Thursday, April 24, 2014

TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 - Press Conference with Charles Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy

“The audience that comes to the festival is a wonderful snapshot of who watches the network. It really represents the diversity of all backgrounds, all ages that love classic film.” - McGillicuddy

Here are some highlights from the press conference with Charles Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. Note that this is paraphrasing and not direct quotation unless quotation marks are used.

On film preservation – Ever since TCM has started working on the festivals they have become  more involved with film preservation projects. TCM tries to use various formats including film prints which are harder and harder to find. They work with studios and film archives to coordinate restorations, screenings and blu-ray releases.

On programming – TCM has a team of programmers which is led by Charles Tabesh and includes four other TCM staffers. Themes are decided upon as a group but different people handle different parts of the scheduling (day time, prime time, etc.). There is a lot of research that goes into the programming. Since there are several themes going on within a given month, Tabesh says it’s a lot of work for the programmers to research and implement the themes so that they are successful on air.

On The Story of Film – This documentary series by Mark Cousins recently won a Peabody Award. TCM originally came across the documentary when Telluride Film Festival Co-Director Gary Meyer recommended it to them. Tabesh’s team watched it and loved it and decided to add it to their programming.

On the TCM Classic Film Festival – TCM had talked about having a film festival for years and it was a natural progression for them. The timing worked out and they created the event to connect with their fans. The festival is a visible manifestation of the community coming together and it’s an extension of the channel.  It has also heightened the public's awareness of TCM.

On TCM’s programming philosophy - The programming philosophy hasn’t changed at all. They’ve always had the same mission but have become a little more adventurous over the years. TCM is still committed to exploring film history. When TCM first launched, 90-95% of what they aired was strictly from the Turner library (MGM, Warner Bros., RKO, etc.) but over the years they’ve developed relationships with other studios and distributors and have expanded their programming by bringing in more movies.

On diversity on TCM – TCM is very conscious of diversity. Over the years they’ve tried, programming-wise, to do as much as possible to focus on diversity even though so much of early film is non-inclusive. They try to include tributes to minorities, people of different walks of life, etc. to diversify their programming. Tabesh is hoping to do more kid’s programming on the channel soon.

On celebrity presenters - People like Essentials co-host Drew Barrymore and festival presenter Anna Kendrick are examples of contemporaries from Hollywood who love classic films and wanted to do something with TCM. They reach out to TCM and share their enthusiasm for the network and express interest in working with them. TCM keeps an open dialogue with these celebrities and tries to work within the constraints of their busy schedules. TCM loves to bring together new and old Hollywood and this is one of the ways they can do that.

On TCM internationally - There are TCMs in Europe, Latin America and in other regions of the world. They are programmed and marketed differently from each other and are run independently. Some have advertising, some show more contemporary movies and some work with different rights and licensing agreements and because of this each TCM is different. There are some parallels between the different TCMs but ultimately the programming is different in each country.

On feedback from fans - TCM pays attention to what fans say. Social media is a great way for the fans to interact with each other as well as to interact directly with TCM. When they receive complaints they handle them carefully. They make sure to see if the complaint is just a misunderstanding or if it's something they can improve upon. The key with the feedback is that if TCM watches it very carefully it can be useful to them.

On the greatest pleasure of working on the festival
Tabesh - the greatest pleasure for him is when hears someone say they saw a film they had never seen before and they loved it.
McGillicuddy - the greatest pleasure for her is watching an audience watching a film on screen, sharing the experience with them and knowing that she played some part in making that experience happen.

On the biggest challenge of working on the festival
Tabesh - the biggest challenges are finding good prints for the festival and having to rearrange the schedule because of last-minute changes.
McGillicuddy - to pull off an event this size with venues that are all owned by different companies. They try to utilize many different theaters which is both challenging and rewarding.

On their top sought after festival guest - Doris Day is #1 on their list. She was bumped up after their original #1, Maureen O'Hara, committed to the 2014 festival.

On working for TCM - Tabesh says he loves his job and enjoys going to work every day. He learns something from every festival experience. There is always something new going on at TCM and his job never gets boring. McGillicuddy loves having a job where she can go to the office and have a discussion about which Greta Garbo movie they're going to show next. She says that conversations like that are such a gift and she doesn't take for granted the great team of people she works with at TCM.

On nationwide screenings like Road to Hollywood - TCM is interested in doing more of those types of nationwide screenings in the future and currently in discussion about what those plans might be. McGillicuddy revealed that TCM will revive their partnership with Fathom Events and will be working them in the future.

On the discovery films at the festival - It was asked whether TCM was interested in showing more international selections as part of their "discovery" sub-theme in the festival programming. Tabesh says there are 90 films shown at the festival but 400 show on TCM in any given month. He feels there are more opportunities to branch out with the channel more than there are with the festival. However, Tabesh tried to get the Bollywood Pyassa (1957) on this year's festival schedule but he couldn't get a good print. He'd like to be more adventurous in that regard and hopes to be able to bring in something more obscure for a future festival.

On other classic film channels - Every channel is different: some are ad supported, some have a different focus and some have different business models. When TCM launched AMC was already an established classic film channel.  One of the reasons that TCM is so successful is that they never saw themselves as having to compete with another network. They stayed focused on what they wanted to. AMC's model eventually changed and new networks popped up. Tabesh says he's not being dismissive of the other channels but they're not something TCM worries about.

On the festival guests - Tony Curtis was one of the first guests of the festival back in 2010. McGillicuddy remembers being in awe that he was in attendance. She also very fondly remembers Peter O'Toole and says that meeting him was on her bucket list. TCM feels very privileged that they get the opportunity to host people like Curtis, O'Toole and many more. McGillicuddy says that Maureen O'Hara was very excited about her appearance at the festival and hearing this was immensely gratifying for the TCM staff.

On the Academy Museum - The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be launching in 2017. It's been in the works for a while but is really coming together at this point. TCM has a great relationship with The Academy and are looking forward to the launch of this new museum. They have been in talks with the Academy so that TCM can partner with them in some capacity, whether it be the channel, the festival or both, to help them promote the museum. Nothing is set in stone because the museum launch is still some years away.

On Watch TCM - Will this ever become a subscription based service? Tabesh had no clear answer on this because he is not involved in the discussion. It seems like TCM's relationships with cable companies influence what they can and cannot do with Watch TCM.

On showing film and digital at the festival - McGillicuddy says there are reasons for showing both at the festival and challenges that come along with that. TCM works with Boston Light & Sound on the festival. McGillicuddy believes that company is the best in the business. They go into the festival theaters, take out all of the equipment and put changeover systems so they can show 35mm, etc.. The Egyptian theatre is already equipped to show both film and digital but the other theaters need the extra technical assistance. Tabesh says that the reason why TCM can get access to really good prints is because the film archives trust Boston Light & Sound.


  1. Here's hoping that Watch TCM will eventually be able to break off as a subscription service. The main reason I subscribe to cable is for TCM. I would love to pay for just this one channel I love and not the gazillions of channels I never watch period.

    1. Same here. I think if Watch TCM became a subscription service I'd cancel some of my cable services. I would probably keep basic and just pay for TCM separately! I was talking to someone from my cable's customer service and she was trying to get me a good deal but was unable. I have to pay for two very expensive packages because of two single channels that I want (TCM & FoxLife). I wouldn't mind sticking with cable if there was some sort of a la carte option!


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