Saturday, March 14, 2015

TCMFF Survival Guide

This will be my second year at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), so I may not be the most experienced person about the festival, but I have been attending Comic-Con and other fan conventions for a lot of years. 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.

Food, try to eat some
I know you’re going to be running around trying not to miss anything, but seriously, try to get something besides just movie theater popcorn and Red Vines over the four days. There’s a Fresh and Easy market on Hollywood Blvd., a block west of TCL Chinese IMAX. They have things like pre-made sandwiches and fresh fruit. Easy to eat while you're walking from one venue to the next or to put in your bag for later.

  • 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 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, especially, if it’s something you’d be crushed if you missed. 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 or wrapped in plastic.
Keep in mind that getting around is going to take you longer than you expect. Figure that if you’re going from one screen in TCL Chinese to another screen in TCL Chinese, 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. So 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.
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
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. Last year, 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 early. The pool is just that a swimming pool. I didn’t go to any of the poolside screenings last year, but everybody says get there extra early if you want one of the lounge chairs.
  • 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 run the lines 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)
  • El Capitan (988 Seats) A great old theater built in the 1920s and restored to its former glory. Located on Hollywood Blvd just across the street from the Hollywood and Highland mall, about a half a block east of the Roosevelt on the same side of Hollywood Blvd. They have a pipe organ that plays movie-related music as you enter. At least, they did last year. Hopefully, they will again this year.
  • Egyptian Theatre (618 Seats) – Another 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.
  • The Montalb├ín Theatre (500 Seats) – Venue for Conversation with Norman Lloyd and Robert Osborne interview with Sofia Loren. Last year there was a shuttle, but not this year. It’s about 12 blocks from the Roosevelt, so you can probably figure on a 15- to 20-minute walk each way there and back. You could probably take a cab, but with traffic on Hollywood Blvd. that might not save you very much time. There's also the LA Metro with stations at Hollywood and Highland and Hollywood and Vine, both putting you fairly close to your destination. Then again time savings might be negligible.
Line numbers
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.

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 last year. (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 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 last year was to not follow that route all the way to the movie theater. Got distracted by things in the mall. This year I plan to fix that and make sure I know exactly how to get to the movie theater that way.
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, Search for blog posts like this one. A good source of info is Twitter, 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 page about the film. You’re to pick up some interesting tidbits that most people don’t know.

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. 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, about another four blocks passed 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. Personally, what I like to do is 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 (it was 86 degrees at lunch in San Diego just yesterday), 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. 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.

Good and plastered
Very few of us can pull off the ice pack hat
as well as Myrna Loy
We all like to think we can hold our liquor like Nick and Nora Charles, but realistically no one can. I know we’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.

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 The Sound of Music, 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 this year. Originally I wanted to wear it to the opening night party, but decided that the Friday night screening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was more appropriate. If you want to wear a cowboy outfit to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, more power to you and you probably won't be the only one.
All things considered, most everything is pretty centrally located, but you will do a fair amount of walking and standing. You 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 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.


[Updated 3/23, Just hear that DirectTV is hosting the lounge and charging station at the TCL Chinese Theaters. Thanks, @QuelleLove for the update.]

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. Did you promise your boss that you’d check e-mail? Can you get by doing that on your phone or do you need a tablet or laptop? If you’re counting on the hotel having Wi-Fi, it might be worth finding out whether that’s in your room or only in the lobby.
You’ll definitely want to have a camera. Think twice about how good the camera on your phone is. How well does it do if you have to hand it to a stranger to take a picture. Or in low light or at a distance? 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 Robert Osborne, and realize you have to figure out which pictures from your cousin’s wedding you can live without.
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.

Be flexible
Despite all of your planning, leave yourself a little wiggle room. Last year, I completely changed everything I had planned for Sunday and was glad I did. They should announce the TBAs fairly late on Saturday. This could your chance to see something that you had to skip earlier in the Festival. Most of the TBAs last year we’re replays of screenings that had to turn people away the first time. Presumably it will be the same this year. Plus, you never know how you will feel. Say you just came from a really intense drama, and what you had planned for the next block was another really intense drama. It’s perfectly okay to switch to a comedy. You’ll be glad you did. 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. 
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 things like Hollywood Book and Poster and 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, and trip to Amoeba Records (6400 Sunset Blvd.). Occupying an entire block, it's arguably one of the best record stores in the country. My 15-year-old daughter will be with me. This could get ugly.

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 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 TBAs on Sunday.
  • What’s your favorite thing so far? You might get some great stories: Oh, David Ladd was so funny. 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?

Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. Don't forget to check the links below. Good info there as well.

Related links


  1. I am a Los Angeles native, who has attended TCMFF every year, and I agree with every, single word of this. Just FOLLOW THIS ADVICE. It's spot on. I will only add that, yes, every year the TBAs are announced ahead of time, and they are ALWAYS films that showed earlier in the festival that filled up/"sold out." Check the run-time blocks for hints. For example, CHRISTMAS IN JULY; AIR MAIL; and WHY BE GOOD? all look like they'd fit snuggly into the first and third TBA slots, and none of them has a special guest or live orchestra. Easy to replay these. They have a decent chance at reappearing in a TBA can't bet for sure, so see everything you want the first time, if you can.

    Also, the low stage in the Roosevelt lobby Chris referenced has been identical every year. Can't imagine it would be any different this year. I'd just follow Chris's advice about getting there early to stand closer to the stage.

    Something TCM doesn't advertise, but they keep a little suggestion box at the info desk in the Roosevelt lobby. It's VERY informal. You just borrow a pen and scribble on any random piece of paper you can find. Unless they've finally upgraded it, you may consider writing out a few suggestions on a small piece of paper ahead of time for dropping them in the barely-a-suggestion-box. If you'd really like to see AUNTIE MAME next year, jot it down and let TCM know. Keeping in mind what Chris said about time, if you've got your for-sure suggestions already in mind, jot them down before you head to L.A. to save time at the info desk.

    Nothing else to add. Chris has laid it out superbly. Just jumped in to confirm that the things he observed last year have been that way every year.

    Oh! The rain! One year, I was getting DRENCHED in front of Grauman's until one of those fab people in line Chris talked about let me share his umbrella. Also, it has become common in L.A. to use umbrellas as parasols when it's hot. To that end, I will have my umbrella/parasol for my Egyptian queuing. It was 108 degrees in L.A. today as I ran errands. It could get stupid-hot like that. Pack a parasol for rain and shine.

    Travel safely!

    Thanks for this great post, Chris! I know this took a lot of time and thought!

  2. Thanks for jumping in, Deborah. Last year I suggested that they use some large video monitors for the people standing in the back at Club TCM, but that's not necessarily an easy thing. In a modern hotel, you could hang screens from the ceiling. In a historic hotel like The Roosevelt, that's probably not do-able.

    The weather today was worse here in San Diego today than yesterday mid- 90's at 2:00. It's about almost 8:30, and the house is just now getting bearable. With the heat, it can make a pretty huge difference how far you are from the ocean, it can easily be 10 or 15 degrees warmer in the east part of the city than it is near the coast.