Apr 13, 2014

TCM Film Festival 2014: Day One Press Conference With Robert Osborne and Co. and More!

I didn't set eyes on a movie until the sun went down, and yet I lived and breathed movies the entire first day of the TCM film festival. It was beautiful to spend the day in a happy cinematic bubble, soaking up the enthusiasm of the festival-goers around me. I can see why people do TCMFF every year; I'm all ready to sign up for next year myself!

Here's what happened before the movies rolled on day one:

Press Conference

I got my first ever glimpse of Robert Osborne yesterday morning at the press conference, and it was surprisingly not a big deal! It was like seeing my cool uncle up there. He's so handsome in person. Swoon! I thought he kind of looked like Robert Wagner up close, which is funny since they're pals and name twins. Here's what he said:

  • He paid touching tribute to the people who were helped through hard times by watching TCM. Osborne said he never expected to be a sort of "nurse" to people enduring difficulties like joblessness, divorce and illness, but he relishes the role and says it makes the network and its fans feel like a family. Very appropriate given the family theme at this year's festival
  • Osborne shared lots of stories about his mentor Lucille Ball, the woman who encouraged him to follow his interest in film history. He told a funny story about how Ball resented Maureen O'Hara because she'd always upstage her as the hot redhead in nightclubs. Once the Irish lass made her appearance, Ball said, "then I'm chopped liver."
  • It was also interesting to hear about Osborne's connection with character actress Jane Darwell. The two met while he was in the service, and performed on stage together in Seattle. She took an interest in him and encouraged him to try film acting. Osborne even stayed in her Hollywood home while he got started, a fact which intrigued Ball and got her interested in the young actor.
  • It took Osborne only two weeks to get a six month contract at 20th Century Fox! He said it was very different when he got started and that, "in those days, if you could walk and say words at the same time, you could get a contract." Still, I was impressed that he found work so quickly.
  • On a less personal note Osborne answered a questions about how to attract young people to classic movies by saying that he didn't feel the need to recruit a younger generation for the network. That's because 50% of attendees to TCM events are in the younger age bracket and 60% of network viewership is age 18-49.
  • I loved Osborne's story about an 11-year-old TCM fan who was determined to make it to TCMFF. He did odd jobs to make money, but couldn't quite make enough. When TCM heard of this, they gave this lucky kid a pass to the festival for the next couple of years, and he's gone every year since. What other network would do this? It's amazing.
  • It was sad to hear how Olivia deHavilland's health troubles have prevented her from traveling to TCMFF and even conducting an interview with Osborne. Her last trip to visit her daughter in Malibu was so taxing that it took her a year to recover. As active as she's been late in life, she's 97-years-old and not up to travel anymore.
  • Osborne shared his favorite films: A Place in the Sun, The Razor's Edge, Sunset Blvd.--and Spinal Tap! I mean, that is a great film, but I was so tickled to hear him mention it with those other flicks.
  • He did an impression of Ida Lupino at the end of High Sierra that was actually pretty darn good. Almost made me tear up. From what I remember, Lupino wasn't fond of him when she met him in his reporting days. I think she might have even tried to turn the garden hose on him once, but I could be mixing him up with someone else.

Ben Mankiewicz took the stage next:
  • In answer to a question about how he felt about his job, he said "grateful is an understatement." I was surprised to learn that he had auditioned for his position. I always thought he had been invited to take the job based on his family history. He seems to think that helped him seal the deal, but he definitely had to go through a few rounds first.
  • He spoke a bit about his famous family, and told an interesting story about his grandfather Herman Mankiewicz and the Oscar he won for Citizen Kane. Apparently he wasn't sentimental about his trophy and resented the bother of protecting such a valuable award. He kept it in a safe deposit box for years. When he found out he could make thousands of dollars by selling it, he grabbed the chance.
  • I loved Mankiewicz's response to a question about whether he ever got starstruck. He was nervous about talking to Max von Sydow and Peter Bogdanovich, though both men turned out to be kind and receptive interview subjects. He's also very nervous about interviewing Jerry Lewis this weekend, which I can understand after seeing his appearance on the Dick Cavett show. If he gets a fact wrong, that guy is toast. I don't think he will though.
  • He also talked about how bizarre it was to meet famous people who were his fans. I loved his story about Eli Wallach waving his cane at him in greeting. How funny to be adored by your idols!
  • Mankiewicz also told a few stories about the recently departed Mickey Rooney. He talked about his infamous on-air interview with the actor where he got so wound up that he actually stood up! However, ever the professional, Rooney saw he'd run off the rails and let Mankiewicz steer him back on topic. He also told a touching story about Rooney's appearance on a TCM cruise. The actor relished meeting the passengers and was devastated when a fall forced him to cancel the rest of his onboard appearances. The two had a long talk, where Mankiewicz realized just how much Roooney lived to entertain, and how the limitations of old age frustrated and disappointed him. 
  • In what would be a running theme for the day, Mankiewicz also noted the unique bond TCM's audience had with the network. It's true, who feels the way classic movie fans do about HBO or Showtime? 

Charles Tabesh, Senior VP of TCM Programming and Genivive McGuillicuddy, Managing Director, TCM Classic Film Festival wrapped up the event:
  • The pair discussed how TCM discovered how devoted its viewers were with the rise of social media. They are very responsive to fan input and monitor comments on Twitter, message boards, etc. So if you have a strong opinion about programming or anything else, let it be known--they're listening.
  • They consider the TCM Film Festival to be an extension of that online community.
  • Tabesh said that the network is committed to providing programming that reflects all walks of life, from balancing attention to the sexes and different races to showing more international titles, which makes sense after the huge success of the world film-focused Story of Film series.
  • I was also thrilled to hear that TCM is considering featuring a few kid programmers. What a great idea! I know a lot of classic film fans fell in love with the era at an early age.
  • When asked about their greatest pleasures and challenges in previous film festivals, Busch mentioned how difficult it can be to find good prints of films and dealing with last minute schedule changes. He most loved the thrill of discovery fans experienced watching new-to-them movies at the festival. McGuillicuddy was most challenged by the many logistics of the event  and most loves the experience of watching a great film with an enthusiastic audience.
  • When asked which guest they most wished to feature at the festival, both agreed they wanted Doris Day to make an appearance. I'm sure people would camp out to see her!
  • Neither Tabesh or McGuillicuddy are concerned about the rise of new digital channels with a classic focus like GetTv, though they are monitoring the progress of these new networks.
  • When asked if TCM would ever offer a stand-alone, online subscription service, the pair seemed reluctant to even comment. They acknowledged that they would need to consider the network's relationship with the cable companies when considering such a move.
  • McGuillicuddy praised the festival technical team Boston Light & Sound Tech. I was amazed to hear this top-notch team actually removes digital equipment from theaters for the festival in order to make space for 35mm projectors. What an enormous task that must be.
I then headed over to Meet TCM: Special Edition at the gorgeous Grauman's Egyptian Theater. A panel of TCM staffers that stretched across the stage spoke about the network and TCMFF:
  • One of the staffers mentioned the bond people form at TCMFF. There have even been people who have met their spouses at the event!
  • They also discussed how much the Internet has changed the way TCM approaches the considerable research needed for programming. Instead of spending hours at the library with books, staffers can now find most of their information with a quick search.
  • However, phone calls are still very important to TCM programmers, because most of the talent are not plugged in to email and social media. That doesn't mean that none of them are though; one staffer mentioned that she had recently received an email from Eva Marie Saint. I'm not a bit surprised that gal knows how to stay with the times.
  • In the early years of the network, classic stars and their family members were wary of TCM's requests for interviews and other appearances. It took about five years for the network's reputation to put these stars at ease and even make many eager to participate in programming. 
  • Ann Bancroft was a huge early fan of the network, but she didn't have the channel at home. Instead, she would call a neighbor with her flick picks every week and get them recorded. 
  • Now TCM is maintaining relationships with several stars, including nurturing a relationship with Doris Day that they hope will lead to an appearance on the channel or TCMFF. They seem to have some hope this could happen since Day's recent audio interview with Robert Osborne was such a success. This lovely conversation can be found on the Watch TCM app.
  • Speak of that app: apparently director Francis Ford Coppola couldn't get it to work. When TCM staffers helped them to get it running, he sent champagne in thanks.
  • The group also spoke of how they revered Robert Osborne, who is now almost as much of a star as the people he interviews. I can remember who said it, but someone on the panel mentioned that his experiences in the entertainment industry and as a film fan put him "on a trajectory to come to this network." It's true. I can't imagine how he could be better suited for the job.
  • I loved the stories the panel members told about Maureen O'Hara. Apparently she has very protective grandchildren, who were very particular about the way their beloved grandmother was transported to the festival. When her grandson tried to cancel her appearance because he didn't like her accomodations, the still quite feisty O'Hara told him that she was determined to attend.
  • One of the things that most impressed me about this group was the dedication all staff had to TCM and Turner Broadcasting. Each of them state how long they had been with the network and the range was from 13 to over 20 years, before TCM had even launched.

After the panel, I walked over to the Hollywood Museum to check out Gods and Monsters, a talk with monster make-up genius Rick Baker and director Joe Dante. 

I admit I only attended with mild curiosity, more excited about checking out the museum afterwards than hearing the discussion, but it ended up being fascinating. Both men have been in love with monsters and movies their entire lives. 

Baker didn't even know if what he wanted to do was a job, but he didn't leave himself any other options. He had to succeed. I found that so inspiring. I also loved Baker's long, silver-white hair. It was the same color as his white dress shirt! 

It was a funny, interesting talk, and it taught me that at TCMFF, sometimes it's best just to show up to a panel, or even a movie, and just see what happens. Discovery is just as important as seeing your favorite things. 

It was also great fun to check out the museum afterwards. It wasn't very big, but it was packed with loads of costumes and props. My favorite part was seeing Mae West's costumes. My goodness she was a curvy woman!

More to come! Movies! Special guests! This is the most amazing event. I can't wait to share the rest of my experiences.

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