This week, many of us would have been traveling to Hollywood for the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (TCMFF).
Unfortunately, due to the current COVID-19 situation, the 2020 event had to be cancelled. However, the leaders of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) put their heads together, and created a special TCMFF Home Edition to keep fans and their staff engaged during a difficult time.
On Tuesday, a media round-table was held with TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz, TCM General Manager Pola Changnon, and TCM Senior Vice of Programming Charlie Tabesh.
Each shared that this has been an emotional time, as they look forward to the festival as much as the fans do. I didn’t expect to get teary on the call, but hearing how emotional the cancellation is for the staff (as much as the pass holders) made me cry a little.
Here is a summary of the questions asked during the media roundtable:
Can you give an overview of why TCM decided to do the TCMFF Home Edition?
Pola Changnon: A month ago, we were concerned about the evolving situation and how that may or might not affect our festival dates (April 16-19). It was around this time a month ago, that it became clear that we would have to cancel the festival. We didn’t feel comfortable postponing — you can imagine the work it takes to rearrange the films and locations. Within a day, all of us were together in Los Angeles for business. We started the day off with an acknowledgement that we would have to cancel. By the end of the day, Charlie Tabesh felt confident that he could pull something together for the network in place of the festival. This is a special weekend that people look forward to all year long – both staff and pass holders. We asked ourselves how could we do this and will it be special enough? Within a couple of days, Charlie came up with something so robust.
Charlie Tabesh: We had to figure out, “How do you make this different than what is already on TCM?” We wanted it to be special and include a lot of material that we wouldn’t include day-to-day on TCM.
Our first idea was that we would play movies that we were planning to show at the festival this year. The issue there is we wouldn’t have the guests, tributes and other special videos that were done over the years. One of the reasons we included previous festival moments so that it involved some of the best of past festivals, we figured out how to make it special with Ben’s intros, and talk about how we were there with celebrities and use tribute pieces and interviews that happened before a film. That’s what makes it different as far as production.
Ben Mankiewicz: We shot intros in a way that I’ve never shot anything. We have had a scaled down crew with no one coming within 10 feet of me. We shot and wrote fresh intros—we always write fresh intros — but fresh as in related to the festival. Programming this weekend will look different, and isn’t shot on my set. I’m also reminded by what Pola said—people look forward to this weekend all year. That includes us. A large part of what we look forward to is the connection we have with our fans. When TCM announced that we couldn’t do the festival, I was asked to write something to say on the air. In both writing and delivering it, I got really emotional. I almost couldn’t get through without crying. I didn’t expect that. It’s emotional for all of us. Charlie’s crew helped me provide some new context. All of what TCM does this weekend – online, social media — is to engance the programing we will have airing this weekend.
What is the plan for next year? Are you going to keep the same programing that was planned for this year?
Charlie Tabesh: There are a lot of things we can take from this year and move it to next year. But next year there may be different talent or different restorations and anniversaries. There will be things that will reshape the festival. We have a bit of a head start, but the work will still need to be done for next year.
Following the upcoming home edition, will TCM plan other events for the upcoming year?
Ben Mankiewicz: Anecdotally, the response I get on social media is almost the most significant response that I have gotten anywhere. The engagement with fans is the best and most meaningful part of my job. I think we have learned there is real value of having this online component so that even more people can be included.
How to watch:
You can find the full schedule for the TCMFF Home Edition here.
To make the best of this weird quarantine situation, Comet Over Hollywood will post throughout the weekend what we’re watching during #TCMFF and outfits I would be wearing if I was there. Follow along on Twitter at @HollywoodComet.