"You want to make them a little uncomfortable in their seat but you don't want to knock them off the chair." Ben Mankiewicz on interviewing
Here are some highlights from the press conference with Ben Mankiewicz at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. Note that this is paraphrasing and not direct quotation unless quotation marks are used.
On how TCM has affected his life - Mankiewicz says that TCM has given him a career he didn't expect to have and has changed everything for the better.
On the Mankiewicz connection - Mankiewicz jokes that while no one is looking to continue the legacy of his family he would be lying if he didn't admit that his family connection helped him get his job at TCM. It wasn't the only reason though because he had to prove that he could deliver for that position.
On cinema and politics - TCM doesn't want to alienate people. It's a channel where conservatives, liberals, progressives and libertarians can all unite to celebrate movies. However, politics can't be left completely out because certain people in Hollywood had strong politic beliefs. Politics do matter.
On celebrities who leave him star struck - Mankiewicz was really intimidated by Max von Sydow who he interviewed at last year's festival. "He turned out to be the nicest guy in the world but you know he was faking it." He was also intimidated by Peter Bogdanovich. At this year's festival he was terrified about interview Jerry Lewis. Mankiewicz over prepared for his interview with Lewis so he wouldn't miss anything. He's also been star struck by George Clooney. Mankiewicz has good memories of meeting Kate Flannery, Eli Wallach and Illeana Douglas for the first time.
On TCM's audience of young people - TCM has done the research and they discovered that 66% of their viewers are from the ages of 18-49. They were surprised by how many young people attended the first festival. That encouraged them to spend some money to find out exactly who was watching their channel. "The stereotype of who our audience was, wasn't consistent with what the research showed." Films are more readily available to young people than they were before thanks to the digital age. Mankiewicz says that young filmmakers, who don't have the money for special effects, have access to a library of movies that are all story and character-driven. Also, the young generations who love classic films and TCM will be the ones who pass on their passion to the next generation and the love of old movies will continue.
On the young presenters at the festival - Bill Hader and Jason Lee were mentioned. Mankiewicz was excited to find out why actress Anna Kendrick loves The Women (1939) so much that she decided to be a presenter at the screening. He went on to show his admiration of Kendrick who he thinks has a classic quality about her and her acting style. He's not surprised that these young Hollywood actors love classic films.
On Mickey Rooney - Mankiewicz says he had his best and worst interview in the same interview with Mickey Rooney. He also remembers a couple years ago when Rooney was 91 years old and was on the TCM Cruise. He had fallen down and couldn't make his last scheduled appearance. Mankiewicz sat with Rooney for 90 minutes and Rooney was very sad and apologetic. He felt that he had let Mankiewicz and Osborne down. Mankiewicz remembers him as being incredibly sweet. Of Mickey Rooney he says, "you see him on screen and you can't take your eyes off him." A magnetic personality, Mankewicz jokes that Rooney got Ava Gardner and that means anything is possible.
On preparation - Mankiewicz says he never shies away from enormous preparation. Don't rely on casual, off-the-cuff conversation. Prepare yourself because when you give yourself a trove of information then you can say something off-the-cuff but it's well-informed. Mankiewicz immerses himself as best he can in research. The problem with the festival is that there are so many things to immerse oneself in in a short period of time. Mankiewicz was very candid with us and shared a story from last year's festival. He was on the red carpet and met William Wyler's kids but didn't know who they were. You try to prepare yourself out of potentially embarrassing moments. However they can still happen in situations where there is a lot going on and too much to remember.
On Eva Marie Saint - Mankiewicz joked that for his next prank he'll be totally nude. For those of you who might not understand the joke it's a reference to something that happened last year. Eva Marie Saint used to make fun of Mankiewicz for being too casually dressed. At last year's festival, Mankiewicz wore jeans to the interview and stripped down in front of Eva Marie Saint and the whole audience revealing the suit pants he wore underneath.
On the TCM Classic Film Festival - "This festival means something to people. It's not just a chance for them to come to see movies… There's a connection to their heart and their soul to these movies." Mankiewicz says that fans really care about TCM and what they put on the air. It took viewers a while to warm up to him but he's glad they did. The fans are part of the TCM family and the festival gives them something tangible. Mankiewicz is really candid at this point and reveals that although he's not directly involved in the finances, he's pretty sure TCM makes very little, if any, money off of the festival. The festival is their signature event. It's good for the network, it raises their profile and "it's an opportunity to connect on a very, very base level with fans."