Sunday, March 17, 2019

TCMFF Survival Guide Part 2, Making the Most of Your Experience

This will be my sixth year attending the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), held April 11 to 14, 2019. In addition, I have been going to Comic-Con International and other fan conventions for decades, 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. 

This is, I think, the fifth version of this guide I've done. I've tried to refine things over the years. This year, I've decide to split this post up into three parts:
  • Part 1 (posted here) covers the nuts and bolts of how TCMFF works. 
  • Part 2 (this part) covers making the most of your experience and will also contain links to other similar posts past and present. I will do my best to update with new links as I find them. 
  • Part 3 will cover preserving your sanity in the craziness of TCMFF.


This section covers TCMFF etiquette. The most important thing to do is silence your phone and other devices during screenings and do not take them out to post pictures, answer a text, or whatever. You might think it would be cool to take a picture of the movie title onscreen to post for your friends.


There a people sitting next to you and behind you who are trying to enjoy the film. Just the the light from your phone as you bring it up and try to find an app is insanely distracting in a dark theater. I usually put my phone in both Silent and Airplane modes during screenings. For me, most people who would be trying to contact me know I'm at TCMFF, so if I get a text, I tend to think it's an emergency and worry about it, not that I would be able to doing anything while I'm in Hollywood anyway.

It's okay to tweet, post to Facebook, Instagram, whatever while you're waiting in line or sitting in the theater waiting for things to begin. Once somebody starts talking, finish up what you're doing and put it away. Taking pictures/video during the intro is fine, but turn off the flash. It's distracting, especially to the people talking, 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 Galaxy S10.

I shouldn't have to say this but:
  • Don't talk during the movie.
  • Don't take any pictures during a screening. 
  • 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.


If you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of person, I wish you lots of luck. My suggestion would be to plan out the whole schedule ahead of time. There may be spots on the schedule where you can't make a decision and want to figure it out in the moment. That's fine, but I would try to keep that to a minimum. If you wait until, you get out of one movie to decide what you're going to see next, you may be too late by the time you get there.

Once 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 in the smallest theater, the TCL Chinese House 6. At 266 seats, this theater is not huge. It probably is going to have to turn people away at certain times. In theory, this should be less of an issue this year because the one really tiny theater went away this year. Still, what we don't know is whether TCM sold extra passes to compensate for the larger venues. Possibly, TCMFF got a really great deal on the larger Legion Theater and are just hoping to ease overcrowding, but it seems more likely that if you had larger venues, you would sell more passes.

How do you get to the screening a half or more ahead of time? 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 6 is going fill up fast, a half hour ahead of time might not be enough. Try to get there earlier if possible. This also counts for Club TCM events. In Club TCM, there are booths on the side and rows of chairs on floor near the fairly low stage. Toward the back of the room is a bar for standing, but once the room gets full you're not going to be able to see well standing in the back.

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. This will probably be very doable for Legion Theater.

The east west street one block south of Hollywood Blvd is Hawthorne Ave. It jogs a bit at Highland Ave, but does keep going. There isn't a crosswalk to get across Highland Ave., so you are probably better off going back to Hollywood Blvd. to cross at Highland. Highland is a pretty busy street. I don't think I'd want to risk jaywalking it. 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.

Hollywood and Highland Mall

The TCL Chinese 6 and the TCL Chinese IMAX are 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 can 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 multiplex. 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 some day.

A friend Will McKinley did a post similar to this several years ago. He’s the one who suggested avoiding Hollywood Blvd. altogether, good call. He also suggested coming into the mall from the back. If you cross Hollywood Blvd. from the Roosevelt, you'll be standing in front of Madame Tussaud's 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 time.

If you are coming or going the other direction, there's another entrance into the mall from Highland Ave. About half a block north of the corner of Hollywood and Highland, there is a set of stairs going up into the mall:

This set of stairs puts you into the mall on the main level, and I think is one level down from the multiplex. If you're coming into the mall, there is a stairway on the right that puts takes you pretty close to the multiplex. If you are coming from/going to the TCL Chinese 6 and going to/coming from the Egyptian and the Legion Theater, this should save you time. I'm not sure how much it's going to save you if you're coming from/going to the Chinese IMAX or the Roosevelt. I do know that last year, my daughter and I had a really short window from the Egyptian to the Chinese 6, and we made it using these stairs. I seriously think that if it had taken us a minute longer we would have missed it. This set of stairs made the difference.

If you're staying at Loews Hollywood Hotel, there's a walkway that leads directly into the mall. If you stay there, I would find that and make sure that you know exactly how to get to the movie theater that way. If you oversleep some morning, you'll thank me.


Take the time to read everything you can find on the website, Search for blog posts like this one. There are links to similar posts below. A good source of info is Twitter, follow @tcm and search on the #TCMFF hashtag. There will be lots of good tips there. Also you might want to join the Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! Facebook group (link at the end of this post). 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.

Smartphone App

Each year the festival does smartphone apps for iPhone and Android. If you have a smartphone, download it. I'm not sure the exact timing, but last year it was up for iPhone about a week before the Festival. I honestly don't know whether they make both iPhone and Android available at the same time or not. Just know that it will be posted, and get it when available. The smartphone apps will contain pretty much everything in the TCMFF guide book, plus things like updates of late additions/changes and the titles for the To Be Determined (TBD) slots on Sunday, more on that below. Even if you don't think you would use it, download it anyway. You might get shut out on a screening and need to figure out a plan B on the fly. That would be one time you realize you left your guide book at the hotel. Me, I don't use it a whole lot as I'm usually on Twitter during TCMFF and can get the same info there. Also, phone battery life can be an issue, so I would rather save my battery for taking pictures and social media, when most of the info on the app duplicates what's in the TCMFF guide book that I'm already carrying anyway. Plus, I would rather read on paper than my phone. Then again, if you live on your phone, you'll rely on the apps.

TCMFF Guide Book

Each year, TCM publishes a guide book listing all of the films and other events, guest bios, and other valuable info. Everything you need to know about the festival will be in there. In the past, it has been printed in a small format, but I wouldn't call it pocket size, well, not unless you have very large pockets. Now, I know what your thinking. If everything is in the guide book, why do you need the app? Well, S*** Happens. Guest might get sick and have to cancel at the last minute. Maybe there's a new book coming out, and they don't know whether or not copies will be available for a signing at the time they go to press. And again the TBD screenings, I swear I will get to that in this post. 

You can pick up your guide book when you arrive in the Academy Room (2nd Floor) in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel at the following hours:

Wednesday, April 10, 2-4 pm
Thursday, April 11, 10 am-6 pm

After 6 pm on Thursday, April 11, you can get a guide book at the Information Desk (ground floor) in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Information Desk hours: Thursday, 10 am-8 pm; Friday/Saturday, 8 am-8 pm; and Sunday, 8 am-6 pm. If you lose or forget your guide book at the hotel, the Information Desk should be able to get you a new one.


By now, you probably have already made arrangements for travel, so it's probably too late to change it, but for future reference, I would recommend coming in on Wednesday (or earlier) before the festival and leaving Monday (or later). There are lot of people who build vacations around TCMFF. You will make friends, and the extra time will allow you to hang out with your old movie cronies. 

Earlier I said, read everything you can thing. 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. Post Offices:
  • 1615 Wilcox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (hours, 9 am to 6 pm, Mon to Fri; 9 am to  3 pm, Sat; closed Sun), about another four blocks past the Egyptian. 
  • 1425 N Cherokee Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (hours, 9 am to 5 pm, Mon to Fri; 9 am to  3:30 pm, Sat; closed Sun), about three blocks east of Highland Ave. and a block south of Sunset.
Other shipping options: 
  • Mail and More on Hollywood, 7095 Hollywood Blvd. (hours, 9 am to 6 pm, Mon to Fri; 10 am to  5 pm, Sat; closed Sun), much closer, about two blocks west of the Roosevelt. It is a private shipping place, so you may pay more. Then again, it's much closer to the Festival than either of the Post Offices.
  • FedEx Office Print & Ship Center, 1755 N Highland Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028 (hours, 7 am to 6 pm, Mon to Fri; 9 am to 1 pm, Sat; closed Sun), about a block north of Hollywood and Highland. You'll probably pass it half a dozen times on the way to the Legion Theater during the Festival.
It might even be worth calling your hotel and see if they can mail for you.

Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Me, I only do Facebook and Twitter, so I can only speak to those with any authority. On Facebook, I suggest joining the Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! group. It's a great place to meet people, make plans, and ask questions (link below). TCM has a very active presence on Twitter. Even if you have never been on Twitter, it might be worth the trouble of creating an account just for TCMFF. Make sure that you follow @tcm and monitor the #TCMFF hashtag. The immediacy of Twitter make it a good platform for interacting with others in close to real-time. I'm sure if you are on Instagram, Tumblr, or social media, you can find similar by searching for TCMFF. Hmm, note to self: There probably needs to be a TCMFFr app, so you can swipe right for film festival hookups. Look into this for 2020. 

Choose You Own Path

Different people enjoy TCMFF in different ways. Some people like to discovery new films or see special presentations that you can only find see at the Festival. Some people want to see every as many Nitrate screenings as possible. Others want to relish in old favorites they have seen a hundred times before. Me, since I attend with my daughter, I tend to pick films that I know she will like or should see. You may run into others who have different priorities at TCMFF than you. Don't feel bad if you don't have the same priorities as someone else. There is no one right approach except for the one that works for you. 

Be Flexible

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 people away earlier in the Festival. They should announce the TBDs fairly late on Saturday. This could be your chance to see something that you had to skip earlier. On the TBDs, bear in mind that certain things probably will not be repeated. A silent film with a live orchestra may not be repeated just because the musicians would have to be available on short notice. Nitrate films can only be shown at the Egyptian, and they don't do any TBDs there; at least, they haven't in the years I've attended TCMFF.

Last year, we were about 20 people back from getting into a rare screwball comedy, but it didn't look like we going to make it into the theater. The TCM Festival staff announced that another screening of a French-language film noir still had plenty of seats. We switched gears and that turned out to be one of our favorite films that year. 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. Last year, my daughter and I watched a movie we were both psyched on, but ended up hating it. Neither of us, had to energy to watch another film afterwards. I dropped my daughter off at our AirBnB, and went back to the Roosevelt for a drink. I ended up hanging out with a friend Ruth at the Roosevelt bar at just the right time to meet and take a picture with Dennis Miller. 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.

Dennis Miller, Ruth Mundsack, and me

Try Something New

To a certain degree, this is going to vary from person to person to person. Maybe, you've never been to one of the midnight or poolside screenings, try to find a way to make that happen. Maybe, you've never seen a silent film with live accompaniment. Maybe, you're the type of person who puts a premium on seeing films you've never seen before over old standards that you've seen a bunch of times. Know that seeing something like Casablanca in the TCL Chinese IMAX in a packed theater with an audience who knows the film by heart like you do is a different experience than seeing it on the big screen at the multiplex with Fathom Events.

My second year at TCMFF, they did a special presentation on the history of Technicolor. I thought it sounded really cool, but I decided on something else instead. Afterwards, everybody was raving about how cool the Technicolor thing was. The next year I decided to not make the same mistake twice and went to the Vitaphone presentation. Vitaphone was the first technology to make talking motion pictures viable on a large scale, and the presentation was awesome.

Just try to step outside of your comfort zone at some point during the Festival. Maybe, it works out. Maybe, it doesn't doesn't work out so well. Just know that it's actually kind of hard to make a bad decision at TCMFF.

Try to See Something Besides 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 a 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. 

About 2 blocks east of the Egytian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. is Larry Edmunds Bookstore, great bookstore, specializing in movies and theater. If you're at the Egyptian and have time to spare, it's well worth the trip.

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.  A couple of years ago, 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, but in some social situations, I clam up or spend the whole time talking to the people I already know. Know that 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 know 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: Eddie Muller was very 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?

Festival Boutique

Want a TCMFF t-shirt or Noir Alley coffee mug. For the last couple of years, the TCM Boutique has been located inside SWEET! on the second floor of the Hollywood Highland mall. Just bear in mind that some items do sell out, so it's a good idea to shop early. 


I like to think of TCMFF as Comic-Con for classic film fans. At Comic-Con, you can't walk 20 feet without having someone give you swag. For those not in the know, swag is cool free stuff. There is not a lot of swag at TCMFF, but it does exist. TCM does hold events for things like TCM Backlot and the Wine Club. Will there be swag there? I honestly don't know, but there might be. Of course, maybe you'll have to join Backlot or the Wine Club to get it, but if you were planning to anyway, it might be cooler than what you would get otherwise.

I decided not to do buttons this year because everybody
does buttons, I'm doing something different this year. Probably
not as cool as what I did in 2017 (above), but kind of cool.
I'm not saying anymore. You'll just have to find me.
Now, about 98% of the swag at TCMFF is buttons. A couple weeks ago, I made rather flippant remark on Facebook about buttons. I said, if you didn't get any buttons, it's because you didn't try. Of course, someone responded, I didn't get any buttons and wanted to know how to get some. Well, here you go.

A lot of people make buttons to give out at TCMFF. Maybe they are promoting their classic film blog or podcast. Maybe they're doing it because they like Thelma Ritter or think the Joel McCrea is underrated as a leading man. Anyway, if you want buttons, find someone who has some buttons and ask where they got them. Maybe they ordered them online before the Festival (graphic designer Kate Gabrielle has been doing TCMFF button sets for years; you can order them here). Maybe they got them the year before. Maybe the got them the day before from a guy wearing a Buster Keaton hat. Then again, maybe they got one from the woman over there in the green dress, and she still has some. You go up and ask her and she gives you one.

You may need to ask five people, ten people, twenty people, thirty people. Maybe you will get some buttons. Maybe, you won't, but what if you don't. Is it bad that you talk to 20 or 30 people you wouldn't have talked to otherwise. If you see someone with a lot of buttons, ask them. Often the reason people have a lot of buttons is that they are giving them out and got them in return.

Another way to get buttons is look on social media. A lot of the people who order buttons to give out at the Festival will post pictures of them on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever ahead of time. "Hi everybody, my Cary Grant buttons came in today." When you see things like this, like them. Post comments about how cool they. Follow or friend them. Send them a direct message. When it gets closer to the Festival, figure out which events they are going to and find them and ask for a button. See what I did there, I just recommended that you cyberstalk someone to get Cary Grant button. Don't worry. In the realm of cyberstalking, this is about as benign as it gets.

Finally, if you really want buttons, go out and get some. Find an image you like, ignore the fact that you don't own the copyright, and order some. If you're not real tech savvy, find someone to help you. You probably know someone at work or wherever. If that is too much trouble, just do one with text. Most button making sites will allow you to type in the text, you want to put on the button. Say you like, Sunset Blvd., do buttons that say, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small."

The reason everyone does buttons is that they're cheap and easy to do. The last time I did buttons, I think they cost about $28 for 100 buttons. That's about a quarter a piece. If you get a button-making kit, you can probably do them even cheaper. If you have a hundred buttons, you're probably going to get some in return. Are you going to get 75? Probably not. You might only get five. You might only get two. You're definitely going to get one, because you're going to keep one for yourself. And it's going to be one you like, because you picked out what to put on it. You got a button that you love, and it only cost you a quarter. Score.

Nowhere is the old addage, it's better to give than receive more true than with buttons and TCMFF. The point is not getting buttons. The point is giving them. Where else can you make people happy for a quarter. If you give a homeless guy a quarter, he's going to look at you like you are making more work for him (crystal meth dealers don't take change). If you like buttons, order some. You'll get one, and you'll make 99 other people happy. It's the best 25 or 30 bucks you'll ever spend in your life. By the way, if you do make some buttons, it's probably better not to put the TCM logo on it. TCM is in the business selling stuff with their logo on it. They probably wouldn't confiscate them or anything, but it is their pool we're playing in. We should respect that.

Swag You Really Don't Want

A word of warning, as you wander Hollywood Blvd., people are going to try give you stuff. Don't take it. Once a young man came up to me and said, "Here, have a free CD." In a moment weakness and exhaustion, I accepted. He then proceeded to ask me for money for the free CD he had just given me. And then didn't want to take it back when I said no. Trust me, you don't need that kind of headache.


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.

Related links

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.

My TCMFF Sidetrip posts from 2016:

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