At the end of May TCM announced Tiffany Vazquez as their new on-air correspondent, covering films on Saturday afternoons (with the unspoken implication of expanding her further). From TCM’s first “Ultimate Fan” to regular host, Vazquez’s rise to prominence is a fairy tale any TCM viewer can only dream will happen to them. Vazquez was kind enough to sit down with me to talk about her new role with TCM, what makes a classic and more!
Kristen: You started out as TCM’s inaugural “superfan”and now you’re officially an on-air correspondent. Can you give people a brief overview of that journey?
Vazquez: In 2014, in celebration of TCM’s 20th-anniversary, they had a contest called the TCM Ultimate Fan Contest and anyone who wanted to enter would submit a short video introducing a movie of their choice, whatever they felt would be a classic. I eventually chose The Naked City (1948), filmed it in downtown Brooklyn, but most of the final shots are in Williamsburg. I was really impressed with all the other submissions, so I really didn’t think I’d win. I ended up winning and was on-air with 19 other fans the week of TCM’s 20th-anniversary, all in primetime; we hosted movies of our choice. Later on in that week I got to go to the film festival and introduce The Naked City there. Then a year later I did the hosting for the “Girlfriends in Movies” spotlight. A few months after that TCM offered this new gig.
What was the conversation like with TCM when they told you they were seguing you into an actual on-air correspondent?
That was absolutely insane! I thought the initial conversation was going to be hosting for another spotlight, which I would have been more than happy to do. I didn’t think it would be this. I was shocked and I tried very hard not to sob on the phone to them; I tried to be as professional as possible. It was something I’d wanted for a very long time but I didn’t necessarily think it was going to happen. Just like every other TCM fan I love, love, love Robert [Osborne] and Ben [Mankiewicz] so I didn’t think anything else was gonna happen. I would have been happy just to be considered for a spotlight.
How do you feel about breaking the glass ceiling? Other women have hosted spotlights and guested, but you’re the first long-term, on-air correspondent on par with Robert and Ben.
The response has been incredible. I knew I was the first woman – the youngest, first person of color – as a regular host, but I didn’t know what effect that would have on other people, even though it would have a huge effect on me. If I had seen another host on TCM in the same position I’d be elated. I’ve been getting a lot of really sweet comments on how happy people are that there is a woman, that there is a person of color, someone a little younger. It’s really been encouraging, for the most part. I do feel like now the pressure’s on.
Conversely, how do you feel to those who say you’re too young and that this is proof TCM wants to attract younger audiences? Does age imply experience in your opinion?
You’re too young equating inexperience has been something I’ve heard my whole life, not just in my TCM experience. I’m pretty sure anyone of a certain age is gonna hear that in their respective field. As far as TCM goes, your movies – your silents, your ’30s, ’40s, ’50s – aren’t going anywhere. They’re classics for a reason; they’re going to stay on the network. Sure, sometimes TCM will throw in a newer film but it’s definitely all of your classics. They’re here to stay.
TCM has one of the few communities where any minor change will inspire some type of massive freakout, which works both positively and negatively.
It’s a positive because it’s reflective of what TCM’s fanbase is and what they are to TCM. If they feel so passionate about it then it has to be something good. Very strong emotional reactions are just indicative of how powerful and amazing TCM is. It’s definitely good and bad, but I’m just gonna look at the good.
Is shooting your intros different now than when you just doing a theme series? What’s a typical introduction like to work on?
For the “Girlfriends” spotlight, since it was just fourteen movies I had more time to delve into each movie. With filming the intros for the Saturday daytime, that’s three months of movies, so I couldn’t devote as much time as I did with the “Girlfriends” intros. Other than that, while filming, I was more comfortable than I was the first time; the first time ever being by myself in front of a camera. Thankfully, I’m really lucky to have been on camera for the first time with Robert Osborne.
You looked like a pro!
Thank you! It was still nerve-wracking. TCM is so important to me that I want to do it right. I was so blessed that first time to be with Robert. The second time, [I was] a little nervous but loving it nonetheless. This third time I got progressively more and more comfortable. It’s still, I wouldn’t say natural for me to be in front of a camera with lights on and a whole crew staring at you while you have to read everything in one shot, but it’s, again, something I love so much; the privilege to be able to talk about classic films with fans who I have so much in common with, on this channel that we think of as more than a channel. At the end of the day it’s all something I love.
We’ve seen some of the guest hosts prepare questions. Are your introductions all pre-written or do you have room to play with the words and present your own voice?
There are excellent writers on-staff who contribute the scripts and anytime I can contribute to it, as well, I do. There are a lot of scripts where I’ve put in my opinions; even basic performances – when reading a sentence, written, as opposed to verbally, sometimes things don’t work, so rearranging words is something I do on the fly if it doesn’t sound right out loud. It’s definitely a full collaborative process.
As a Ben Mankiewicz fangirl, I have to ask what it’s like to work with both him and Robert now as colleagues?
That’s a crazy concept to think of! Ben’s amazing; he’s so funny. He’s been awesome at giving me great advice, saying if there’s ever any advice I need, in terms of hosting, he’s been great with that. Knowing that I have breathed the same air as Robert Osborne is honestly something I’ll treasure.
Is there a difference, at all, at how you approach working the festival versus being on-air?
At the festival most of my work was interacting with passholders. So I got to interview fans most of the weekend and that was amazing because I don’t get to do that on-air. I was getting to talk to people who I very much related to. People who I could talk to how they schedule out their plans for the festival, which is something I’ve had to do for many years with so many great movies playing at the same time. It was great to talk to fans about that; what do they choose? What do they like to do? Do they prefer events or movies they’ve never seen on the big screen before? Honestly, those are conversations I’d have had waiting in line to get into the movie.
Were you able to able to enjoy the festival as an attendee or was it all work?
I definitely saw the fewest films this year, which is fine. I saw three or four movies this year which is a whole lot less than I’ve seen in past years, but I can’t say I’d ever trade it back. It’s amazing to work it and be involved, and get a glimpse of all the work that goes into the festival; I already knew, as a fan, there was a ton of work going into [the fest], but getting a background look at everything that comes together for what is, for me, probably my favorite event of the whole year.
The immortal question: What defines a classic and is there an essential classic for you?
I don’t have a specific definition of a classic other than, if I am so positive that a movie will be talked about – any aspect – in fifty years, than it’s a classic for me. If I could give one example, Sunset Blvd (1950). Everything about it is something worth talking about. It’s the perfect Hollywood film in acknowledging the things that are not great about Hollywood, and loving it anyway, still being addicted to it, falling in love with its mystique.