My TCM Classic Film Festival Experience Through the Years

March 24, 2015

In honor of the sixth annual TCM Classic Film Festival, which kicks off later this week in Hollywood, I looked back at the last five festivals I've attended in varying degrees of capacity and success.

 

When I first heard that TCM was planning a film festival in Hollywood in 2009, I flipped. I had just moved to LA a few months before, and my future in the city was still shaky at the point - I worked two internships and a part time job for months in hopes of gaining full time employment - and for me, that announcement was like a sign that I had landed in the right spot. I was so excited that the festival would take place in my own (relatively new) backyard, and I'm incredibly grateful that I've been able to remain in LA for the past six years, which has given me easy access to each rendition of the event. 

I'd like a replica of this in my living room, please. Birthday idea? (Picture by Kim Luperi)

In the months leading up to that first festival, I checked the website constantly to see how I could intern, volunteer - basically anything to get involved. I still don't know how, but I missed the initial sailing on that volunteer signup. Everything worked out in the end, though, because luckily I was unemployed at the time. I say luckily because this enabled me to attend a Friday morning screening of Murder, He Says (1945) with my friend Stefy. Afterwards, I nervously walked up to a table full of volunteers (I think Stefy pushed me to do it!) and asked if they needed any more help. To my surprise and delight, they said yes. I quickly filled out a bunch of forms, handed them over, and waited.

 

...and waited and waited. I didn't hear back for the rest of the day, which made me a bit nervous; after all, there were only two days of the festival left. It wasn't until very late Friday night that my phone rang: I was confirmed as a volunteer. I'm pretty sure I cheered (out loud) and may have even done a little victory dance. The next day, I energetically reported for duty. My shifts were short and the tasks extremely simple, but I didn't really care. Quite frankly, I was just thrilled to be surrounded by hundreds of like-minded fans and delighted in soaking up all the classic film energy and enthusiasm. 

My volunteer pass from the first festival in 2010. (Picture by Kim Luperi)

Sadly, I didn't get to see any of the other fantastic programming since I was volunteering, but I was 'working' in some capacity for TCM (well, technically a temp agency), which made me happy enough. Plus, I was earning a little bit of money. Side note: kudos to TCM for being the only festival I've volunteered with to pay the volunteers!

 

I made it a point that first year to befriend someone from TCM, which I quickly learned wouldn't be easy. As is the norm for film festivals, most of the floor staff are contracted out and float from festival to festival. Luckily, during one shift I was posted at a table (yes, just hanging out at a table), and a man took a seat next to me. After a quick introduction, I found out that he worked for TCM. You can bet I got his business card, and I've kept in touch with him over the years. He was nice enough to take time out of his schedule to meet me for coffee at the 2011 festival, and I just got a group email from him, so hopefully I'll get to catch up again with him this year.

 

Though I don't recall too much about that inaugural festival, I do remember how awesomely generous TCM was to the volunteers. In addition to the pay, they hosted a party in the Roosevelt for us on Sunday night AFTER the staff party. I think it started around midnight, there was an open bar, AND they handed out plenty of free gifts like candy. I snagged a Best Picture Oscar winner DVD set and an autographed festival poster, which I have hanging in my room.

 

Challenge: if anyone can help me identify the signature at the far right in the below picture, you win a prize! (which is my sincere appreciation).  

Angelica Huston, Eva Maria Saint, Robert Osborne, and ??? (Picture by Kim Luperi) 

The following year, TCM used a different temp agency for hiring volunteers, and despite asking my new TCM contact, I couldn't figure out which company took over. On the upside, that meant I got to see movies! Well, maybe. Sadly, it wasn't a very successful festival, re: my attendance rate. With a job (yay, money), I was only able to attend evening and weekend screenings, but even then, I got shut out of everything I tried to get into. Everything. I've since learned that 99.9% of the time pre-codes and rarer titles (which makes up at least half of what I go for) fill up the theater well before the standby line lets in. That year I remember missing out on Hoop-la (1933) and The Constant Nymph (1943), but I'm sure there were plenty of others.

 

Third time was a charm for me, because I had a much better time getting in to films in 2012. Cases in point: Call Her Savage (1932), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and Serge Bromberg's special presentation "A Trip to the Moon and Other Trips Through Time, Color and Space" (this marked the start of my massive crush on the French historian/archivist/awesome human being, which is documented somewhat here). I particularly enjoyed the great variety of speakers TCM brought in, from those involved with the movies themselves to celebrity admirers (ex: Rose McGowan for Letter from an Unknown Woman) to archivists presenting tales of a film's restoration (ex: Katie Trainor from MoMA for Call Her Savage). TCM did - and always does - a wonderful job of pairing each selection with a speaker close to the movie's heart or history.

 

Also, 2012 marked the debut of the social media buttons. Love those things and all TCM related swag. 

Mix of everything here: buttons from 2012-2014 and some hard tickets. (Picture by Kim Luperi)

2013 was the first time I applied for a media pass through my work, but I was turned down. I understand why - my boss is well known for one specific thing, and that isn't classic film, though he actually is a fan. Regardless, I still covered the festival and the films I got in via the standby line. Once again, I was lucky and made it in to about 75% of the movies I stood in line for, including The Donovan Affair (1929), which is an overall TCM Film Festival highlight of mine. I also returned for another round of volunteering. Randomly, as a member of a women in entertainment tracking board, I stumbled upon the new temp agency TCM was using to hire volunteers. After a comically over intense group interview session, consisting mostly of high school and college kids looking for some extra cash, I was brought on board. Sadly, no more awesome volunteer party, but it was still another great experience - and also paid, which is always helpful.  Oh, and another thing I loved about the 2013 festival - the key art. Absolutely brillant! I love it so much that it presents me with quite the dilemma: I need to get a new phone eventually, but I really don't want to because it means I have to give up my awesome TCM case. (Seriously, that is the main reason I haven't upgraded my phone in over 2 years).

Volunteer shirts - 2010 on the left, 2013 on the right. I love the ones with the titles listed, which is the way I believe 2015's shirt is styled. (Picture by Kim Luperi)

2013 key art. My favorite, by far, and so unique. The top is also my cell phone case. (Pictures by Kim Luperi)

By the time the 2014 festival came around, I finally had my blog up and running. Since I published my first post literally days before the festival started, I couldn't apply for a media pass in time, so I reverted to my (not really) trusty standby method. This was successful about 70% of the time, because I somehow like the torture of trying and failing to get into pre-codes and little seen gems. As usual, I had a great time, despite getting sick halfway through The Innocents (1961), which is one of my all-time favorite movies and the one I was most looking forward to watching the big screen (it was still fantastic). I also took 2014's fest as an opportunity to practice my live-ish blogging skills, which I found to be super difficult. To all those who manage to post daily recaps at  1, 2, or even 3am, I salute you. That is pure dedication!  

 

2015 marks the first time I'll be taking two days off work for the festival, so even though I've attended all five years, number six will be the first year I can fully immerse myself in everything TCMFF. I'm stoked to be spending all four days in Hollywood this year (and saying that is something I don't take lightly). Part of that decision was made when I was selected as one of a handful of Social Producers assisting the TCM social team, which I briefly discussed in my last post. As such, I'm looking forward to working with all the other Social Producers to help enhance the festival experience via social media for those attending and those who can't - not to mention getting an entirely new festival experience myself!  

I took a few pens and highlighters to the 2015 schedule. It's cleaned up a lot since this first draft! (Picture by Kim Luperi)

Spotted in Beverly Hills! (Picture by Kim Luperi)

First time passholder - so excited! (Picture by Kim Luperi)

If you're attending this year, please feel free to reach out or stop me if you see me to say hi! And be sure to check back here for updates (hopefully) throughout the fest...or at least afterwards. Thanks for following along!

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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.

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