This post is going to look at what we might have to look forward to with an in-person post-COVID TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). I am going to focus on what you might be able to expect for the COVID requirements for the upcoming TCMFF.
Disclaimer 1: Most of what follows is based on what I like to think is educated speculation on my part. I am basing this on the way another similar but different event I did volunteer work at, which ran late last year. I have volunteered for Comic-Con International (the huge show in San Diego every July) for more years/decades than I care to admit. In November 2021, the good folks at Comic-Con International (myself included) ran Comic-Con Special Edition (CCSE). The idea was to have a much smaller show, say a third to half the size of a normal Comic-Con. Mostly, it was to get people together for an in-person event, but also it was a test case for how the organization would manage running a much much larger in-person event post-COVID. In addition, I did look at a number of Los Angeles movie theater web sites, and their guidelines seemed consistent with what happened at CCSE.
Disclaimer 2: Bearing in mind Disclaimer 1, CCSE was run under the conditions that existed in San Diego in November 2021. TCMFF is being run under conditions that we don't know about at this point in time. TCMFF is being held in Hollywood, which falls under the city of Los Angeles/county of Los Angeles, which may have stricter requirements than San Diego. Ideally, the conditions will be better in April than they are now, but there is no guarantee of that, and even if the conditions are better in April, I don't think it's likely the restrictions that were in place at CCSE (and currently in place in LA now) will be more relaxed at TCMFF.
Disclaimer 3: I have been vaccinated (full, two-dose Pfizer vaccination in May 2021 and booster in December 2021). I believe in science. I believe that organizations like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control know more about virology and the COVID-19 virus than I do, and I trust their judgement. In my lifetime, I have benefitted from vaccination. I have never seen an iron lung, except in Classic Movies. I have never known anyone who has died from Typhoid or Tetanus or Small Pox. There is a Cary Grant movie, Room for One More. In this film, Cary Grant and his both real-life and fictional wife (Betsy Drake) adopt older children who are not the most-desirable candidates for adoption. One of the children they adopt, Jimmy-John, has braces on his legs. They don't say it, but I assume that Jimmy-John has braces on his legs because of Polio. I've never known anyone who had Polio. This is because of vaccines.
Note 1: If you are on the fence about getting vaccinated, you probably should do so, while you still have time to do it before TCMFF starts. It's probably going to be much easier to show proof of vaccination than proof of a negative COVID test come April. Think about it, do you really want to have to schedule a doctor's appointment the day before you leave on vacation? If you have a legitimate health or religious reason for not getting vaccinated, I do understand that and hope that you can stay safe. I hope that my getting vaccinated will help keep you safe.
Note 2: If you don't believe I'm vaccines, I don't want to argue with you about it. You are not going to change my mind, and I am not going to change yours, so why waste each other's time? If you post comments about how vaccines are dangerous, or that COVID is fake, I will just delete your comments. Yes, I do believe in freedom of speech, but you can exercise that freedom on your own blog and freely speak about how Pfizer is injecting us with tracking devices or Jewish space lasers caused the California wildfires to your heart's content. Just don't do it here.
Now first let's look at what TCM currently says about the situation (the following was copied from the TCM Film Festival web site (About > FAQ) after 4 pm Pacific time on January 17, 2022:
WHAT COVID-19 SAFETY PROTOCOLS WILL BE IN PLACE AT THE 2022 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL?
The health and safety of Festival attendees is our number one priority. Attendees will be subject to all applicable federal, state and local safety precautions in place at the time of the event. In addition, TCM may, at its sole discretion, implement additional safety precautions to be determined. Mandatory compliance for Festival attendees could include, among other requirements, mandatory masking, social distancing, capacity limits, negative test results verification, and/or proof of vaccination. As we continue to monitor best practices and adhere to any required safety measures, we will release a more detailed plan closer to the Festival.
To be honest, I would say that this is purposefully vague. This is not to say that TCM is not watching the situation and creating a plan. They say they are monitoring best practices, and I'm sure they are, but they probably do not want to release a detailed plan at this point only to have to change it later. Still, looking at what is said here, it doesn't look all that different than what happened at CCSE, so using CCSE and a little research as a guide. Let's look at the different parts:
- Mandatory Masking – This one is kind of a given. Figure that you will need to wear a mask anytime you are indoors, unless you are actively eating or drinking. At least, that's the way it worked at CCSE. Possibly, this would be relaxed inside a screening or Club TCM, but don't count on it. I looked at TCL Chinese Theatres, the Legion Theater, the New Beverly Cinema, and Academy Museum of Motion Pictures web sites (links at the end). Consensus is that masks are required in screenings, unless you're in your seat and actively eating or drinking. The Academy Museum theater has no snack bar, so they make no provision for eating and drinking. Let's face it, no one likes wearing a mask, but if you really can't handle wearing a mask for a long periods, maybe this is not the year you want attend TCMFF.
- Social Distancing and Capacity Limits – I combined these two because they are closely related.
- Social Distancing – Rule of thumb for social distancing is 6 feet space between people. I'm not sure how you would do social distancing in a movie theater, unless you have two empty seats between people and stagger the rows maybe. That means theaters would be at 1/3 capacity. I don't seen that happening, and that's not what they are doing at movie theaters in Los Angeles now. realistically, I don't see how they can do social distancing in Club TCM or in lines:
- Club TCM is held in the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Well, that room is not getting any bigger. In theory, you could limit attendance to events in Club TCM, which possibly works for things like panel discussions, but the biggest event, the closing night party is packed, and the only way you could socially distance would be to turn a lot of people away. TCM knows that Club TCM is part of the experience. I don't think TCM wants people upset about not being able to get into events and the parties, unless there is a very compelling health reason to do so. Again, you may need to wear a mask when you're not eating or drinking like in the theater. I'm not saying it will happen, but it seems likely.
- In theory, you can socially distance in a line, but logistically, you need to have somewhere to put it. First, off we're not talking about one line, We're talking about three lines, Spotlight, Other Passholders, and Standby. Also in the TCL Chinese Multiplex, you have three sets of three lines. Let's look at largest theater, the TCL Chinese IMAX (920 seats at full capacity). The worst I ever saw it was The Manchurian Candidate (with Angela Lansbury introducing). The other passholders line had Disneyland switchbacks in the courtyard in front of the theater, started again up the stairs through the mall, out the side of the mall, and ended about where the wax museum is. I was about line number 400 and I was just past the point where it was completely out of the mall and turned the corner going back toward the wax museum. That line was two or three people abreast (people tend to attend screenings in small groups) and still goes that far back. Even assuming people still can stand in small groups, put six feet space between groups and that line goes half way to Burbank. That's probably an exaggeration, but it is going to be a lot longer and at some point you need to worry about crossing streets, waiting for Walk signals etc. It's a logistic nightmare, and that's just one line. Maybe because social distancing in lines seems unrealistic, masks again may be required while standing in line when you're not actively eating or drinking. Again I'm not saying it will happen, but it seems fairly likely.
- Capacity Limits – Traditionally, capacity limits for events are imposed by the venue itself. The Super Bowl is being held in SoFi Stadium next month with a capacity of just over 70,000. Currently, there are no plans to limit attendance at the Super Bowl. Once those 70,000+ tickets are sold, that's it. Full capacity is met. Movie theaters work the same way. There are only so many seats. When those seats are full, you are at full capacity. Other venues are a little more difficult to manage. For a venue like Club TCM, the organizers have a rough idea of how many people attended events like the closing night party in the past, and know that limiting attendance probably means telling people they can't come in. Technically, there is another way to limit capacity, sell fewer passes, but then you make less money, and TCM is a for-profit company, owned by WarnerMedia another for-profit company, owned by AT&T still another for-profit company. While I do think TCM cares about classic movies more than profits, AT&T cares much less and wants to see a profit. Considering that TCMFF only made modest price increases on passes, Early Bird prices were the same as 2019, with non-Early Bird prices roughly 10% higher, yes, I know Palace and Classic were more than 10% higher, but Essential was almost exactly 10%, and Spotlight was less (probably all comes out in the wash). Possibly, they are selling fewer passes, but I doubt it. You would need to sell a lot less passes to make enough difference for social distancing. Obviously, if the situation gets worse, and they have to limit capacity, TCM will do so. I'm sure they are making contingency plans they hope they never have to use.
- Negative Test Results Verification, and/or Proof of Vaccination – A couple of months ago, I heard someone complain about passes being only at Will Call and not being mailed out. Verifying negative test results and proof of vaccination is the reason. They need you to pick up the badge in person, so they can do this.
- Proof of Vaccination should be relatively simple. You show your vaccination card or possibly a photo of your vaccination card or possibly some sort of standard digital proof of vaccination, like a QR Code from a site similar to https://myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov/. They check this against your photo ID, and you should be good to go. However, note that fully vaccinated is usually interpreted as 14 days after you receive second shot on a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 two-shot vaccine or 14 days after receiving the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 one-shot vaccine.
- Proof of Negative Test Results is more complicated. There will probably be a window of time before the event where the test has to be done. For CCSE, that window was 72 hours, which is what some of the theater websites are asking for. CCSE started on a Friday, so the negative test had to be done on the Tuesday before the event or later. For TCMFF, 72 hours before would work out to the Monday before TCMFF or later. Also, it's very likely that the test will need to come from a health care provider, not an at-home test (if you do a home test, how do they know you were the one person who took the test). You will likely need some sort of written proof of the negative tests from a health provider in your name that matches the name on your photo ID. I'm guessing this may take longer to process, because the paperwork for different healthcare organizations all looks different, and it may take longer to find what they are looking for. There are at least two different types of test available, antigen and PCR/NAAT tests. I think most events accept either at this point, but if you are going this route, you should make sure you do the correct type of test, as the situation might change.
This is the way the situation looks right now. It is possible that things will get way better in the next three months, but I wouldn't count on it. It is possible that the situation will get worse, but we probably won't know that until we get there. I am not going to sugarcoat things. The situation is going to be challenging. I do believe that TCM is up for the challenge, and if we cooperate and be patient, I think that this year's TCMFF is going to a safe and fun event for all.
Special Thanks are due to Ruth Mundsack for giving me the skinny on how screenings work at the Academy Museum.