TCMFF From Four Different Angles
February 18, 2019
Over the past nine years, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with TCMFF from a number of different angles: I volunteered in 2010 and 2013, accessed the fest through the standby line from 2010-2014, worked as a Social Producer in 2015 and 2016, and attended as a member of the media in 2017 and 2018. As TCMFF #10 looms on the horizon, I thought I’d share more about these rich and varied festival experiences.
My volunteer shirts from 2010 and 2013.
Two seconds after I heard TCM was hosting their first film festival in Hollywood back in 2010, I was online trying to figure out how to volunteer. I never managed to work that out before the fest, but it didn’t matter, because when I asked if the staff still needed help the second day of the inaugural event, they said yes. After a whirlwind of paperwork, I reported for duty Saturday morning.
As TCMFF was the first festival I volunteered for, I didn’t know that the theater staff weren’t TCM employees; those managers usually bounce from the likes of AFI Fest to LA Film Festival and events in between, which didn’t help with my goal of meeting a TCM staffer. (I did eventually!) While I was ecstatic to be officially working for TCM, one downside to volunteering was that I couldn’t watch many movies; the only film I saw in 2010 was Murder, He Says (1945), though I did poke my head in to a few others.
The high point of the experience was the closing night party. Festival assistants, as we were lovingly termed, scored an invite to the staff party, and since this was TCM’s first festival, they were extra generous—yes, we got access to free food, free drink, and free stuff. As one of the only volunteers interested in classic films, I definitely said yes to all the free stuff, which included a signed poster. I partied with the crew till about 2am, much later than usual for me, but it was a total blast.
Turner switched staffing agencies in 2011, and I wasn’t able to figure that volunteer situation out. It wasn’t until 2013 that I volunteered again, when I happened across an email on an industry tracking board looking for fest help. I eagerly reached out and found myself in a group ‘interview’ in which we were asked why we wanted to volunteer. Most of the hopefuls were students looking to make some extra cash; once again, I was the rare one who wanted to be there because I loved classics. Despite the fact that we didn’t get to attend the staff party that year, I do recall seeing more movies (like 1929’s The Donovan Affair and 1955’s Cinerama Holiday) and even being given vouchers for some. Party or no party, it still was a dream to be considered part of the TCM team—if only for four days.
Ah, the good old standby line, my entry point of choice/necessity for TCMFFs 2010-2014. It’s like a different world, and I’ve formed a friendly bond over the years with other fans trying their luck through individual screenings. Though I’ve come to learn what types of movies sell out, standby always offers surprises; heck, I’ve been turned away when 2nd in line, and I’ve made it in with a mid-30s queue number. It really depends on the theater, the movie, and the guest.
One major highlight: Back in 2014, I nabbed the #1 ticket for one of my favorites, The Innocents (1961), which was a triumphant moment; with all the volatility I experienced with standby in the past, I wasn’t pulling any punches with this movie. (Granted, it did not matter once I walked in and discovered plenty of open seats, but still.)
My most terrifying standby moment came the same year, with Maureen O’Hara’s appearance before How Green was My Valley (1941). Seeing O’Hara was a priority, and it posed a real challenge for the pass-less. Those of us nervously waiting in standby while the 1,000 seat El Capitan Theater was filled with admiring fans comforted each other as our attendance fate wavered. We wished each other luck as those of us with lower numbers made it in one by one—that’s the movie for which I possessed a queue number in the mid-30s. It was a scene that almost rivaled the drama in the movie. (To give this story an end, I was one of the last ones in.)
Yup, that's Maureen O'Hara on stage with Robert Osborne in 2014.
Of course, the standby line wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Many movies over the years have sold out both a regularly scheduled and Sunday TBD screening, 1931’s Safe in Hell being one. In fact, that’s one of the rare titles I was turned away from twice. Luckily, I was able to catch it a few years later at Noir City Hollywood.
I haven’t utilized standby for the last four festivals, and though I don’t miss the stress it brought, I do hold a special place for it, being that I learned the TCMFF ropes navigating standby. The line also boasts a certain spirit and communal feel; though attendees may not possess a prized pass that gains admittance to all the theaters, they’re out there celebrating the classics just as much as the next fan.
In 2015, I was brought back into the TCM festival family, but in a different capacity. Earlier that year, the call went out to several active social media fans for pitches for TCMFF’s inaugural Social Producers program. Twenty fans, myself included, were chosen to help augment the fest’s social footprint. As such, we were given Classic passes—my first time as a passholder!—which came with official duties, like breakfast meetings in which we shared social observations. My pitch aligned with the festival theme, History According to Hollywood, and I had the chance to share historical nuggets about TCMFF movies on my Twitter page and TCM’s Instagram account.
As I mentioned in my article about my top TCMFF moments, the year I came on board as a Social Producer was the first year I found my groove at the fest. For the most part I navigated past events on my own, but through the Social Producer’s program, I got to meet so many other fans in person, many of whom I followed online. Surrounded by so many new pals and familiar names, I finally felt part of the classic film community. I strengthened those bonds the following year when the Social Producer’s initiative was brought back, and every year I look forward to seeing all those fans I now call friends.
Aside from the friendships I made and the experience as a whole, I also thoroughly enjoyed interacting more with guests at the festival, something my timid self is usually nervous to do. In fact, I found that our Social Producer emblem on our badge (2015) and the ribbon affixed to our pass (2016) led to curious questions from attendees. While mostly welcoming, some queries highlighted the one small concern I had with the program: Fans didn’t really know who we were (which made it hard to find us when we had to hand out popular festival buttons) or what exactly we were doing. In the end, though, I know TCM was proud of all the hard work we contributed and the resulting social impact.
The Social Producers program was also important to me for another reason: After the 2016 festival, I was offered the opportunity to write for TCM’s social platforms, and I’m pretty sure part of the motivation behind that offer was my Social Producer Instagram support during TCMFF.
On the red carpet at TCMFF 2018. I forget who took this photo, but thank you!
Many of the people I worked with in the Social Producer’s program attended the festival as members of the media in years prior. The first time I tried that route was in 2013, when I applied as a writer for TheRealStanLee.com. (Though Stan Lee has little to do with classic films, he was a big fan, and I still covered the fest even though I wasn’t awarded a pass.) I started this blog in March 2014, which was too late to apply for a credential that year, so once we were informed that the Social Producer’s program was ending after 2016, I tried my luck again, and I was accepted in both 2017 and 2018.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to land a spot on the opening night red carpet the last three years, one year as a Social Producer and two as an official media member, which has afforded me access to guests in a way that no other pass could. In other ways, however, I haven’t been able to flex the full media muscle, which includes a press conference the afternoon before the fest starts. One day!
I was not ready for this photo! With Danny, Jeff, and Marya on the red carpet in 2017.
All the other perks of this pass are the same as the Classic pass we were given as Social Producers. Even the questions I received with both are similar. When other attendees spot the media badge, they often ask what outlet I write for and inquire how one secures the credential. I’ve enjoyed sharing my story and explaining the process when queried, and I’ve also learned that I need to have more business cards on hand! (I challenged myself one year to make creative business cards, and I must say, TCMFF attendees are usually amused by my classic Hollywood opening credits calling cards.)
In all seriousness, it is a privilege to cover the festival in an official capacity and be given the sort of access we are granted as media members. Those of us who run blogs and websites are so passionate about the films, the fest, and TCM in general, and it’s heartwarming and encouraging that the network not only recognizes us and the work we put in to promote the event, but wholeheartedly supports us in those endeavors as well.
I’m very much looking forward to TCMFF #10 this April and all the new memories that will be made! Stay tuned for more updates and coverage as we get closer to opening night.