Last year, shortly after the pandemic hit the U.S., WarnerMedia’s TCM — with about three weeks notice — shifted its annual in-person TCM Classic Film Festival to a hybrid online/network experience.
When the TCM team determined they were not going to be able to hold the fest in person again in 2021, they made an even bigger pivot to provide two virtual venues for this year’s Classic Film Festival — on both the TV network and with corporate sibling HBO Max.
For the first time ever, the TCM Classic Film Festival will be hosted on both the network’s channel and HBO Max, featuring an extensive festival lineup for fans nationwide on May 6-9, 2021. (HBO Max hadn’t launched before last year’s fest.)
Shifting from in-person to virtual events has been standard operating procedure for festivals over the last year due to COVID-19. But by teaming with HBO Max, the TCM Classic Film Festival will be able to present a higher volume of programming — and reach a far greater number of film aficionados, said Pola Changnon, general manager of TCM.
“We have to experiment, right?’ Changnon asked rhetorically.
The goals for the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival are, first, “to delight the TCM network audience, by hosting something rich and meaningful to people who watch us day in and day out,” Changnon said. And with HBO Max, TCM sees an opportunity “to draw new audiences to classic films.”
In 2019, TCM’s last in-person festival, drew more than 30,000 fans in Hollywood over three days. This year, with unique and complementary programming on both TCM and HBO Max, millions of fans around the country will be able to access this iconic Hollywood event in a whole new way — including the more than 40 million subscribers who have access to HBO Max.
With more than 100 movies and over 30 special guests, this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is bigger than ever. After the initial dates of the festival have ended, content on HBO Max will remain on the platform through the end of May.
“On HBO Max, it’s like a multiplex on steroids,” said Changnon.
The TCM and HBO Max teams that built out the film festival features in the streaming service had a head start: HBO Max is built with destinations for fandom, via content hubs for brands like DC and Studio Ghibli or via curated spotlight pages like the “Game of Thrones Iron Anniversary” page, which featured over 150 videos including behind-the-scenes extras, cast interviews, clips and trailers.
The Classics Hub curated by TCM on HBO Max was already in the product at launch. For the festival, Max teams were able to use the curation features embedded in HBO Max to build out a much larger and more immersive experience.
“We are really igniting something only HBO Max can do — they have these deep and wide streaming libraries,” Chagnon said, “For us, it really was giving people a lot of path-markers to bring them in — to find titles maybe you have never heard of.”
Sarah Lyons, executive VP of direct-to-consumer global product management at WarnerMedia who oversees HBO Max’s design, said that “we always had a vision that the hubs would end up being destinations for fans to immerse themselves in the content.”
“The vision was that [HBO Max hubs] would be a place we could ‘event-ize’ this premium programming,” Lyons said. “The TCM Classic Film Festival is the first iteration.” She added, “The biggest learning was, we have this hypothesis to have timely, relevant hubs with use cases with an event feel. This was a great test case.”
The hope is that some portion of HBO Max will enjoy a new collection of classic films and related content, and potentially lure film fans to sign up for HBO Max. “Customer satisfaction is the real goal. If you create something your users will love, acquisition and retention will follow,” Lyons said.
Both TCM and HBO Max will offer the festival’s Opening Night programming on Thursday, May 6, at 8 p.m. ET — with the 60th anniversary screening of “West Side Story” (1961) with stars Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn giving new and exclusive interviews.
Other than Opening Night, programming on each platform is different and complementary, featuring new film intros by iconic talent and directors, in-depth conversations and special presentations.
TCM Programming Highlights
- Debbie Allen introduces Fame (1980) and sits down for a conversation on TCM
- Jacqueline Bisset introduces Bullitt (1968) on TCM and on HBO Max
- The world broadcast premiere of Bill Morrison’s latest short film on TCM, let me come in (2021), featuring decayed film reels from the lost German silent film Pawns of Passion (1928) and co-presented by the Los Angeles Opera
- SF Sketchfest Presents a table read of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) on TCM, adapted by comedian Dana Gould and featuring Maria Bamford, Bobcat Goldthwait, Oscar Nuñez, Laraine Newman, Bob Odenkirk, David Koechner, Janet Varney, Jonah Ray, Paul F. Tompkins, Gary Anthony Williams, Baron Vaughn, Deborah Baker Jr. and Kat Aagesen
HBO Max Programming Highlights
- The Masters of Filmmaking:: Iconic directors will introduce one of their seminal films and share their personal recollections of the production.
- Tributes: The Festival recognizes a select group of individuals whose careers have left a lasting impact on cinema, including exclusive conversations celebrating the honoree.
- Discoveries: Films that have been forgotten or overlooked by time or changing cultural tastes that deserve to be rediscovered.
- Special Collections: Curated collections of films highlighting special themes that spotlight specific genres, eras, technical expertise or cultures.
- Essentials: Timeless classics that have shaped generations, both past and present, and continue to influence filmmaking and culture today.