, I do realize how lucky I am that the festival operates in my own backyard, and I'm very fortunate to attend several screenings each year; many bloggers and journalists live all over the world, and though a media credential can get them into the festival, the cost of airfare and hotels in Los Angeles is a large enough monetary hurdle still unfortunately too hard to leap for some.


As a non-pass holder, I get into films - or not - by waiting in standby lines for individual ticket sales. I'm no stranger to film festivals: I attend, volunteer, and work with several in Los Angeles and Hollywood in particular. The line and ticketing system for TCM is no different from a variety of others, such as AFI and LA Film Fest. Pass holders of varying degrees are rightfully afforded priority entrance to screenings, while standby lines for individual ticket sales form and gain admission starting 15 minutes before a screening begins based on how many pass holders have taken seats in the theater.

Standby numbers: my best friends at TCM Classic Film Fest! (Picture by Kim Luperi)

Some festivals, such as LA Film Fest, allow advance purchase for individual tickets, but TCM, mostly a pass holder event, does not do this. I understand their reasoning - with no way of knowing what classics pass holders will choose to attend, it would be an (impossible) nightmare to allow individual tickets to be purchased beforehand. Also, as opposed to other festivals, TCM is not a competition of any kind. Fans come simply to see their favorites and other classics on the big screen. Though many of these movies are available for purchase or viewing on DVD and online, they usually come with special guest introductions, Q&As, or presentations that you couldn't see anywhere else. As for those selections that are rarely seen or are world premiere restorations, where else would you get the chance to watch these movies - on a big screen or even at all? Once again, the answer is: here.


After 5 years of waiting in standby lines attempting to catch both well known and rare films in the theater, I think I see the festival from a slightly different angle. In the standby trenches, as I affectionately call them, you'll find a variety of people: fans that have Matinee or Palace passes (two of the lower cost options) who want to purchase individual tickets for screenings they can't use their pass for, tourists in town for a day or two just looking for a unique way to kill a few hours, and those like me who have been coming to the festival for a few years and know the routine. These lines still bring people together from all over that I get to meet and chat with, but another thing bonds us: minor anxiety. We're not waiting to see a brand new film at a competition fest that will most likely be released in theaters, DVD or streaming within the year. Yes, sometimes our selections are films that we've seen before or are at least available for home viewing, but many times, we're in line for a movie that you won't be able to see anywhere else - really! I'm sure people in the pass holder lines get a bit nervous for these rarer screenings as well, since there's no guarantee their passes will get them in if the line is too long or they arrive late, but they do have an advantage (and again, they should). As we eagerly wait and standby numbers are given out, there are always 'runners,' people who volunteer to scope out the pass holder line and report back with their verdict - is it looking good or bad for us back here?

You can usually find me in a line somewhere under this sign. (Picture by Kim Luperi)

Sometimes, I'll be the first in that standby line, as I was for two, yes TWO, screenings of the pre-Code Safe in Hell last year. Both times, I was shut out because pass holders filled up all the seats (and in that case, some pass holders didn't even get in). Thus, when plotting out my TCM Film Fest schedule, I take two things into account: what I want to see AND what I think I'll be able to get into. Again, pass holders do this too, but for me, it's hard/impossible to gauge what decisions they'll make. For example, this year through the twitter-vine I heard that many people planned on making opening night a Ginger Rogers double feature. For a 7pm screening of 5th Avenue Girl, I arrived at 6:45pm, quite positive I wouldn't make it in (for those of you who know LA, getting from Beverly Hills to Hollywood in less than 30 minutes at rush hour is a feat, so I was happy with my arrival time). I was surprised to find I was only number 28 in line, but none of us in standby gained entrance. Luckily, Cheaper by the Dozen, the next line over, looked promising. Thus, I happily kicked off my 5th festival with the Gilbreth family of Montclair, NJ (more updates on the screenings themselves later).

What a great bunch to kick off the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival with!

Since the first Ginger Rogers feature sold out quickly, I figured the second, Bachelor Mother, would be more of the same. After exiting the Cheaper by the Dozen screening, I made my way back to standby with several others from our theater. The turnaround was slim - only 30 minutes - but I was only number 6 in line. After the first Rogers sell out, I figured I'd have to rely on my second choice, The Heiress, instead, but it actually turned out that more people chose The Heiress than Bachelor Mother (sadly, for them, they missed out on comedian Greg Proops' hilarious intro).


So, for me the festival is always one big guessing game dependent largely on the actions of others (and work and traffic). Year after year, I plan on catching little known movies and am surprised, though by now I shouldn't be, when I find half of the festival attendees have the same idea. You never know what people will pick, which is part of the beauty of this festival: if you don't get in to your first or even second choice movie, there's always something new to discover or at the very least rediscover on the big screen.


I'll admit I've had some fun times in the standby line waiting, wishing, and hoping with others in the same boat - there's a sense of comradeship I don't think you find elsewhere at the festival and even words of congratulations to those who make it in if the whole line doesn't! However, my goal for next year is to move up in the world to pass holder status, which would make life, and festival coverage, a bit easier.


As for me, I'm getting in line early tonight for one of my favorite movies, The Innocents. I've seen it a million times but never in a theater, and it's a perfect film to see in the dark on a big screen. Though I've heard that many people are planning on catching other films during that block, I won't take any chances.


Tomorrow, the standby saga will continue with my attempt to see Maureen O'Hara intro How Green Was My Valley and The Women. Both will play in the largest theaters, but again, you never know what will happen at TCM Classic Film Fest.


Wish me luck!

Will I make it to this screening tomorrow night? Stay tuned to find out! (Picture by Kim Luperi)

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Facebook Basic Square
bottom of page