When scholars write the history of social media – and they will (but probably not with a pen) – Thursday, June 9, 2011 will forever be remembered as the night the live movie tweet-a-long was born.
On that early summer evening four years ago, a pioneering group of film fans held the first-ever organized, live tweet of a film airing on Turner Classic Movies using a specially created hashtag. The film was THEM! (1954), the hashtag was #TCMBugout and the group of founding film fans included yours truly. The Twitter party lasted all night, because we were young and fancy free. (Or unemployed, over-caffeinated, and suffering from insomnia. Take your pick.)
To mark this auspicious anniversary, TCM is once again airing THEM! tonight at 11:45 p.m., as part of a six-film marathon of insect-gone-amuck science fiction films. The schedule kicks off with THE FLY (1958) at 8 p.m. and concludes with THE COSMIC MONSTER (1958) at 4:45 a.m.
And many of the same fans who first congregated four years ago will be back again to relive the magic, as the TCMParty and DriveInMob live tweeting communities converge for the social media equivalent of a high school reunion. Original Tweeter Jim Phoel will host MOTHRA (1954) at 9:45 p.m. followed by THEM! at 11:45 p.m., and the chosen hashtag for tonight’s festivities will be #TCMDriveIn.
To understand the important historical significance of that tag, let me take you back to the heady days of 2011 when Twitter was still a shiny new toy for many of us. Every Thursday that June, TCM aired classic sci-fi from the Drive-In Era of the 1950s and early ’60s in delightfully campy, night-long marathons. There was already a small but vocal classic film constituency using the Twitter platform at that time, and many of us would tweet along to films now and then using the hashtag #TCM (which we shared with foreign versions of Turner Classic Movies, Chinese medical practitioners, and hip hop aficionados). That habit continued on the first night of the summertime Drive-In series, but it soon became obvious that a unique tag was needed to accommodate the growing number of participants (and to avoid the guys tweeting about herbs of various types). Thus was born #TCMBugout for Week 2.
For Week 3, nary a giant bug was in sight on the schedule and a more all-encompassing descriptor was needed. And thus the #TCMDriveIn was built. That tag carried us for the rest of June as the community grew larger (and more smart-assy) each week. And then the series was over, and we all tweeted a tear.
The DriveIn Mob has been programming Thursday night live tweet-alongs to sci-fi, horror and cult films without fail ever since using free streaming platforms like YouTube, Vimeo or Daily Motion. The community and its brilliantly creative multi-media is the brainchild of Brian Kirby (who tweets as @DriveInMob) and regular hosts include beloved Internet personality @CulturalGutter from the website of the same name and @GCDB from the essential Grindhouse Cinema Database. The group’s weekly schedule allows for pop-up memorials to departed genre stars, as they did last week when Christopher Lee’s death at age 93 was announced. (I wrote about that here.)
In September of 2011, TCMParty picked up where TCM DriveIn left off and became the defining social media community for classic film fans. During primetime hours as many as 2,000 Twitter users participate in scheduled live tweets hosted by co-founder Paula Guthat and her henchmen Trevor Jost and Joel Williams, who offer a combination of curation, trivia and witty repartee. Activity continues on the tag nearly 24 hours per day, and at least one couple who met live tweeting (Bryan and Kelly) has gotten married in real life. (I’m sure there have also been some drunken hook-ups at roadside motels, but sadly people don’t talk about those). Paula and Joel have also been featured on-air with host Ben Mankiewicz as part of TCM’s Fan Favorites series and the open, public forum they help to moderate remains a welcoming and respectful environment for fans of all ages and experience levels.
“If you love these movies so much why don’t you pay attention and watch them,” my girlfriend said to me during that first live tweet four years ago (and continues to say today).
She has a point – it is hard to type on one screen and pay full attention to what’s going on on another – but the people I’ve met live tweeting old movies have become some of my best friends, both on-line and off. They make Twitter (and life) far more fun, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Plus It’s nice to know that, if I’m ever cornered by a giant radioactive spider, at least 2,000 people will have my back. Or at least run away with me.
Update 6/19/15 – Last night’s triumphant return of the TCM DriveIn was a great success, with 1,373 tweets in just a few hours. Not bad for a hashtag that was dormant for four years. You can read the tweets here courtesy of a Storify posting curated by @CulturalGutter.
Update 9/3/16 – #TCMParty celebrates its fifth anniversary today. Congrats to Paula, Joel, and all who support the tag. For information on the many live tweets available to Twitter users in 2016, visit LiveTweeting.org
You can also re-live the fun of the #TCMBugOut from 2011 here. Scroll from the bottom to read in order. And doit with the lights off. It’s scarier.