This will be my fourth year at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). In addition, I have been attending Comic-Con and other fan conventions for a lot of years, so I know what it’s like to spend four or five days in a strange city living out of a hotel room and running around from the time you get up in the morning until the time you collapse in your room late at night.
Most of what follows are tips to help you get the most out of the Festival while hanging on to your sanity. Also I've included some links to some other general attending TCMFF blog posts at the bottom. Lots of good info there as well.
Seems like they didn’t do it as much last year, but there is usually an announcement before each screening about silencing phones and other devices.
It's okay to tweet or post to Facebook while you're waiting in line or sitting in the theater waiting for things to begin. Once, somebody starts talking, put it away. Taking pictures/video during the intro is fine, but turn off the flash. It's distracting and won't help if you're farther than about 10 feet away.
Be considerate of those around you. It's generally considered rude to leave before the end of a screening, but sometimes it's unavoidable. If you have to duck out early, try to get to the event you are leaving extra early and get seat on the aisle so you don't have to climb over people. If you know you need to leave at a certain time, wear a watch. A watch screen is way less distracting than your iPhone 7 Plus.
I shouldn't have to say this but:
- Don't talk during the movie.
- Don't take any pictures during a screening. It's really annoying to the people behind you.
- Don't check your phone for any reason during a screening.
- In an emergency, if you absolutely need to use your phone, go into the lobby. You're not going to be able to help anyone from a movie theater anyway.
I know you’re going to be running around trying not to miss anything, but seriously, try to get something besides movie theater popcorn and Red Vines over the four days.
There are a ton of restaurants in the immediate area, both fast food and regular sit-down restaurants, but bear in mind that the transition times between screenings can be relatively short, so don’t count on being able to get a regular meal. If you’re a coffee drinker like me, you might want to pick up something like a sandwich or a bagel and a piece of fruit with your latte that you can put in your bag and eat on the go later. For things like snacks, there is a CVS Drug Store a block west of the TCL Chinese/Hollywood Roosevelt on the north side of the street, though by Sunday last year, it looked like Cindy Lou Who's house after the Grinch had visited, nothing but hooks and wires.
If you have special dietary needs, there aren’t many good close options for groceries near TCMFF. Your best bets are:
- Ralphs (7257 Sunset Blvd). Full service grocery store, should have a deli and salad bar and open 24 hours. About 8 blocks away, but not in the direction of any of the other TCMFF venues, dammit.
- Ralphs (1233 N La Brea Ave). Full service grocery store, should have a deli and salad bar and open 5 am 2am. Again about 8 blocks away, but on the map it looks marginally further than the Ralphs on Sunset. Also, it too is not in the general direction of any of the other TCMFF venues. Possibly, this might be worth the extra walk as it takes you past Jim Henson Co. (historic former home of Charlie Chaplin Studios).
- Trader Joe's (1600 Vine St). About 12 blocks away and open 8 am-10 pm.
- Breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Yeah, I know I sound like your mother, but if you skip breakfast, you’re already messing up the food-try-to-eat-some thing. Me, I’ve never been real big on the granola bars, but if you like them, and they work for you pick up a box and take with you. Bring a couple extra. You might find yourself in line with someone who’s totally famished. A 75-cent breakfast bar could earn you a friend for life.
- If you get to a screening too late and get shut out or have a block where you're not psyched on anything, take advantage of it. Go get a real meal, where it’s hot and they bring it to you on a real plate. It might be the only one you get over the four days.
- Hungry late? A good bet is In ‘N Out Burger, a Southern California Burger chain. They are located at 7009 Sunset Blvd., corner of Sunset and North Orange Dr., three blocks south of the Hollywood Roosevelt. They have a really simple menu, but have a secret menu that is probably the worst kept secret ever. My favorite is protein style burger, no bun wrapped in big leaves of lettuce so you can eat like a normal burger, great if you’re doing the low carb thing. They are open until 1 am, Sunday-Thursday and 1:30 am, Friday and Saturday.
- Water – You should try to do some of that too.
Plan everything including your breaks
Okay, so you’ve figured out what you want to see. You should probably try to get to events a half hour ahead of the start time, possibly earlier. If it’s something you’d be crushed if you missed, shoot for an hour early, especially if it's one of the smaller theaters. How do you make that happen? You should be able to figure out the end times by looking at the schedule. Anytime you have a longer break between events is a good opportunity to get some food that doesn’t come in a bucket with fake butter and salt. Do keep in mind that TCL House 4 and House 6 (at 177 and 210 seats, respectively), fill up really fast. Try to get there earlier if possible.
Know that getting around is going to take you longer than you expect. Figure that if you’re going from one screen in TCL Chinese 6 to another screen in TCL Chinese 6, five minutes from getting out of one theater and back in line for the next is a decent bet. Everything else is going to take longer, and very likely way longer than you think it will.
If you look Google Maps, the distance from TCL Chinese IMAX to the Egyptian looks like it’s about 2 and a half blocks, but if you look at the way the surrounding streets are laid out, it’s closer to four blocks, or at least a long two blocks. If you figure you walk fast, you should be able to walk four blocks in about 7 minutes. Think again, if you’re on Hollywood Boulevard, the sidewalks are going to be packed, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
It’s not just TCMFF people, it’s tourists, it’s the guys in the cheesy Spiderman costumes, people stopping to take pictures or answer a text, all in your way when you’re trying to get somewhere fast. The sidewalk might be closed for construction, forcing you to go back half a block to cross to the other side when you weren’t planning to. If you can figure out a way to avoid Hollywood Boulevard altogether, that might be a good idea.
The east west street one block south of Hollywood Blvd is Hawthorne Ave. It jogs a bit at Highland Ave, but does keep going though there isn't a crosswalk to get across Highland Ave. Depending on how confident you are jaywalking/dodging cars you are probably better off going back to Hollywood Blvd. to cross at Highland. The worst stretch of Hollywood Blvd in terms of sidewalk crowds/craziness is the stretch between The Roosevelt and Highland anyway.
If you’re planning to change clothes between the daytime and nighttime screenings, figure out which break you’re going to use to go back to the hotel and change. Stopping for a quick snack, look around and see if there is anything you can pick up for when you’re famished later.
Know your venues
Updated March 15
The important thing to keep in mind about the venues is where they are and how big they are. I’ve arranged the venues in order by how close they are to the Roosevelt Hotel, since that is the host hotel:
- Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel – Home to Club TCM and the Poolside screenings. Club TCM is where a most of the guest interviews will be. In years past, there was a fairly low stage, rows of chairs and a standing area behind the chairs. The important thing here is that if you’re at the back of the standing area, you might not be able to see very well. If there is an event that is really important to you, make sure you get there extra early. The pool is just that a swimming pool with a screen at the one end. Everybody says get there extra early if you want one of the lounge chairs. I've only been to one of the poolside screenings. I had some extra time on Saturday last year and caught a little bit of Forbidden Planet.
- Chinese Theatre IMAX (920 seats) – This is the old Grauman’s Chinese theater. If you cross Hollywood Blvd. from The Roosevelt, you’re there. They usually run some Disneyland-style switchbacks in front of the theater and then up the stairs up into the Hollywood and Highland mall. Don’t panic if the line goes back a long way. It’s a big theater. It was recently renovated with stadium seats and state-of-the-art projection and audio equipment, while still retaining the original decor.
- TCL Chinese 6 Theatres is located inside the Hollywood and Highland mall. They are using three screens. The thing to keep in mind here is the last two of the following are fairly small, and they are the most likely to fill up and have to turn people away:
- House 1 (477 Seats)
- House 4 (177 Seats)
- House 6 (210 Seats)
- Egyptian Theatre (618 Seats) – Great old theater, built in the early 1920s. Personally, I like sitting in the balcony because you get a better view of the Egyptian frescos in the ceiling. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either two long very long blocks or about four normal size blocks away, so allow yourself some extra time to get there.
You could probably take a cab/Uber/Lift, but with traffic on Hollywood Blvd. that might not save you very much time. Also, I don't know how long it takes for one to show up in Hollywood, especially when everyone will be trying to get one at the same time. To be honest, I don't think any way you go is going to substantially faster than any other way.
- The Montalbán Theatre (500 Seats) – About a block south of Hollywood Blvd. on Vine St.
Address: 1615 Vine St.
- ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome (596 seats) – About four blocks south of Hollywood Blvd. on Sunset Blvd. (at Morningside Court). Note that Morningside does not go all the way through from Sunset Blvd. to Hollywood Blvd.
Address: 6360 W Sunset Blvd.
- If coming from Hollywood/Vine Station, take Vine St. south to Sunset Blvd. Turn right on Sunset, theater is a block west.
- If walking you can do either of the following:
- To avoid the Hollywood Blvd. craziness, take Sunset Blvd. the whole way. Take N. Orange Dr. (street the Hollywood Roosevelt is on) south to Sunset Blvd. Turn left on Sunset. Cinerama Dome is about 8 blocks east.
- If you like sidewalk stars, take Hollywood Blvd. most of the way. Go east on Hollywood Blvd. to N. Cahuenga Blvd. Turn right on N. Cahuenga Blvd. and go south to Sunset Blvd. Turn left on Sunset Blvd. Cinerama Dome is about 2 blocks east.
When you get in line for a screening, you will be given a number in the order you enter the line, this means you can leave the line and go do something if need be, use the rest room, or grab a snack. I would check to see when they're going to move the line. Usually the people giving out the numbers have a good idea. That way you know how much time you have. You need to make sure you get back in in line before your number moves in. They will not hold a seat for you just because you have a number. Take advantage of it when you can. It could be the difference between a sandwich for dinner and Jujubes.
It's really simple if the line doesn't get messed up which does happen sometimes. Say you and the person you're with get line numbers and want to leave to get popcorn. You get back to the line and figure out where your number should be. Most people put the numbers in the pocket of their badge, so you can usually see where you need to go. If you need to ask someone what number they are, go ahead. People are really good about helping you out. Say you and the person you're with have numbers 75 and 76. You find the people closest to yours. It might be 72 and 77. So you get in line in front of 77 and behind 72, knowing that 73 and 74 have to get back in line in front of you.
It's better if you do not squish the line forward. There's are always going to be people who will need to get back in line. Sometimes the line will be really full and you might not want to make it worse. Just figure out where you need to be and find out who has the numbers around yours. Then when the line starts to move you can get back in at the proper spot.
Hollywood and Highland mall
The TCL Chinese 6 is located in the Hollywood and Highland mall. The mall is sort of a tourist mall. Most malls are fairly easy to get around in. This mall, not so much. It was designed so that you could explore, with an eye toward wandering around and getting lost. This means that you may not always be able to tell what level you're on or how to get up or down one level, or most importantly if you're on the correct level for the movie theater. If you have a spare hour before the festival starts, go over and find the TCL Chinese and figure out how to get from there to the Chinese IMAX and how to get out of the mall itself. It should be easy. It’s not. Note any stairs and escalators you run across. The time you get lost is bound to be the time you have least time to spare. If you see any interesting fast food, see if they have a To Go menu. It might be the only hot meal you get.
A friend Will McKinley did a post similar to this three years ago (link at the end). He’s the one who suggested avoiding Hollywood Blvd. altogether, good call. He also suggested coming in from the back. If you cross Hollywood Blvd. from the Roosevelt, you'll be standing in front of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. If you follow the sidewalk to the left of the wax museum (north on N. Orange Dr.), you'll come to a traffic circle where tour buses line up. Follow the traffic circle around to the back, and there's an entrance to the mall. My mistake my first year was to not following that route all the way to the movie theater. I got distracted by things in the mall. If you go in this way, where you come into mall, there will two sets of stairs going up on the left. One goes to the mall business office. The other goes to the same level as the TCL Chinese 6, about 30 feet from the door. Find this stairway. It will save you a lot of time.
If you're staying at Loews Hollywood Hotel, there's a walkway that leads directly into the mall. I would find that and make sure that you know exactly how to get to the movie theater. If you oversleep some morning, you'll thank me.
Read everything you can
Take the time to read everything you can find on the website, http://filmfestival.tcm.com/. Search for blog posts like this one. A good source of info is Twitter, follow @tcm (they phased out the @tcmfilmfest handle last year) and search on the #TCMFF hashtag. There will be lots of good tips there. Google the people being listed as guests, you never know, you might be standing next to one of them at Starbucks, and it will give you something to talk about. If they are showing one of your all-time favorites, read the Wikipedia and IMDB pages about the film. You’re sure to pick up some interesting tidbits that most people don’t know. You can look smart to other people in line.
There and back
Whenever I go to an event like TCMFF, I like to take Airborne the morning I leave and each day while I’m there. Does it guarantee that you won’t get sick? No, but it doesn’t hurt. We’ve had a lot rain this year, so hay fever is bound to be worse. Me, I’m not normally bothered by allergies, but the last few days, it’s been kicking my butt.
Remember that read everything you can. Well, I know how you can get busy and time can get away from you, especially when preparing for a trip/vacation. Most people are going to have a good 5 or 6 hours travel time getting to TCMFF. Make some printouts or save copies to your tablet or whatever to read in the airport and on the plane.
Are you the type who likes to buy souvenirs? If so, are they going to fit in your suitcase? You might want to consider bringing a Priority Mail Flat-Rate box. If you’re worried about items getting lost or damaged in the mail, you can always mail home your dirty clothes. There is a Post Office at 1615 Wilcox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (hours 9 am-6 pm, Mon-Sat, closed Sun), about another four blocks past the Egyptian. It might even be worth calling your hotel and see if they can mail for you.
Weather, there will be some
I can guarantee you that it will not snow. Beyond that, all bets are off. This year has been especially weird. California has be in the throes of a drought for years. This winter, December had roughly double the amount of rain over normal, and January was close to triple the average. Personally, I like to check the 10-day forecast about a week out. That should give you a ballpark idea of what to plan for. Then check the forecast again, a couple of days before you leave and make any necessary adjustments. I’ve lived in San Diego my whole life, and we have weather pretty comparable to L.A./Hollywood. Generally speaking, weather in Southern California is pretty mild in the Spring. It might get a little chilly in the evenings, but most of the time a light jacket or sweater is good enough. Having said all of that, what you mostly need to worry about is two rather obnoxious extremes:
- Extreme heat – While not common in April, temperatures in the 90s do happen, and bear in mind that you might be standing in line in the sun during the hottest part of the day. I honestly don’t remember standing in the sun last year, but I know that at the Egyptian, they run the lines in the courtyard in front of the theater, so if you’re there in the middle of the day, you’re going to be in the sun. Even if we get mild weather, sunscreen is highly recommended and maybe even a hat. If you don’t have room to pack a hat, consider buying a cheap one when you get here and just toss it at the end of the trip.
- Rain – The song says, it never rains in Southern California, but people always forget that the end of the verse is, it pours, man it pours. Very very true, both literally and figuratively. L.A. doesn’t get a lot of rain, but there are times, when it comes down in buckets. We had storms in San Diego this year that dropped about 20% of our annual average in a 24-hour period. Because we don’t get a lot of rain out here, we tend to hopelessly ill-prepared for it. Streets flood. Hotel lobbies flood. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it could. That’s where your forecast will help. If you’re coming from a different part of the country, you’re probably already way better prepared than we are here. Even if the forecast doesn’t call for rain. If you have an umbrella that packs easy, bring it. You're not going to be able find one easy walking distance from the Festival, especially if it's raining. One of my TCMFF cronies, Deborah Leigh, an L.A. local recommends an umbrella, rain or shine, to keep the sun off.
We all like to think we can hold our liquor like Auntie Mame, but realistically no one can. I know you’re on vacation and want to have a good time, but keep in mind, you’re probably going to want to be up early the next morning for whatever screening. If you do overdo, take some aspirin and force yourself to drink some water before you collapse in bed. It won’t prevent the inevitable hangover, but it might take the edge off a little bit. FYI, drinks in the Hollywood Roosevelt are crazy expensive.
What to wear
By and large, California is pretty casual. You often see people in nice restaurants looking like they just stepped off the beach. If you’re attending the opening night Red Carpet screening of In the Heat of the Night, a suit for men and cocktail dress for women is recommended, although a tux or formal gown wouldn’t be out of place either.
For the rest of the Festival, some people dress up and some people dress down.
Me, I do a little of both, shorts and a t-shirt during the day and something dressy at night. I even managed to procure a white dinner jacket a couple of years ago. God, I hope it still fits. I plan to wear it Thursday night, even though I'm not going to the Red Carpet. If you want to dress up like the Dread Pirate Robert for The Princess Bride, more power to you.
All things considered, most everything is pretty centrally located, but you will do a fair amount of walking and standing. I can pretty much guarantee that at some point you're going to feel like you’re bouncing back and forth like a pinball. If you have new shoes that kind of hurt your feet and you think it will get better, it won’t. If you dead set on wearing them, at least consider changing into them late in the day. If you have one pair of shoes that are really really comfortable, bring ‘em, even if the make you look like you like your Great Aunt Matilda.
In years past, there was a charging station in the lobby of the TCL Chinese 6. Presumably there will be something similar this year
Think about the electronics you’re bringing. Are you going to be wanting to be posting on Facebook to make the friends back home jealous? If so, how well does your battery do? If it barely makes it through the day, sitting in your pocket you might want to consider getting one of those portable batteries to recharge during the day. It might not be a bad idea anyway. Sometimes when you’re in a strange city, your phone will die just by virtue of having poor coverage and constantly trying to find a signal.
Think about what devices you need. Did you promise your boss that you’d check e-mail? Are you planning to blog during the festival. Can you get by doing that on your phone or do you need a tablet or laptop? You're not going to have as much time as you think you will.
If you’re counting on the hotel having Wi-Fi, it might be worth finding out whether that’s in your room (and what they charge) or only in the lobby. Look at your broadband usage and if you think it might be an issue, possibly see if you can get more from your provider for just the trip. Last year, we burned through all of our data. That in itself was not a huge deal, but I found the constant barrage of text messages from Verizon about it annoying.
You’ll definitely want to have a camera. Think hard about how good the camera on your phone is. Cameras on smartphones keep getting better and better, but many still do not do real well at a distance or in low light. Last year, I had a chance to get a picture with Bruce Brown (The Endless Summer). The result from my phone with a stranger taking the picture was not good. Obviously, you’re not going to be taking pictures in a darkened theater, but you might want to get a shot of whoever is introducing the film and movie theater house lights tend to be less than optimum for photography. You might be better off with a point and shoot or digital SLR camera.
Make sure you take the time to empty the SD card or device's internal storage. The last thing you want is to find yourself standing next to Ben Mankiewicz, and realize you have to figure out which pictures from your cousin’s wedding you can live without. The mistake I made a couple of years ago was to wait until late the night before we left to empty out my camera and phone. I start moving the files and saw, About 45 minutes remaining.... Aw, man, I need to go to bed.
Obviously, all these gadgets will need to be charged, so don’t forget to pack the appropriate chargers. You might be able to find a charger for your iPhone or Android but probably not for your camera.
Despite all of your planning, leave yourself a little wiggle room. Each year they leave four or five TBD slots open on Sunday to repeat films that turned a lot of people away earlier in the Festival. They should announce the TBDs fairly late on Saturday. This could your chance to see something that you had to skip earlier. Plus, you never know how you will feel. Last year for Thursday night, I had planned on Harold Lloyd The Freshman in the first slot followed by Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in the second slot. At the last minute, we decided to go to One Potato Two Potato instead of The Freshman. But once we did that, I didn’t feel like following one interracial romance drama with another, but that left me open for a great Argentinean Film Noir, Los Tallos Amargos, which I never would have got to see otherwise.
It’s perfectly okay to switch things around. You might be late getting to a screening and get shut out. Check the schedule, you might be able to get into something else. Maybe, you figured that you’d be too tired for any of the midnight movies, but you get out of that last screening and feel really pumped and want to keep going. Go for it.
Maybe, there is a block that you’re not particular enthused about. This is the perfect chance to get a real meal or even sneak back to the hotel for a nap. Just remember, you’re there to have fun. It’s almost assured that you’re going to be running around a lot, but there is nothing that says you have to. It’s okay to take a breather.
Try to see something beside the inside of a theater
Even if you only have a couple of hours to spare, take advantage. Maybe you can squeeze in one of the tours. If you keep going east on Hollywood Blvd., things start to get less cheesy and you'll find cool things like vintage clothing stores. Also it seems like more of the sidewalk stars that direction are Golden Age Hollywood people. Me, I want to try to have a meal at Musso and Frank's again and maybe trip to Amoeba Records (6400 Sunset Blvd.). Occupying an entire block, Amoeba Records is arguably one of the best record stores in the country. They also have a great selection of DVDs upstairs, organized into categories that TCMFF people will appreciate, such as Film Noir and Pre-Code.
If there is somewhere you want to go, it might be worth it to call and see that they are still there, or that their hours haven't changed. I just heard a couple of weeks ago that Formosa Cafe has closed, shoot.
Last year, I did a series of posts on my favorite TCMFF Sidetrips. See links at the bottom of this post.
Talk to people
You probably wouldn’t know but I’m kind of an introvert. Oh, I’m fine talking to people if I feel have a reason to or if I think I have something in common with them. The thing is pretty much anybody wearing a TCMFF badge is someone you have something in common with, probably way more than most of your friends back home. This is your tribe. Revel in it. By Saturday, almost anyone you talk to has seen at least one of the same movies you have over the Festival. At any given time, there are about five things going on at once. If you’re standing in line, everyone else in that line has just passed up four other things that under normal circumstances they would love to see. If that’s not something in common, I don’t what is. If you’re shy, try the following conversation starters:
- What have you seen so far? A lot of the time it’s things you saw too or something you really wanted to see, but had to skip for something you wanted to see more. If it’s one of those rare titles, you can find out whether it was worth it. This may help you decide on those TBDs on Sunday.
- What’s your favorite thing so far? You might get some great stories: Oh, Rob Reiner was so funny. Or I was standing in line for coffee with Ben Mankiewicz.
- And don’t forget the standard ones: Where are you from? How was your trip?
This is something I didn't really think about until last year. If you are a big breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day person, don't skip breakfast every day at TCMFF. I normally drink coffee during the day until about 5 or 6 pm. Last year, I would have a cup in the morning and not have time for any the rest of the day. Then I would wonder why I was falling asleep on the late showing. This year I plan to stay properly caffeinated.
There may be certain things that you can't avoid. Say you normally go to bed at 9:00 and you know you're going to be staying up later. Try to compensate by forcing yourself to stay awake later in the week or so before the Festival. If you do need to make changes, try to not go overboard. Take my example of staying caffeinated. If I'm feeling tired in the evening, I may have a cup of coffee in the evening after my normal 6 pm cutoff, but I'm not going to do a double espresso and risk being up at three in the morning looking at the hotel room ceiling.
Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. Don't forget to check the links below. Good info there as well. I will update these links as I see more.
All of these links are from last year or older, but the info should still be good. If I see any updates or good new related posts, I'll do my best to update here. If you know of a good one, leave me a comment, and I will update.
- James David Patrick's 30 Hz Bl-g 3rd Time’s a Charm – My 2017 TCM Film Festival Preview – Mostly, this is his 2017 pick, but good tips at the beginning.
- SisterCelluloid’s Your Complete Guide to the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival! – This covers some of the same ground as this piece, but in a different way. Definitely, good reading.
- Raquel’s Out of the Past blog How I Budget for the TCM Classic Film Festival – More geared toward how you do TCMFF from a financial point of view, but a lot of good tips as well.
- Will McKinley’s My Obsessive-Compulsive Guide to the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival – Admittedly some of the info is geared toward the 2014 Festival, but a lot will still apply.
My TCMFF Sidetrip posts from last year:
- TCMFF Sidetrips, No. 1 – Ameoba Music
- TCMFF Sidetrips, No. 2 – Musso & Frank Grill
- TCMFF Sidetrips, No. 3 – Samuel French Hollywood Bookshop
- TCMFF Sidetrips, No. 4 – Bradbury Building, Angels Flight, and More