Wednesday, May 10, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – The Good The Bad and The Ugly

Double exposure of TCMFF art and palm trees
with Hollywood Blvd (photo: Tyler Golden)
I decided to do a general post about the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), The Good The Bad and The Ugly. To be fair, that's both understatement and an exaggeration at the same time. The Good was excellent, and the Bad and Ugly, unless you count the costumed superheros on Hollywood Blvd., was almost nonexistent. Still, anytime I have a chance to make a Sergio Leone reference I'm going to take it.

First off, my daughter Jasmine and I had a wonderful time, and with the exception of minor issues with the line numbers early on, which seems to happen every year, everything ran smoothly. The selection of films, special presentations, guests, and Club TCM events was excellent, and the staff was courteous, helpful, and friendly. 

From a planning standpoint, I was a little worried early on when the first announcement of films came later than in previous years. Normally, they would announce the Opening Night screening and a handful of other films before passes go on sale in November, and then announce additional guests and about 20 or so titles in January. This year there was nothing until about mid-January when they announced the Opening Night screening and first 20 or so all at once. After that, things seem to be on track until the full schedule dropped about two and a half weeks out (the normal time), and all was right with the world.

If I were to speculate, I could guess at what happened. I have worked for Comic-Con International and WonderCon for more years than I care to count. For Comic-Con and WonderCon, we always want to have the names of two or three big name guests for the following year's con at this year's con, so you can advertise, Come back next year, we'll have So and So. I would guess that pinning down the Opening Night screening and guests before tickets go on sale is the same type of milestone as Comic-Con getting the names of a few of next year's guests. What I do know is that they didn't announce the Opening Night screening before passes went on sale, when they had in previous years. 

Again, this is pure speculation, but I'm guessing that they just couldn't pin it down in time. Possibly, they were able to get the guests but not the rights to the movie or vice versa. Possibly, they were working on another film that was being restored, and that restoration would not be ready in time. The thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of moving parts, and they don't always mesh the way you want. You are dealing with schedules of multiple people and the corporate entities that own the rights to the films. While TCMFF may be our first choice when it comes to film festivals, it might or might not be the first choice to a film company. The important thing is that the schedule came together, and it was excellent.

As usual, when the schedule dropped, there were grumblings about the newer films being shown. Personally, I don't have a problem with this at all. TCMFF strives to create a balance in their programming among essential classics that most TCM fans have seen multiple times, newly available restorations, special presentations, discoveries (films that are rarely shown on the big screen), and newer classics for which the people who worked on the film are more readily available to appear at the screening.

Cary Elwes at screening of The Princess Bride
(Photo: Charley Gallay)
The biggest sticking point always appears to be the newer films, but for those who attended the screening of say, The Princess Bride with Rob Reiner introducing the film and Cary Elwes sitting in the audience, I don't think any of the people who chose this regret their decision. While I wasn't one of them, I did go to see The Incident, and a big part of it was that stars, Beau Bridges and Martin Sheen, and director, Larry Peerce, were appearing. 

Oddly, I did read one TCMFF wrapup post last week where the author complained about all of the not-to-hard-to-find screenings of films like Some Like It Hot, Rear Window, and Casablanca, but then raved in the same post about how great it was to see The Maltese Falcon with an audience who knew every subtle nuance of the film. The great thing about the TCMFF schedule is that there is something for everyone, and almost any choice you make is bound to be a great experience. 

Last year, there were a many screenings that turned away a lot people only to turn away people when the film was rescreened in one of the TBA slots on Sunday. That was definitely less of an issue this year. I honestly don't go to an event like TCMFF, expecting everything to be perfect. I do expect the festival organizers to address the problems, where possible. With regard to the overflowing screenings last year, TCMFF responded admirably this year by moving many of the Pre-Code films to larger venues and addressing the problem.

On Thursday, the first couple of events were rough. The Hitchcock Meet and Greet was scheduled in the Library Bar, a very tiny room that might fit 40 or 50 if everyone stood, meaning the people in back wouldn't be able to see. We got there about 15 minutes early to find the room already full. Yes, we could have squeezed in, but I had talked to Shannon Clute from TCM and he said, they were working on getting a bigger room. In the end, they let people into the larger room that connected to the Library Bar. Though the new room was a far from perfect venue, an L-shaped room with lots of columns, making for tricky sight lines, Professor Edwards did a theater-in-the-round thing to make it work as he spoke on 
The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course coming up in June. 

The Remembering in Robert Osborne event also had too many people. Even though they scheduled the program in the largest of the Chinese Multiplex theaters, that was not enough. We got in fine, but the room was packed. I heard later that they used one of the other theaters to stream the video from the program in one of the other theaters for the overflow.

Chinese Theater snackbar, AKA dinner at TCMFF
(Photo: Tyler Golden)
In both cases, TCMFF thought on their feet and took a bad situation and made it better. To me, this is a sign of a well-run event. Trust me, I've been to events where the answer is, Sorry, there's nothing we can do. When you have people who see a problem and can come up with a plan on the fly, that is a very good thing. 

Another issue I heard this year was backlash from the substantial increase in the price of the Spotlight Passes. While this does not effect me personally as I couldn't justify the cost of Spotlight passes even before the increase, I do appreciate that it is a hardship for others. In 2016, I remember at the press conference, TCMFF Director, Genevieve McGillicuddy, saying that they had sold out on the Spotlight and Essential Passes in just 12 minutes. While you might think selling out quickly is a good thing, you want people to have the opportunity to buy the level of pass that they really want. If you sell out in 12 minutes, people who want to buy a certain pass level can get shut out because their computer crashes or they get an unexpected phone call at work.

While the price increase may seem exorbitant or even gouging, it did serve the purpose of making both the Spotlight and Essential Pass levels last longer. Coming from Comic-Con International, I can appreciate the reasoning behind it. About ten years ago, Comic-Con went from selling out over a period of weeks/months to selling out immediately, and the process of purchasing Comic-Con badges has been a nightmare for both attendees and the organization ever since. I can see why TCMFF would want to make all levels of passes last longer. 

Finally, I wanted to discuss the demise of the TCMFF Social Producer program, which was discontinued this year. My daughter Jasmine and I were Social Producers at the 2015 and 2016 festivals. I was disappointed, but not surprised by this. In 2015, they started the program as an experiment. Jasmine and I worked as a father daughter team. Jasmine is not some classic film wunderkind (I'm sure they do exist). She had only recently started watching classic films, but she brought with her an innocence and enthusiasm that was unique. As Social Producers, we did video interviews with TCMFF attendees, gave out tschotkes, and Jasmine did Twitter reviews of the films we saw.

Being Social Producers was great experience for both of us. Without it, I don't think I could have justified bringing Jasmine to the festival in 2015. Now, it is a tradition between us that I hope we can continue as long as possible. I realize that in a couple years, she'll be in college and may not always be available, but I love being able to share the films and experience of TCMFF with her. 

In 2015, the Social Producers worked as volunteers. In 2016, we were payed a stipend. Doing the math of the stipend amount multiplied by the number of Social Producers, the cost could add up to a quarter or third of the annual salary and benefits of a full-time employee. I've worked in corporate America long enough to see how TCM, a company owned by Time Warner, might not be able to justify the cost of the Social Producers. I'm grateful that we were able to do it while it lasted, but I was not surprised that it went away. I am glad that I was able to cover TMCFF as Media this year.

Fans psyched for screening of Lured
(Photo: Stefanie Keenan)
All in all, the 2017 TCMFF was a rousing success. The films, guests, and presentations were wonderful as always. One thing I have yet to mention is all the TCM fans who attend each year. I guess I was saving the best for last. It really is a gathering of the tribes and a great opportunity to interact and bond with fellow classic film fans. That was possibly the best thing about not being Social Producers this year. As a Social Producer, I felt obligated to being on social media, whenever I wasn't sitting in a theater. You would end up spending your time looking your phone, rather than talking to the people standing right next to you. There was a lot less of that this year, and I had more time to meet and talk to people in real life. That was definitely a good thing.


  1. I enjoyed your post and your insights, Chris!

  2. You sum it all up nicely. I agree that TCM has done a great job of responding to attendee needs and thinking on its feet. It's remarkable when you think of the overall challenge of running this event.

  3. Thanks. It's really difficult to anticipate what's going to be a problem, but as long as you're flexible and try to address things as they come up, that can be huge.

  4. Good review... it was nice to relive it for a moment... Love being with my tribe!

  5. Thanks for stopping by. I've always thought TCMFF is like Comic-Con of old movie people.