by Jeff Lundenberger ~ Posted May 23rd, 2016
I watched eleven films at TCM’s Classic Film Festival 2016. To the layperson, that might sound like a lot of movies to see during a one-night, three full-day period. To most of my hardcore festival friends, however, that ranks on the low end. In my defense, I averaged 18 films over that same amount of time at Festivals 2011-2014. Last year started my slide, a slip to 13 films, when I gladly served as a TCMFF Social Producer. There were 20 of us, and we had all submitted proposals with our ideas for boosting the TCM social media presence during the run of the festival.
My Project: TCM Boulevard (https://storify.com/jlundenberger/jeff-and-ed-on-tcm-bouldevard).The Mission: Tie the festival to its Hollywood Boulevard location with Twitter and Instagram posts about movie history, festival venues, and other local businesses. One duty we each had was monitoring the social feeds for a designated amount of time each day, thus the decrease in film viewing, which was fine. I actually took the time to have a real lunch or dinner, an unusual event in previous years.
I was happy with my project and the folks at TCM must have been too because I was asked back as a Social Producer again this year, with a new project I called “Best TCM Fan in a Starring Role” (https://storify.com/jlundenberger/best-tcm-fan-in-a-starring-role). I posed festival-based trivia questions to attendees during the festival. I then took their picture, which was posted to the TCM Instagram account, on a specially designed background created by the TCM design team. The post included the caption “Meet ‘Best TCM Fan in a Starring Role’ _____, who correctly answered this question: _____.” All “Bests” would receive a Kate Gabrielle created “Robert Osborne Fan Club” or “Ben Mankiewicz Fan Club” button as a thanks for their participation.
The thing was, I had no idea how much of my time this project was going to take. I’d done a lot of research for last year’s project beforehand and had some idea of what my posts would be before I even arrived. This year, while I wrote all the trivia questions at home before the festival, once I arrived: Would I approach people standing in line? In the theatre before the movie? At the hotel? On the street? With these questions in mind I decided that there were three films I wasn’t going to miss: “Shanghai Express,” “Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc,” and “The Kid.” Anything else I made it to would be gravy. (I know you want to know what else I saw so I’ll oblige: “One Potato, Two Potato,” “Los Tallos Amargos,” “He Ran All the Way,” “Intolerance,”“The Long Goodbye,” “Midnight,” “All That Heaven Allows,” and “Fat City.”) This made for a festival experience much different than those I’d had in years past. I moved through the festival with a calm self-confidence, no rushing from screen to screen (well once, more on that later), with time for food, (though still spotty), and rest, (brief), and time to search for “Best TCM Fans.”
It suddenly occurred to me late Wednesday afternoon, on my way to an evening of Hollywood party-hopping, that I didn’t have to wait to begin the project. I could do some work in advance for posting later the next day and suddenly there she was, she and her husband, chatting with my husband Ed by the pool, a charming couple from New Jersey (where Ed and I are from). Irma was happy to participate as my “first” and thus began my adventure, and my discovery of my process (which I wrote down in my notebook, lest I forget any steps once festival fatigue set in). After finding a willing participant I would: 1. Ask the question (with hints at the ready, no non-winners here!). 2. Take their picture and get their approval, most given on the first round (but I took at least 10 pictures of one woman until I was able to get something we were both satisfied with). 3. Write down their name and question, along with a bit of information about them (usually the number of festivals they had attended). And finally, 4. “Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz?” In most cases I hadn’t told them about the button beforehand and they were always thrilled upon receiving one.I collected two more fans that evening,both people I knew (for practice), and then was honored to have Czar of Noir Eddie Muller answer a trivia question, just to see if he knew the answer. He did. The next morning I set out with phone, pad, and buttons, to do some serious work. First stop, the Dolby Theatre, where I was quickly shot down. I had a question about that theatre and I thought it would be great fun to find a fan right below its sign. Here come two men with festival passes. “Excuse me…”. I don’t even know what he mumbled as the two walked past without even looking at me. He couldn’t have mistaken me for one of the overweight Spiderman characters, and I’m too old to be one of the CD guys. Must have thought I was one of the Homes of the Stars bus tour hawkers. Chagrined but determined I saw a young man with a pass, standing alone, looking like someone waiting to be asked a question. Alas, he was a TCM staffer and he had a question for me: where is the DSW store? (His name was Andrew and he approached me two days later, searching for ribbons, which I didn’t have. But I did have buttons! He answered my question, received a button, AND I was able to point him in the direction of fellow Social Producer Kellee, the ribbon queen. Now that’s service!)
At last! A man, alone, walking down the steps of the Hollywood and Highland Center, with a festival pass dangling from his neck! Lloyd participated eagerly and immediately answered my “Intolerance” question as we stood in the shadow of the elephantine tribute to that film’s Babylon set. (I would later run into Lloyd again, while waiting for our car to the airport for our return trip.) From then on it was smooth sailing.
There were only two people out of the more than 30 I approached who politely refused to participate. I did some of the project while in line and the theaters, but this felt a little awkward. Surrounded by people, why would I approach one person and not another? I found it easiest to approach a single person, or people in pairs, in the lobbies of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the Chinese Multiplex. I probably looked a little suspicious, lurking around those spots, trying to decide who might be the best candidates. I even turned, briefly, into a stalker. Two pretty, well-dressed women in deep conversation walked past me in the hotel lobby. I didn’t want to interrupt so I followed them as they walked toward the pool where I thought I might be able to approach them, until they turned into the garden for the TCM Wine Club wine tasting event. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Some other highlights. I met Ruth, of Silver Screenings, waiting in line for queue numbers for “Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc.” She was a “Best TCM Fan” and once we received our numbers, since we had time to kill, we sat and chatted until we had to get in line again, then continued our conversation in the theatre. We had both planned on attending another screening afterwards but both decided against it, somewhat overwhelmed by that glorious experience. I approached a man in the theatre before the “Intolerance” screening and he was happy to comply. As we talked I realized that he had been our guide when Ed and I had taken the TCM bus tour two years earlier. He had done a wonderful job and we were able to chat again after the movie. Seated at the end of the row with fellow Social Producers Jack and Diane, waiting for “The Long Goodbye,” I stood to allow two women in for the two empty seats further down the row, one of them a previous “Best TCM Fan” and her mother. She said excitedly “My mom wants a button!” and I told her I’d wait for them after the movie – an answer mom didn’t like but the theatre was packed, the movie was about to start, and I wasn’t about to start handing out buttons willy-nilly! I did wait for them after the movie but they were ready to dash to the multiplex (we were at the Egyptian) to make sure they’d be able to get into the “Midnight” screening. I had been on the fence with that film, thinking of making it an early night, but they helped me to change my mind: I dashed right along with them! We made it in plenty of time, got our queue numbers, mom got her button, they got ice cream, I found another “Best TCM Fan,” and we all enjoyed that delightful film!
And so it went. I saw fewer films than in years past but, with a little time between, I was able to fall into and savor each one a little more deeply. I saw my three must-sees and more, and I had my Social Producer fun, meeting more people and interacting with them for longer periods of time than I might have otherwise. And, as I was serving as something of a TCM envoy, I think it made many of my new friends feel like they were a little more engaged with the festival. It was one of my best festival experiences yet.
By Sunday night, like everyone else, I was exhausted. I made the rounds at the closing night party, saying goodbyes, taking pictures, finding myself, in mid-conversation, wondering what in the hell it was that I was talking about. I finally realized that I needed to eat something so I ran across Hollywood Boulevard for a Subway tuna salad nightcap, thinking I’d slip back through the lobby and up to our room without anyone seeing the tell-tale plastic bag. But there at the hotel entrance was Sue Sue Applegate, and I couldn’t resist stopping for a moment to have an al fresco conversation. So there I was, standing at the entrance to the glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, home of the first Oscars ceremony, TCMFF Social Producer Jeff Lundenberger, chowing down on a tuna salad sandwich from a bag, not exactly a class act but still on top of the world.
Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! Facebook page. Back at the hotel, Ed used the lobby computer while I had a rest in the garden, soon joined by TCMParty friend BeesKnees for a quiet goodbye conversation. We then took an Uber car to the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, a quiet, beautiful oasis, resting place of Marilyn Monroe, Billy Wilder (two favorites of mine, if not of one another), and many others. There were at most a dozen others on a similar mission at any given time while we were there, all quiet and respectful. A young lady approached me wondering if I had found Burt Lancaster’s grave. We never found him but I discovered later that that young lady was Facebook friend Kathy.
We had a bite to eat and wandered around that area of Los Angeles. A light breeze made it feel like San Francisco.
We returned to the hotel for a nap, then headed to our now traditional last-night in Hollywood spot for the past five years, Boardner’s, where we were greeted warmly by our favorite bartender John.
We were soon joined by a former co-worker of mine, a recent transplant to LA, who I hadn’t seen in many years. We’d invited my blog-host CineMaven to join us but she’d made previous plans. She dropped by just to buy us a drink and say goodbye. New festival friend Jeff, owner of the Larry Edmunds bookstore, came in for a drink and chatted with us for a while. On the way back to the hotel, strolling in front of us down Hollywood Boulevard, was TCMFF Director Genevieve McGillicuddy. I called out to her – she probably thought herself finished with the festival for at least a few days, but she graciously accepted my compliments on another festival well done and thanked me for stopping her. A little TCM before bed and I wondered, could anyone have ever imagined that such an amazing community could arise out of a simple cable television network?
[ H O M E ]