Thursday, April 25, 2013

TCM Classic Film Festival Press Conference - Robert Osborne

This is the first of my transcripts for the Press Conference that happened on Wednesday April 24th, 2013 at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I tried to be as thorough as possible but there is some paraphrasing along with some quoting. It's not word-for-word but as close as I can get to it. Note that various people asked questions at the press conference. Enjoy!

Question/Comment: 53 year old Film Student complimented Osborne on the reach of TCM programming. It's been therapy for her mother who is in a nursing home.

Robert Osborne:

Osborne noted that what he didn't realize with the channel was that they were going to be nurses for people and help them through things like cancer, divorce and disappointment. He shared the story of one lady who told him that TCM helped her get through a really rough period and that TCM was the one bright thing in her life. Osborne says that it is such a pleasure to know that TCM helps people in that way. He also notes that TCM can be a master class for people who want to learn more about movies. What is great about the festival is that after the first year that they almost sold out before they announced their programming. In 2013, they did sell out before the programming announcement  which meant that people are trusting Charles Tabesh, who handles the programming, and they are giving him the latitude to pick the best movies that he can find. Tabesh in return trusts that they will come to the festival and enjoy the films chosen. Osborne thinks this is fabulous because originally they tried to pick a lot of big titles like Casablanca (1944), Singin' in the Rain (1952), etc. that more people would want to come see. But now he loves the festival without even knowing what is going to be here, and not just to come see celebrities although they'll know they'll be here but he loves that they are also coming to see movies they may not have seen and that discovery is wonderful.

Comment: TCM Film Festival is like the ComicCon for Film Geeks

Robert Osborne:

People at the festival get to meet other people who are like-minded. Osborne was not quite keen on the idea of the TCM Cruise but he says it's a lot of fun. He shared an anecdote that on the last Cruise fans were gathering in rooms for James Cagney fans and Barbara Stanwyck fans etc and he thought it was great that these fans were finding each other. For a lot of people who don't live in major cities like L.A., NYC, San Francisco or Chicago (hey Bob, don't forget Boston!!!), they feel isolated as though they are the only person in the world who loves old movies. They are considered oddballs but when they come to the festival they meet all the other oddballs and they don't feel so alone.

Question: How does you prepare for the TCM Classic Film Festival?

Robert Osborne: 

Once Charles Tabesh puts together the programming, he lets Osborne pick which ones he wants to introduce. He'll try to pick movies he already knows or has a particular regard for. It's hard to pick because scheduling wise if he picks one film he might not be able to do others he likes because of scheduling conflicts. One thing about the festival is that you can't see all the films. Most of the films are ones he is very familiar with or has seen recently. He noted The Razor's Edge (1946) is one of his favorites and he's seen it so many times that he doesn't need to revisit it. However, when it comes to doing long interviews with guests like Eva Marie Saint, he knows her very well  and has done interviews with her before, but when you do an interview for an hour you really need to go back and study up on the history so you can talk to them without referring to your notes. Osborne thinks it's important not to refer to notes during an interview because once you look down on your notes, you lose eye contact with your guest and it's no longer a conversation. Also, you are not really listening to their replies, rather you are studying your notes trying to figure out your next question and you can't respond to things they are saying in the flow of conversation.

Question: Funny Girl (1968) is a restoration and one of the things TCM does is help with restoring classic films. Does Turner finance these restorations or do they get together with other studios?

Robert Osborne: 

Osborne is not sure but he thinks that Turner does get together with other studios and organizations in the restoration process. This is more of a question for Charles Tabesh. It's frightening to Osborne that a movie like Funny Girl (1968) that wasn't from that long ago needs to be restored. Will we eventually lose some of these films if people are not particularly interested in them? Osborne says that it is great to see these restorations. Tabesh really tries to never have a print go on the air or be shown at the festival unless it's a mint print. People are so used to seeing good prints now. Osborne notes Road to Bali (1942), the only Hope/Crosby/Lamour Road picture filmed in Technicolor, and the print they had for it was terrible. He thinks that print had belonged to the Bob Hope estate and somehow it ended up in bad shape. Tabesh said he wouldn't book it in prime time anymore and only show it in the mornings because of the quality. Then  one day Osborne noticed he had to introduce Road to Bali during prime time so he inquired with Tabesh. Tabesh said he found a really great restoration print. Osborne notes that they are always trying to find the best quality print and improve their current library to show the best on TCM. Osborne is excited about seeing Funny Girl and seeing Barbra Streisand 3 stories tall with 2,000 other people is going to be great and beats anything. It's the way it was meant to be seen.

Question/Comment: Person noted that this is one of the few opportunities to see these films on the big screen.

Robert Osborne: In L.A., NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, it's not rare to see classic movies on the big screen. (BOB! Don't forget Boston!!!). Osborne notes that there are so many people who don't get to see these films on the big screen and that is why this film festival is so wonderful. And that's what it's all about. They recognize how proud TCM is to bring out these films from the vaults and have them see it again. But the real way these films were meant to be seen is on the big screen, in a theatre with a bunch of other people. If you see Casablanca on the big screen, in a theatre, with a bunch of other people, it's a totally different movie than when you watch it on TV. No matter how big the screen in your living room is.

Question/Comment: Cinematic sustainability. Why are people going to be watching these movies in the future? What are some of the other ways to make these movies relevant today?

Robert Osborne: Osborne notes that TCM is open to suggestions. If you have some good ideas, let them know. TCM wants to be relevant and interesting. Osborne notes that soon on programming is something he did with Molly Haskell. Osborne said to Haskell that he is amazed that there are all these career women in early film played by actresses like Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, etc. Why has it taken so long to recognize those roles? Haskell replied that at the end of those movies the woman goes with what the man says. Katherine Hepburn might be strong but at the end she'll do what Spencer Tracy wants her to do. Rosalind Russell will hang up her hat and go off with Cary Grant. Osborne says they are doing a series of strong women (executive women in most cases) and how movie makers portrayed them. Haskell notes that women were the main audience for films during that time and they wanted to feel good when the movie was over that they hadn't stayed in business and that would be okay being at home being mother. They didn't want women going away being angry at themselves. Osborne notes that Woman of the Year had another ending but it wasn't used and the disappointing ending is the one we are left with.

Question/Comment: Person noted that it's wonderful that TCM shows silent films and foreign films and restorations. Will TCM be showing more of that?

Robert Osborne: TCM is dedicated to that and wants to be fresh in what they offer. That's why they seek out other studios like 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures to get access to those films. TCM has Warner Bros, United Artists, RKO and MGM (until mid 1980s) libraries available but want to go beyond their own vaults. They don't want to show the same movies every month. TCM will try to show films that they screened late at night during the afternoon too. Osborne notes that 20th Century Fox has their own channel but they are not interested in their old movies. They only show them in the afternoon and they do no promotion and are starting to show commercials. Now studios like Fox are opening their vaults. TCM discovered if they show a Fox film like Leave Her to Heaven or something, people will fall in love with the film and want to seek out the DVD. Fox and Universal has seen the benefit of this. They are letting TCM have more access to their movies (they were more protective before) because of this additional revenue stream from DVD sales. When people watch those films on TCM they become acquainted with them and want to buy them.  TCM doesn't care what the motive is.

Question: Was there a film that didn't make it to the Festival?

Robert Osborne: Osborne notes that this is more of a question for Charles Tabesh. Tabesh tries to balance things out so there is a great mixture of films at the festival. Sometimes Tabesh wants a film to be at the festival but can't find a really good print. He'll look into getting one for a future festival. Osborne notes that with Ann Blyth being at the festival this year they are showing Mildred Pierce (1945) and have a great print for that. Blyth was also a big musical star and they wanted to add one of her musicals to the festival. The only one they could get a good Cinemascope print out of was Kismet (1955). Blyth is fond of Kismet but Osborne doesn't think it's the best musical. Vincente Minelli directed it and Osborne notes that Minelli might not have been too familiar with filming with Cinemascope at that time. Osborne also notes that they would have rather had The Student Prince (1954) but they couldn't find a good Cinemascope print. TCM is very adamant about good prints. There was a time when people didn't care about the quality of the print because they were just so happy to be able to see the movie. Osborne notes that now we are spoiled. And so to see a film like Wings (1927) without a really good print is not acceptable anymore.

Question/Comment: Limitations of Studio System and Censorship

Robert Osborne: Osborne notes that for a long time, the studio system got so smacked down by everybody. Now people are recognizing that it was a good system for somethings. It worked very well. Osborne says he thinks some of the best movies were made because there was a censorship. He acknowledges that they went way overboard but it made people be more devious, clever not so overt. He doesn't think that movies have been improved because you can say anything or show anything on screen. Because it falls into the hands of people who don't have any taste and don't know where the limits should be. We don't want censorship but he notes things like Gone With the Wind (1939) and the look on Vivien Leigh's face after Clark Gable has taken her up the steps. (Osborne mimics the face). He notes how sexy that scene is. Osborne notes that The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) is much sexier than the 1981 remake which has more graphic sex scenes. There were bad things about studio system and censorship, Osborne notes however that they still made a lot of good films. Osborne says he doesn't think there is anything like wit in film anymore. He points out Woman of the Year (1942) and Libeled Lady (1936) that have great wit and weren't hammered over the head with comedy. No bodily fluid jokes. Today people go hog wild.

Question/Comment: TCL is going digital renovations after the Festival. What does Osborne think about taking care of the theatres as well as the films?

Robert Osborne: Osborne has no idea how it is going to work but hopes it works out well. If it doesn't work out well, TCM will just have to adjust to it and figure out something else. Osborne notes that he is a co-owner of a theatre in Washington and were told a year ago as of January 1st that major studios wouldn't be making 35mm prints anymore. You have to be set up for Digital. For a small town theater, that costs $32,000 which is no small change. Most small theaters barely squeak by with the movies they are showing now. Some only make money on popcorn and things because most of the money goes to paying the distributor. In small towns, most people don't eat at the movie theaters. This transition is going to put a lot of mom and pop theaters out of business. He thinks Grauman's will be okay because they are in a big city but is worried more about small towns. Osborne had a fundraiser for his theatre. That town has a big community who loves the Arts so they got a lot of support. They were able to raise the money but only because they were lucky to have that community.

Question/Comment: Lot of hosts at the festival don't have connections to the film except for the fact that they love the film. How did this come to be?

Robert Osborne: Osborne doesn't pick those hosts, it's handled by another department. He makes suggestions. This is going to happen more and more because so many of the films TCM shows don't have people who are alive anymore. (This makes me so sad!). It's amazing that in the four years that they have done the festival how many people have passed away. We are lucky to have as many people to be around with the film as we do. There are not many like Luise Rainer who is 103 and probably willing to come out and introduce The Good Earth (1937) again. Osborne notes that Cher was wonderful as a co-host who shared her love of movies. Was Cher difficult? Osborne says Cher was on-time, so professional, ready, no fussing. Any fussing she did was ahead of time. She always contributed  when they were shooting. Osborne notes that they had dealt with a couple people (who shall remain nameless) that checked themselves out in the mirror and made a fuss.  But none of that with Cher. No Diva at all. Osborne notes that was a little disappointing actually but still great.

Question/Comment: What is Osborne most looking forward to at the Festival this year?

Robert Osborne: Osborne is looking forward to seeing Funny Girl (1968) restored and on the big screen. He's looking forward to The Razor's Edge (1946) because it is one of his all-time favorite movies. Cluny Brown (1946). The Desert Song (1943) because it hasn't been seen in like 60 years and it's a beautiful new Technicolor print. He's excited and notes they built Arabian sets that were used later in Casablanca (1944). He's looking forward to talking to Mel Brooks. He's excited about Ann Blyth and the screening of Mildred Pierce. He notes that Blyth is still so beautiful and such a nice person. He wants in particular to talk to her about the fact that she was so effective as the evil Veda in Mildred Pierce but was never typecast and never cast in that type of role again. That amazes Osborne. She did Veda so well so he's surprised she didn't play "bitches" from then on. (Yes, Osborne said Bitches). She went on to play sweet ingenues.

Comment: About a Noir party where everyone was decked out in vintage style clothes. Young people are really attracted to old movies.

Robert Osborne: Osborne was aware of that from the beginning, how many young people were attracted to TCM. Young people would see Osborne on air and stop him in the streets to gush. Osborne wasn't surprised but he thinks it came as a big shock to the bosses and the people at the channel. They thought it was only for people with gray hair. TCM attracts of all ages. They also found that on the cruise as well. Lots of people under 30 attended. Osborne thinks this is great. And that these new generations will pass their love of classic films to their kids. A lot of people get their love from family influence and Osborne hopes that goes on forever. And hopefully you will go on forever too.

Thank you Robert Osborne!

I'll have the two other Q&As up later but it might take me a little while. Stay tuned.


  1. "he notes things like Gone With the Wind (1939) and the look on Vivien Leigh's face after Cary Grant had taken her up the steps."

    GWTW as a screwball comedy! That might actually get me to watch it.

    I agree with what RO says about how censorship forced writers to become more creative. A lot of films these days that try to go for a certain attitude or emotion often don't know the meaning of the word 'restraint.' Granted, it's a difficult balancing act, figuring out how much should be explicit and how much should be left to the imagination, but certain filmmakers don't even try to walk that line.

    1. This is what I get for being over tired! LOL. When I went to update it a second time at midnight I wrote in Chad for some reason. WOW!

      You make a good point. There is a lot of freedom these days and I think we lost the art of subtly. A lot more should be left to the imagination but it seems like filmmakers don't try as much to do that these days.

  2. What else can I say? THANK YOU and all the other bloggers to give us some amazing information that makes us feel a little like we were attending the event.

    1. Le - You are awesome. Thanks for following my posts and my tweets!

  3. Raquel--thanks a million for sharing this transcript. It was a wonderful way for me to feel as though I was "almost" there too. (Your paraphrasing was perfect--don't worry--I know how hard it can be to take notes at any occasion, especially something as exciting as this event). I don't think that anyone could ever "forget Boston." Having lived there for part of three decades, my fondness for it has only deepened since I left--especially in the last few weeks.

    1. Moira - Thank you so much for your kind words. They mean a lot. I'm glad to hear that you have a such a big connection with Boston. It's a great city!


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