Hollywood Comes Home: Reflections from the TCM Staff

[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]t happens every spring. They’ve pack their bags. Their adrenaline is racing. They’ve not only memorized the screening schedule, but have every minute of each day planned out to the second. It’s the event they’ve been waiting for all year, and finally, it’s here. No, we’re not talking about the lucky festival pass holders attending the 6th annual TCM Classic Film Festival which kicks off this week in Hollywood. We’re talking about TCM staff.

Spoiled by the riches the festival offers, it’s easy for festival pass holders to take for granted the veritable army of talented staff required to pull off this extraordinary event with such graceful fluidity; for every film we watch, every movie star we ogle over, and for every clink of our champagne glasses (of which there are many), there is a passionate, hard-working TCM staff member responsible for it all. And guess what? They’re all big ol’ film nerds like we are. If not bigger.

For the last six years, TCM’s hardworking crew has weathered ups, downs, surprises, shocks, and all manner of crises to bring classic Hollywood home. Their tireless dedication (TCM should also stand for “total commitment to movies”) is entirely responsible for creating what was, even in its first year, rightly dubbed ‘Comic-Con for the Martini set.’  The TCM Classic Film Festival is the beating heart of the classic film community.

And so, in advance of the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival, The Retro Set is delighted to be able to shine a spotlight on the many names and faces behind-the-scenes; those magical Elves that magic the festival into being, year after wonderful year. We interviewed a number of the #TCMFF staffers, and asked them about their favorite festival memories. The result is this very special, intimate portrait of what the TCM Classic Film Festival means to them.


CHARLIE TABESH

What is your role at TCM?

I’m the head of programming at TCM.

What are your festival duties?

I’m also in charge of programming for the film festival.

What is your favorite Festival memory?

My Top 10 Favorite Moments:

  • The very first chord of A Hard Day’s Night playing at Grauman’s Chinese.
  • Being the venue host of my favorite movie, Crimes and Misdemeanors.
  • Watching Safety Last.
  • Drinking wine with some of the TCM staff during Airplane!
  • Playing (and watching most of) Top Hat.
  • Meeting people waiting in line.
  • Watching part of Best Boy with the filmmaker there to talk about it.
  • Seeing a line around the block for Gaslight with Angela Lansbury.
  • Bringing my 3-year old to Mary Poppins.
  • Hearing from people who just saw something for the first time and enjoying it.
Credit: Beth Accomando
Carl Davis conducts for Harold Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST! (Photo credit: Beth Accomando)

 


MARK WYNNS

 What is your role at TCM? 

I am Manager of Brand Activation. While a large portion of my time is still spent working year round on festival planning and management, I also manage our “TCM Presents” series with Fathom Events which brings classic movies to the big screen in cinemas nationwide, help manage TCM’s presence at events like the Telluride Film Festival, coordinate the technical preparations for our annual TCM Classic Cruise and I am excited to be taking on a new role in managing our DVD partnerships.

What are your duties at the Festival? 

Since Festival Director Genevieve McGillicuddy and I had helped run many film festivals together before she came to TCM, I was thrilled when she asked me if I was interested in coming onboard to help launch the first TCM Classic Film Festival. I am a Festival Manager, which means I have my hands in a lot of areas, but big parts of my responsibilities include managing our central box office operations and our amazing box office staff, and managing the day-to-day relationships with our great sponsors. I also get to act as venue host introducing some of the great movies and events at the festival. Hosting is a real highlight for me, because for those of us who don’t get to sit and watch the movies, those few minutes in the green room or backstage with some of our visiting talent really IS the festival experience for us.

What is your favorite festival memory?

This is a really difficult question to answer as there are so many great memories to choose from. I am feeling sentimental with the recent passing of Albert Maysles and am reminded of a long and precious conversation my wife and I had with him at the closing night party of 2013 festival. But in the end, three special moments from the 2010 festival really stand out: Tony Curtis and Eli Wallach having a spontaneous conversation in Yiddish after seeing each other in a Roosevelt Hotel hallway, Esther Williams and Betty Garrett by the pool with a troupe of synchronized swimmers, and, despite a volcano and some backstage intrigue involved prior to getting her there, the moment I saw the light hit Luise Rainer’s face when she got onstage at the Egyptian Theatre.

All of these amazing talents are gone now, but those moments will live with me forever.

Esther Williams and Betty Garrett at the screening of NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER, 2010.
Esther Williams and Betty Garrett at the screening of NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER, 2010. (Photo credit: Turner Classic Movies)

DENNIS MILLAY

What is your role at TCM?

Senior Director of Programming for TCM, USA

What are your duties at the Festival?

I turn around the live shoot material (usually within 24 hours), shot by the TCM Studio and On-Air groups, that airs back in Atlanta. I create the daily log or playlist of every video element that airs on TCM. Most of my time is spent in the TCM Film Festival Production Office at the Hollywood Roosevelt.

What is your favorite festival memory?

An afternoon screening of Meet Me in St. Louis at the Chinese Theater (last year, 2014) with John Fricke (the world’s foremost authority on all things Judy). It was so exciting to watch a 3 story tall projected image of Judy Garland perform “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Goosebumps and watery eyes!

StLouis
Photo via Classic Movie Night.

SEAN CAMERON

What is your role at TCM?

Vice President of Studio Production

What is your favorite festival memory?

I have a lot of favorite memories from the Film Festival. I’ll never forget the first. We’d never done one before and the vast majority of the staff had never been part of organizing a festival — let alone attending one — so that created a energy level that really couldn’t be topped. And then to have it all come together the way it did — it was very gratifying.

But by far my favorite memory revolves around the late, great Peter O’Toole. Since we were shooting his interview to air on TCM he asked to meet with several of us prior to the festival starting to share his thoughts on the show, how he’d like to be lit, etc. We gathered in the lobby bar of his hotel, sitting at a large table waiting for his appearance. Within moments of him sitting down he asked if he could have a glass of wine and then gallantly turned to us and said, “Will anybody have a drink with me?” Like a schoolboy my hand shot up and I said, “I will.” I looked over to Genevieve McGillicuddy and she had the same reaction. “I’m going to have a drink with Peter O’Toole!!!”

It was the best glass of wine I’ve ever had.

Photo via Zimbio.
Peter O’Toole kisses Rose McGowan as Anjelica Huston looks on. (Photo credit: Michael Germana/Everett Collection)

 


 

SCOTT McGEE

What is your role at TCM and your duties at the Festival?

As the Director of Program Production for Programming and Studio Production, I write and produce the Friday Night Spotlight series and Essentials, Jr., as well as help program the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Classic Cruise.  I also host various films and presentations at both events.  This year I am conducting the Club TCM conversation with one of our festival tributes, Mr. Terry Leonard.

What is your favorite festival memory?

Man, how do I narrow down six years of festival memories?  There are so many–sharing a limo ride with Eli Wallach; watching Tony Curtis watch himself in Sweet Smell of Success; Maureen O’Hara scolding me for having not yet visited Ireland; witnessing Luise Rainer tame the Egyptian like a diva…but my greatest memory was in 2013.  I was helping a sound guy mic up Kim Novak in the wings of the Avalon Theater, before she was to take the stage for her moving conversation with Robert Osborne.  It was quite dark, so I held my phone light high above so that a the microphone could be properly attached on the inside of Ms. Novak’s blouse.  I was maintaining a discreet distance, so as not to…uh…embarrass her, but she said, “Come closer, Scottie.  Closer…” I almost dropped my phone.
Image via TV Guide
Photo credit: Image via TV Guide

DAVID BYRNE

What is your role at TCM?

TCM Writer, Producer

What are your duties at the festival and what is your favorite festival memory?

I have been to every TCM Classic Film Festival, and my job is to capture the excitement of the entire weekend. The week before the Festival, we receive a packet outlining the screenings and conversations we will be responsible for filming. From the moment we land in LA, it is a mad dash until the wee hours of Sunday evening. Between the hustle and bustle and staring through the lens of a camera, it is easy to lose sight of everything. However, each year there is a moment that takes my breath away, moves me to tears, or makes me laugh uncontrollably with delight. I’m reminded how grateful I am to be in Hollywood and a part of TCM.

The greatest of these moments was in 2012 when I was assigned Kim Novak’s hand-print ceremony outside the TCL Chinese Theatre. Now Vertigo is my all-time favorite film, so I held this event to a higher magnitude. I attended Peter O’Toole’s ceremony the previous year, and I had a strong idea of what to expect. Nothing could have prepared me for Kim, she was stunning. After the event, my crew was asked if we could spare a minute to shoot some additional photography of Kim inside the theatre. My heart skipped a beat. My supervisor jokingly added, “There’s nothing to worry about. You’re only going to shoot someone Hitchcock shot.” This did nothing to calm my nerves.

Inside the theatre, the seconds moved by like minutes. I managed to get my wits and set up my crew. We captured the necessary moments, and they whisked her away to another engagement. Before leaving, she stopped and made eye contact with me. Up close, her eyes were alluring. I was mesmerized. She said thank you and was gone.

vertigo
Photo via Pixshark

(David just produced this fabulous promo for TCM’s March lineup … your life is not complete without it.)


MILLIE DE CHIRICO

What is your role at TCM?

I’m Manager of Programming at TCM. I’m responsible for TCM Underground, Imports and Silent Sunday Nights, and various other programming events throughout the regular schedule.

What are your duties at the Festival?

I’m one of the venue hosts at the festival (a.k.a. that pesky TCM staffer that tells people to turn their cell phones off).

What is your favorite festival memory?

A few years ago I got asked to escort talent in addition to venue hosting and I got to hang out with John Carpenter (the director), who is a big hero of mine. Not only was he incredibly nice and down to earth, he told me he watched TCM Underground (and had seen his own movies on there), then started rattling off titles of movies he wanted me to program! It might have been one of the best moments of my life.

John Carpenter and Gergg Kilday. (Courtesy Getty Images.)
John Carpenter and Gergg Kilday. (Photo courtesy Getty Images.)

NORALIL RYAN FORES

What is your role at TCM?

Social Media Coordinator

What are your duties at the festival?

Inspire & support conversation among classic film fans on social media about the film festival.

What is your favorite festival memory?

On the Monday after last year’s festival, after we’d cleared the shooting stage and TCM Boutique from the Roosevelt Hotel, a silence settled over the once bustling lobby. I wandered about, feeling a discomfiting emptiness. Then I stumbled on, gathered in a quiet corner, their travel bags by their sides, Paula Guthat, Aurora Bugallo, Kellee Pratt & Will McKinley. Seeing the four #TCMParty regulars heartened me, and I rushed over to say good-bye. A happy good-bye. I’d see the four on Twitter later that day, and I’d see them again in person here at the festival the next year, I knew. The promise of gathering once again with intelligent, passionate and kind classic film lovers – that’s the greatest joy of my work. People matter.
IMG_1083
Die-hard TCM partiers: Lindsay Affleck, Jessica Pickens, Kellee Pratt, and Raquel Steicher. (Photo courtesy KelleePratt.com.)

 SHANNON CLUTE

What is your role at TCM?

Director of Marketing & Editorial

What is your favorite festival memory?

Like most TCM employees, I’ve had the pleasure of working at our TCM Classic Film Festivals and Cruises, where I tend to be assigned hosting and talent escorting duties. I’ve been fortunate to meet many stars, including Ernest Borgnine (possibly the kindest man I’ve ever met), Debbie Reynolds (who turns every head when she enters a room), Mickey Rooney (whose dynamic energy was present to the very end), Jane Powell (on whom I admit to having a bit of a crush) and so many more.  These encounters are among the great pleasures of working at TCM—surreal experiences when you get the impression the screen and the real world are turning inside out and you’re part of some scene you have no right to be a part of, unless that right is granted by a lifelong passion for movies.

But occasionally I meet modern actors whose careers are still in full swing, and I have to admit it’s intimidating in a different way: while I may be in awe of the filmography and performances of a studio era star, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnetism and vital force of a working actor—that “it” factor that makes a star a star.  After meeting Debra Winger at the 2013 Film Festival I can affirm she has it.  In spades.

The best part of meeting her was the discovery that she is also grounded and funny in ways that I would have thought to be odds with that star power.  As she introduced me (quite graciously) to her husband and son, I felt I was talking to the most real of people.  When she asked for a paint pen to sign the Terms of Endearment poster in the holding area, it was done with a larger than life flourish that had us all laughing.  Then, thanks to a set of lucky circumstances surrounding the lineup of films and the family’s travel plans, they had just enough time to catch the world premiere restoration of Terrence Malick’s Badlands, and needed an escort who could sneak them in as the film rolled and whisk them off to their car as it concluded.  So it happened that I got to sit with Ms. Winger and her family, in the historic Chinese Theatre, and watch a fantastic movie.  What a pleasure.

shannon
All photos copyright TCM

ANDREW ALONSO

What is your role at TCM?

I am a writer/producer for TCM.

What are your festival duties?

I oversee a production team and do some shooting myself. Together, we scour the festival gathering interviews and shooting panel discussions, introductions, and any other compelling footage we can find. It’s an intense 4 days and my favorite part of the year.

What is your favorite festival memory?

My favorite memory of the festival has got to be the overall experience of the first year. Yeah, we knew what we were doing and had planned for nearly every contingency, but we had NEVER done anything like it before. I just remember this overwhelming collective feeling of anxiousness and excitement that, as that first festival progressed, gradually transformed into unbridled relief and joy that we ACTUALLY PULLED IT OFF. I think every one of us shed tears of happiness on that final day. I know I did.

Luise Rainer enchants Robert Osborne and the audience at the inaugural TCM Film Festival, 2010.
Luise Rainer enchants Robert Osborne and the audience at the inaugural TCM Film Festival, 2010. (photo copyright TCM)

(Don’t forget to re-visit Andrew’s 2014 TCM Remembers segment … kleenex still required.)


KRISTEN WELCH

What is your role at TCM?

Publications Manager

What is your favorite festival memory?

While there are tons of moments that stand out for me from the festival (meeting Margaret O’Brien being chief among them), the fun for me is in meeting the attendees. I love to hear their stories about where they come from, what their favorite films are, and what they’re looking forward to seeing at the fest.

The one that I remember most vividly was a young man who came into the boutique where I was working. He was a huge classic film fan and had been wanting to come out to the festival for awhile—and he finally got to make it out last year,  with the trip being his high school graduation gift from his parents. He came from a small town where there weren’t many people around to talk to about Classic Hollywood, and so we spent a good amount of time just talking about John Ford’s work. His genuine love and enthusiasm for movies was truly infectious, and reminded me of just why I love movies and the fest in the first place: because it brings us all together to discuss and experience them with other passionate movie fans.

Photos via TCM.com
Photos via TCM.com

COURTNEY O’BRIEN

What is your role at TCM?

Associate Producer

What is your favorite festival memory?

Of my four TCM Film Festivals so far, my favorite memory comes from 2014 and the surprise tribute to Robert Osborne –“Ask Robert” turned into “Robert Osborne’s 20th Anniversary Tribute.” Having admired the man since TCM’s inception in 1994, and then being lucky enough to work with him these last six years, it was wonderful to be part of the team honoring him. The fact that it was a total shock to him and that no one spilled the beans was, in itself, miraculous. Not only was Robert surprised, but so too were the fans attending the show. Yes, big stars were there – Alex Trebek, Alec Baldwin, Robert Wagner, etc. But. Everyone was there to see Robert Osborne, the biggest TCMFF star of them all.

After the show ended and the tears started drying, I boarded the shuttle back to the Roosevelt with some TCM Staffers and Festival-goers. Each and every passholder commented how happy they were they made the right decision that day to attend to the “Ask Robert” event. To them, as to me, it was the highlight of the entire festival. Together, we laughed, cried, and reminisced with Robert and “family” about his life before and with TCM. We’re all one big, happy, often dysfunctional film family. And to me, that’s what makes the TCM Film Festival the best time of year — reuniting with your long-lost cousins.

Alec Baldwin pays tribute to Robert Osborne at Hollywood's Montalban Theatre, 2014. (Photo credit: Mark Hill.)
Alec Baldwin pays tribute to Robert Osborne at Hollywood’s Montalban Theatre, 2014. (Photo credit: Mark Hill.)

Be sure to follow the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr!

2 Comments

  1. I think this could be my favourite post here at The Black Maria ever (except for some of the ones on The Beatles). It is so great to hear the TCM Staff (some of whom I have had the pleasure to interact with)!

  2. I love this. Thanks for posting. I’ve worked for Comic-Con for more years than I care to admit, and even though I’ve only met Noralil I can relate to all of their stories. I know they work their butts off, spend lots of time putting out fires, and probably at times think the whole thing is coming apart at the seams, all so people like us can have the time of our lives and never notice all of the work that is going on behind the scenes.

    I’ve been lucky enough to have my daughter and I selected to help out Noralil as Social Media Producers, and 24 hours from now we’ll be up there doing just that.

    Cheers to the hard-working folks above who make all that happen.

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