TCM Fest 2014 and Beyond: Resolutions

Regrets? I’ve had a few. But then again… too few to mention.

Sing it, Frank! Well, this year’s TCM Film Festival has come and gone, and with it, many of my best laid plans. As I mentioned in my intro, this was my first year attending the festival with an actual pass, as opposed to buying standby tickets for individual screenings. While this was an amazingly fantastic way to experience the summer-camp-like atmosphere of movies! movies! movies!, it did mean I had to adjust my perspective a bit to accommodate the new opportunities. Should I get the opportunity to attend again next year, I’ve collected some advice for myself (and others!) to keep in mind to get the best possible experience.

Photo by Mark Hill
Photo by Mark Hill

Don’t Lose Your Phone: Now, this one may seem obvious, but, you know, it happened to me this year, and it was a pain, so next year I’d prefer to try something different. Thank goodness I live in town and I’m an electronics hoarder/upgrade-procrastinator, but the loss did make for a late night, and thus a sacrifice of the next morning’s screenings for a small bit of sleep. So, I would recommend against this particular choice.

Commit Fully… But Don’t Overextend: I somehow both under- AND over-estimated the time commitment required for having a truly full experience at the festival. Going to a full day’s worth of programming on Friday or Saturday would mean you were there from 8am ’til 2am or so, which is obviously not a super feasible long-term plan for sanity. I chose to plot my schedule by alternating either early mornings or later nights each day, and though I was initially bummed that that meant missing a handful of screenings, in the long run I think that was a good approach for me. However, even with missing a few timeslots, I still spent basically all of my waking hours at the festival for those four days. So if you were planning to attend the fest and do detailed write-ups of each event, or catch up on some upcoming blogathon posts… fuhgeddaboudit. I love writing about movies more than just about anything, but when it came down to going home and writing a recap versus seeing another movie with the fine people of TCM Fest… well, the movie will win out just about every time. So make sure you have everything boring taken care of before the festival starts, so you’re able to relax and have fun while you’re there.

Update More: That being said… I amped up my Twitter throughout the festival, but considering the regimented line system, I think I could have spent at least a few of those moments to get up a few more real posts about the goings-on at the festival. It didn’t have to be Shakespeare (not that a week’s procrastination was going to turn any of these recaps into Shakespeare), but I definitely could have gotten down my thoughts, even if it was in a shortened or more hasty form. I started writing down funny quotes from the presenters and guests, and it would’ve been really easy to post one of those per day to keep things current, rather than trying to write something sensical about a high-concept Powell/Pressburger fantasy at 2am.

Plan By Location: TCM Fest had taken over three theaters in the Chinese multiplex, so navigating screenings between those venues those were very simple. However, they also had programming at the Chinese IMAX, the El Capitan, the Hollywood Roosevelt, and the Egyptian, all of which required exiting the multiplex and fighting your way  upstream through an unending flow of tourists. I’d definitely factor location a little more carefully next time, potentially planning for blocks of screenings in the same area. It wasn’t too bad walking back and forth, but for the screenings where I was waffling between a few options anyway, an easy location isn’t the worst way to decide.

Accept Your Fate: Again, as I mentioned in my introduction, part of the stress of the event was seeing all of the options scheduled for one single time slot, and knowing you would miss all but one of them. But looking back, there weren’t really any selections I made where I now wished I had been elsewhere—the TCM programming is such that every choice is a great one. So instead of focusing on what you’re going to miss, focus on what you will get to see! This also goes for anyone considering the Matinee or Palace (Egyptian and Chinese IMAX-only) passes—the majority of films I saw would have been considered “matinees,” and the Egyptian was my single most-visited theater of the fest. So if you’re wondering whether the Matinee or Palace passes are worth it, I’d definitely say yes, as long as you can resist the temptation of comparing out-of-bounds screenings, and focusing on what you’re actually getting.

Diversify: Even keeping my previous location advice in mind, one of my few actual “regrets” is that I didn’t end up seeing ANY movies in the Chinese IMAX, El Capitan, or the Roosevelt. It can be easy to just consider which particular film in a time slot is going to be the best choice, but I think the experience of seeing a movie poolside on the roof of the Roosevelt would have been a well deserved trade! It was also easy to get into a pattern of how you were choosing your movies, whether it was going to movies you already knew you loved, movies you’d heard of but never seen, or movies that were brand new to you. No matter your criteria, I think it’s a great idea to shake things up a bit, as I saw many people doing, and choose a least a couple screenings outside your comfort zone—even if it means seeing a big, goofy musical you’ve seen a thousand times on the big screen, or watching a 1930s drama without a single cast member you recognize. Trust in the TCM overlords that you’re going to have a great time no matter what you choose.

Just Buy the Dang Tote Bag: Yeah, that tote bag you saw in the TCM Gift Shop on Day 1 and spent the rest of the festival debating whether or not you needed it or only wanted it, and by the time you’d finally convinced yourself to get it on Sunday, it was sold out. THAT tote bag. Anyway, save yourself the trauma next year and just listen to your heart, man! I could probably make this advice more universal somehow, but I still want that tote.

And that’s pretty much it! The TCM Classic Film Festival is an amazing experience for any classic film fan that can make it out to Hollywood for the weekend. A thousand, million thank you’s go out to the TCM Fest staff, from the ushers and popcorn-poppers to the expert hosts and schedule programmers, and a personal thank you to Chelsea Barredo and the fine people at Ginsberg Libby and TCM social media maven Noralil! Though I’d recommend attending in any way that you can—even if it just means getting in the standby line for a few screenings—having the pass made a huge difference in the ease of getting around, and the security of knowing that I was the master of my own domain in terms of making it into my desired screenings. But really, even beyond the movies, just being around that many passionate film fans was a unique experience in and of itself. The TCM Classic Film Festival is an ideal destination for any classic movie fan pilgrimage.