This month, movie fans around the world are being introduced to the delights of Atlanta’s landmark Starlight Drive In via Turner Classic Movie’s annual “TCM Remembers”tribute film honoring those in the film industry who passed away in 2012. The drive in’s Moreland Avenue marquee, six screens, projection room, snack bar and even the drive in’s blue raspberry and strawberry slushy machines all have starring roles in the 5 minute and 37 second tribute.
This fall, TCM producer Christian Hammann and a dedicated crew spent a chilly day and night at the Starlight getting all the necessary shots for the piece. The tribute opens in daylight, evoking a maudlin, desolate tone and transforming at dusk to a neon and celluloid projecting wonderland.
“They worked their freezing buns off to get those shots,” praises TCM vice-president of on-air production Pola Changnon of Hammann and crew’s efforts.
“I’ve been to the Starlight a few times and there’s a kind of charge to it,” explains Hammann. “It’s just so atmospheric. It felt like sacred ground. I’d had it in the back of my mind for a while how wonderful it would be to shoot something there. I fell in love with the idea of having our film clips of those who have passed away flickering on those screens at the Starlight.”
For the 24 hour-long, day and night shoot, the Starlight gave TCM an all-access pass to the drive in and helped to prep the movie house appropriately. “For the opening, I wanted the Starlight to be empty as though no human had been there recently,” says Hammann of the concept. “We wanted to convey that sense of sadness and loss. And then as night falls, the Starlight comes to life and shows itself off with all its beautiful characteristics.”
The film also features a lot of gorgeous time-lapse photography of North Georgia skies and the stars that routinely blanket the drive in at night. In the piece, TCM also inadvertently chronicles the ancient enormous film reels inside the Starlight’s projection room perhaps for the last time. The drive in plans to convert over to a digital projection system in 2013.
“It was just dumb luck that we were there at this incredible transitional moment,” says Hammann. “Those old reels aren’t going to see much more action. I’m glad we were able to capture them still in use. It added this whole other layer to our piece.”
This year’s “TCM Remembers” also honors one of the classic film network’s biggest cheerleaders, Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine who died this year at age 95. “We enjoyed a special friendship with him and his family through the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Classic Cruise,” recalls Changnon. “As recently as last year on the cruise, he was just going 110 percent every day. It was important to honor him in a significant way. He was the perfect punctuation to the whole piece.”
While the Starlight Drive In made many concessions to TCM’s film crew, one finishing touch had to be added in post-production back at TCM headquarters in Midtown — The “TCM Remembers” on the marquee.
“The actual marquee that we shot had the current attractions posted on it,” says Hammann. “But we knew we could make it work in post-production. Changing that Starlight marquee is a monster!”
“TCM Remembers” airs between films on TCM through New Year’s Day. To see the tribute online,go to tcm.com.