UPDATE #2: TCM’s “Ultimate Fan” Contest – And How You Can Win It

23632_006_2945.jpg(UPDATES are indicated in italics.)

Amateur singing competitions are the hottest thing on TV. But what about an amateur classic film hosting competition – sort of like an American Idol for movie buffs – with the winner earning a once-in-a-lifetime co-hosting gig opposite Robert Osborne?

Sounds like the dream of pretty much every classic film fan, right?

Well, get ready to make that dream a reality. Today, Turner Classic Movies announced the TCM Ultimate Fan Contest, wherein one lucky viewer will be selected to introduce a film on-air, alongside the beloved emcee, author and film historian. Plus, TCM will fly the winner (and a guest) to Hollywood next April, where he or she will introduce a screening at the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival. The Ultimate Fan (and their Ultimate Friend) will also receive a pair of festival passes, hotel accommodations, and the undying envy of millions of other TCM viewers.

Beginning October 1, fans will have the opportunity to submit short video demos showing off their hosting abilities. According to the network, the taped introduction can be for “a film you’ve never seen on TCM before, or a beloved classic you present in a new way.”  Official rules have not yet been posted, but the contest will run from October 1 through October 31 and videos (no longer than 90 seconds in duration) will be uploaded to the TCM website.

No word yet on who will judge the submissions, or when the “Ultimate Fan” will be selected. The network has also not formally announced the dates for the 2014 edition of their film festival, though they did say in today’s announcement that the event will take place “in conjunction with” the network’s 20th anniversary. TCM launched on April 14, 1994.

UPDATE 10/1/2013 – The network has announced the dates for the 2014 TCM Film Fest: April 10-13. (You can read my post about it here.) And they’ve revealed the rules for the Ultimate Fan competition, which are absurdly long and jam-packed with legalese. But I read through them so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Here are ten points you need to know:

  1. The contest is only open to U.S. residents. Sorry, Canadians! (First the Quebec Nordiques move to Denver. Now this.)
  2. Contestants must be at least 18 years of age. (No cap-wearing junior sidekick for Osborne, a la Chaplin’s THE KID.)
  3. Submissions must be in English. (No te gusta Espanol, TCM?)
  4. Videos must only feature one person. (No dressing up like the Four Marx Bros. and introducing DUCK SOUP.)
  5. Videos should not include “still images, clips, music or other copyrighted or trademarked content.”
  6. Don’t submit anything “obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, lewd, derogatory, inappropriate, or otherwise not in good taste.” (They must have heard about my plan to introduce CLEOPATRA from a Claudette Colbert-style milk bath.)
  7. Don’t smoke in your submission. (This is odd, considering that some days TCM is like The Smoking Channel).
  8. “Submissions will be judged 50% on originality and creativity of substance of the introduction and 50% on the presentation skills of the presenter.”
  9. In addition to airfare to, and lodging in, Los Angeles and Atlanta, the winner (and a guest) will receive Spotlight Passes to the TCMFF (which sell for $1,599 EACH!)
  10. The winner will be announced “on or about November 30, 2013.”

No word either on whether the videos submitted by fans will air on the channel, either in excerpted form or as part of interstitials or promos. But I can’t imagine that a TV network would go to all the trouble of gathering hundreds (thousands?) of videos from enthusiastic fans and not make use of them on the air in some way. We also don’t know yet if the taping will occur on Robert Osborne’s set (with the red chairs) in New York City, or at the TCM Film Fest. (But if I had to guess, I’d go with the TCMFF. The winner will already be there on TCM’s dime, with tons of TV cameras around. And, of course, Robert Osborne will be there too).

UPDATE 10/1/2013 – It looks like the taping will take place in Atlanta, not in New York or L.A. And, while there’s no confirmation that TCM will air any of the non-winning submissions, they are featuring them prominently on the contest website. (The first two “fan submissions” are hilariously over-produced, but don’t let that discourage you.) They’ve also edited a promo video for the contest which you can watch here.

UPDATE 10/2/2013 – The obviously fake “fan submissions” on the contest page have been reposted with the word SAMPLE over the thumbnail. Kudos to TCM for acknowledging this.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 2.54.14 PM

So that’s what I know, and don’t know about the TCM Ultimate Fan Contest. Now let’s talk about how you can win this thing.

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 3.59.23 PMTCM is not calling these videos “auditions,” but that’s exactly what they are. So you need to be serious about this. Luckily for you, I’ve worked in television, video and live events for more than twenty years (shockingly, this blog doesn’t pay my bills).

So here are some Pro Tips:

1a 1. Pick a film you love.

TCM says you can talk about a movie you’ve never seen. That’s a bad idea. When you discuss something you love, your eyes light up. Plus, you bring the energy of an enthusiastic fan, which is exactly what they’re looking for. And it’s much easier to sound informed when you’re talking about something you know well. Which leads me to my next point.

2a2. Write out your script.

I know what you’re thinking. “I love (fill in your fav movie)! I could talk about it for hours!” That’s a big part of why you need to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and distill what you love about it into 90 seconds of copy. Very few people can extemporize smoothly and succinctly. It’s even harder when you’re under a time constraint.

If you’re not a writer, don’t despair! Sit down with a recorder (or a recording app on your iPhone), talk about the movie for a few minutes, and then type up what you said. By giving birth to the material in your own voice, rather than a “writerly voice,” you insure that it will sound more like you. Which leads me to my next point:

3a3. But don’t sound scripted.

I know. I just told you to write down what you’re going to say. But the worst thing you can do is get in front of the camera and focus on trying to remember your “lines,” rather than being engaging and charming. Remember, the trick to hosting is to say written lines like you’re making them up on the spot. That’s why Robert O. will often take a slight pause, or look down or up, when he recites specific or complex data. It’s as if he’s thinking about it. But he isn’t really thinking about it. He’s reading a Teleprompter.

HOWEVER, if you have a Teleprompter at home (I don’t know – maybe you live in a TV studio), don’t use it! And don’t write out cue cards. Even professional actors have difficulty reading on camera and sounding natural (if you don’t believe me, watch every award intro at the Oscars).

4a4. The best way not to sound scripted is to rehearse.

You may not consider FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) a classic film, but take the words of Judge Reinhold to heart: “Learn it. Know it. Live it.” Rehearse your thoughts backwards and forwards. Make them sound conversational, not written. Find the beats, the parts that excite you, the moments that make you smile. Remember, they’re choosing you for your personality, not your acting or writing skills.

NOTE: some people prefer to split their remarks into bullet points, rather than scripting them out verbatim. If this is more appealing to you, do it. But then practice even more.

5a5. Watch how Robert Osborne does it.

I know. You watch TCM all the time. But for the next week or so, make a point to record and listen to the primetime film introductions before you think about planning your own. Pay attention to how Robert O. introduces himself every time (even though everyone watching knows who he is), and listen for the way he concludes his remarks with a dramatic “throw” to the movie, e.g. “And now, from 1955, it’s Charles Laughton’s…NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.”

6a6. Dress up.

This is TCM, not Spike TV. Wear something stylish. Guys, it wouldn’t kill you to put on a suit and a tie. Ben Mankiewicz does it and, as good as he looks, I get the sense that it’s not his preferred manner of dress.

Also avoid complex, busy patterns, trademarked logos, or items of clothing that will distract from the center of attention: you.

7a7. Make it look good

Whether you use a smart phone, the built in video recording program on your laptop, or an external video device (like a Flip camera or a GoPro) to record, choose your setting wisely. If you’re inside, don’t shoot in front of a window or TV monitor that will silhouette you, or a light source that will make you much brighter than your surroundings.  Keep in mind that most cell phone video cameras are made for low light, and adding external light may just blow out the picture. (Particularly if you’re a white guy with a shiny, bald head. Ahem.)

8a8. If you shoot on an iPhone, do it in horizontal format.

Position your iPhone like you would if you were watching a movie on it (which I don’t recommend, but that’s not the point.) Hold it horizontally, not vertically. And if your “camera person” can’t hold it steady, and you don’t have access to a tripod, balance it on something for stability (like stacked boxes, a bookcase, or a short person).

9a9. Pay Attention to Audio

Don’t record with the TV on in the background, or in a place with a lot of ambient noise (like kids, or barking dogs, or squealing fire engines if you’re a New Yorker). Find a quiet space, but avoid echo-y rooms like basements or garages. Plenty of inexpensive mics are available that will connect to your iPhone or laptop. But if you’re going to use the built-in mic, make sure you don’t stand too far away. And do a test (or five) first, to check how you sound.

10a10. Make sure your video file does not exceed size limits

Video files can be huge. And big files can take forever to upload, or fail to load. A 90-second test video I just recorded on my iPhone exported as a 200 mb .mov file. So be mindful of file size limitations when TCM posts them on October 1. If you’re even minimally tech savvy, you can use video compression software like Handbrake to shrink your file if it’s too big. Or, you can just shoot it again and make the video shorter.

UPDATE 10/1/2013 – TCM is requiring .mp4 or .webm formats with a max size of 25 mb. This will almost definitely require compression and/or file conversion (see above). A second – and much easier – option is to post your video to YouTube and provide TCM with the link on the submission page. That’s what I would do. Plus, you’ll be sure that it posted successfully and that everything looks and sounds right.

11a11. Have fun.

I know I just made this sound super complicated, but it’s really not. Be prepared. Be charming. Communicate joyfully and confidently. Even if you’re a shy person, why not go for it? You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Who knows, you may just end up in primetime on Turner Classic Movies!

Good luck.


About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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15 Responses to UPDATE #2: TCM’s “Ultimate Fan” Contest – And How You Can Win It

  1. Jennifer says:

    You’re going to enter, right, Will? I bet you would do great!

  2. I heard about this contest this afternoon and nearly jumped out of my seat! But, my first thought was, ‘is this open to Canadian residents?’ I sure hope so because I’d love to enter it. We all know which movie I’d pick to introduce too, don’t we? None other than Dracula from 1931. Thanks for the great tips Will!

  3. Sarah says:

    I’ll be kind of disappointed if you don’t win this Will.

  4. kim dunn says:

    Do you know if you can enter more than once….recommending different films each time? Thanks.

    • willmckinley says:

      Kim, they haven’t posted the rules yet, so I don’t know for sure.

      I don’t think they really care what film you talk about, though. I don’t think that will play any role in the selection process. I have suggested to people that they do more than one of these videos and post the one they think turned out best. It also takes the pressure off when you’re recording. If you know you’re going to do 3-4, you relax and just start banging them out.

  5. Pingback: 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival Dates Announced | cinematically insane

  6. Whee!!! What a great contest. Thanks for the heads up!

  7. Shanae says:

    Hi Will,
    Do you think there’s a specific style they’re interested in? For instance, do you think they’re more likely to lean towards the videos like The Night of the Living Dead or the North by Northwest samples rather than the sitting down talking about the film approach. I’ve been trying to decide how I should go about doing my video. Any advice would be great.


    • willmckinley says:

      Shanae – The rules say “Submissions will be judged 50% on originality and creativity of substance of the introduction and 50% on the presentation skills of the presenter.”

      So…I would do both. I’d write out a thoughtful intro, but record it in a fun location. If it’s a horror movie, I’d do it in front of a spooky house, or castle, or cemetery. Think about a location that’s related to the theme of the movie and record it there.

  8. Carrie Specht says:

    I have been interpreting the words “originality and creativity” to mean WHAT you say as opposed to where you say it. Meaning, the information and content that you are providing. Based on the above advice it seems as if I have been misinterpreting this. Darn. Now I have to find a cool, themed location that doesn’t echo. Man! 😉

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