Interviews · Movies

Ben Mankiewicz Discusses FilmStruck’s New Partnership with Warner Brothers

The movie nerd’s ultimate streaming service furthers its celebration of classic cinema.
By  · Published on February 27th, 2018

The movie nerd’s ultimate streaming service furthers its celebration of classic cinema.

If you’re a fan of the classics and the underappreciated gems of Old Hollywood, you don’t have a lot of options for streaming consumption. You can rent a few here and there from Amazon, and drown yourself in the dregs of Prime, but don’t bother with Netflix. That’s where you go to binge your worries away in The Great British Bake Off or feed your Stranger Things addiction. The argument is that those rascally kids today have no time for black and white or foreign cinema. Yawn. You’re reading Film School Rejects. You’re following One Perfect Shot. You know that’s nonsense, and you’re eager to shove those egregious stereotypes down the marketeers throats.

Two years ago, Turner Classic Movies launched its streaming service FilmStruck with a firm belief that there was an audience out there starving for cinematic nutrition. They partnered with the likes of Kino Lorber, Film Movement, Oscilloscope Laboratories, Shout Factory, and The Criterion Collection to sate your yesteryear desire. The service is curated by a stable of passionate experts, and they provide a wide array of bonus material to pair with their content.

And yet…there can always be more.

FilmStruck just announced that they would be partnering with Warner Brothers to expand further into the golden age of Hollywood. Tapping into this expansive library will now give their subscribers access to essential titles like Casablanca, Rebel Without A Cause, Singin’ In The Rain, Bringing Up Baby, The Thin Man, Cat People, and Citizen Kane.

In addition to this acquisition, FilmStruck will be introducing TCM Select. This will be a new collection of iconic films that will be supplemented with exclusive introductions by TCM host, Ben Mankiewicz. If you’re already an avid viewer of TCM, then you know that Mankiewicz frequently provides context and trivia as well as an infectious enthusiasm for the era.

We got Mankiewicz on the phone to discuss his excitement around this acquisition, and just what we can expect from his TCM Select introductions. Here is our conversation in full:

So, congratulations are in order.

Yeah, it’s great for TCM, and it’s also great for me. Since FilmStruck launched, I think in November of 2016, you just sensed there was this new thing. All this creative energy with all the people at TCM was on making FilmStruck great, and they did, but for a while, I couldn’t be on it. I was jealous, I was. I wanted to be part of this thing, so it’s nice that’s finally happened personally. But mostly it’s great for FilmStruck.

What are you personally the most excited about: the acquisition of Warner Brothers titles or bringing TCM Select onto FilmStruck?

Well, it would be a couple of things. I’m mostly excited that we get to share these classics, an overused word, but they seem appropriate for most of the movies we’re putting on here. These iconic titles, to be able to share them with FilmStruck. It’s also exciting just to know that while TCM’s never going away and we’re never going to stop doing what we’re doing on the channel, it’s exciting to be part of sort of the growth and change of this industry. We don’t want to split out only on the streaming world. As I said, there’s always going to be a place for TCM, to talk like people in the business do. It’s nice to be able to share these classics with these independent art house films on FilmStruck and all these great movies that are part of the Criterion Collection, that make up the bulk of what FilmStruck is.

There is a real hunger for classic cinema in the streaming market. FilmStruck is the only place in town where you can find this stuff.

Yeah, like you, I remember, I’m going to guess four or five years ago, where you could go on Netflix, and you could find a good selection of classic films. That’s largely gone away. Yeah, if you’re looking for a service that allows you to stream the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age, there is now really just one place for it. The thing of it is, and what we’ve learned, I guess, over the last year plus, is that fans of most of the movies in the Criterion Collection, fans of art house and foreign films, cult films, indie films, these are also fans of classic Hollywood. There’s just a natural appetite for these kinds of films with this audience. It made sense. I don’t know what the business dealings were, but it took a little business work to get that done, but I’m glad it did. It just makes sense. There’s a good chance that if you love John Cassavetes, you love Jules Dassin.

The other thing about FilmStruck is that it’s the only service that’s interested in giving context to its content. That added conversation is so incredibly important. With TCM Select, I think that’s the draw.

I’m glad you mentioned that. First of all, it’s the thing we’re most proud of at TCM. We obviously, I mean we wouldn’t be anything without the extensive library and all the great work of all these artists over 100 years, but we know the thing we provide is context and curation. It wasn’t an accident that Turner selected us to handle the launch of FilmStruck, because what we do, again, is put these movies in context and curate them so well. It only makes sense that now that we’re adding TCM Select to FilmStruck, that we would provide that same service. A similar service to what we’ve been providing at FilmStruck since its launch.

What can we expect from your TCM Select segments?

Well, the intros, they’re a little longer than the intros that I would normally do at TCM. In part, because there’s nothing at the end of the movie like we do at TCM. TCM is, again, it’s programmed for people who are watching it then. We recognize that many people DVR these movies, but you’re watching it, it’s over, you’re still watching it, so we say something at the end.

In contrast, when people stream movies, it’s a little different. They can do it whenever they want. We’ve added a little bit more. We’ve certainly added a number of films, some bonus content, additional content that we culled from the TCM vaults, for lack of a better term. We’re adding that stuff. The intro’s longer. I’ve only done the first 25 or 30 movies we’ll be adding.

I sense as we go through these, as we develop what makes a TCM Select intro on FilmStruck different from TCM intro … The bodies might be a little bit different. As I said, they’re longer. There will probably be some more detail. This is a movie that people have gone out of their way to see. On the other hand, a lot of people tell me, when I meet people around LA, that they just keep TCM on all the time, right?


Here, you are seeing people who are going out of their way to make a conscious act, if you will, to watch Night and the City, to watch Marty, to watch Casablanca. With that, I think comes an expectation for a slightly deeper dive, but I use the term “slightly” because it’s going to be similar to what we do at TCM. We are, in our initial approach, the intros are a little longer. Even if it’s an extra 30, 45 seconds or a minute, you can get a lot of information, a lot of information.

Your first star of the week is going to be Bette Davis. Why start with her?

Well, I mean I think you know the answer to that question. The answer to the question is in the question. Our “first star of the week,” let’s presume that there’s a list of 15 people who would make appropriate first stars of the week, Bette Davis would certainly be on that list. You’ve got to start somewhere. Look, she was the queen of the lot at Warner Brothers. She is one of the defining stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If you’re going to tell people that TCM Select represents the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age, you have got to start with a star, a signature star that tells you that. I don’t know that anybody … Nobody does it better than Bette Davis. There may be a couple of actors or actresses who tie her in that regard, but if anybody symbolizes the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age, it’s Bette Davis. Look, this was a partnership with Warner Brothers Digital, and she was the queen of the lot, so it’s an appropriate first.

Do you have a list of people you’re anticipating covering or films that you’re anticipating?

I don’t, but there is such a list. I certainly don’t have it in front of me. You could imagine what it is, just by looking at that first initial group of movies. As I said, you start adding, assuming I’m right, four to six movies a month, you’re going to get a lot of movies up there pretty quickly. You see the range there. We didn’t just pick Casablanca, and Citizen Kane, and On The Waterfront, and Rebel Without A Cause. I’ve mentioned it already, but Night and the City is on there, Cat People is on there, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is on there. There’s going to be a range of what anybody would define as classic Hollywood. Any Jules Dassin film, any Val Lewton film has a very natural home at FilmStruck.

Before I let you go, I just wanted to see if you could address, as a TCM host following in the footsteps of Robert Osborne, how has your experience been preaching the worth of Golden Age film to contemporary audiences?

I mean, first of all, Robert showed the way. This job wouldn’t exist without Robert Osborne. Other places tried to have people talk about classic movies, and there were some very good people at it, but Robert made it a thing. Robert made it an entity, a known quality. Without him creating that, I’m 100% certain I wouldn’t be here.

The experience has been incredibly satisfying. All the market research that we’ve done, we don’t have ratings, so at TCM we do these, now and then, these extensive market research projects. Our audience is much younger than certainly what would now be known to be the stereotype of what our audience is. We get it at the film festivals. We got it when we did the cruise. There is this enormous audience of young film fans.

I think, I certainly couldn’t prove this, but I think most of it is made up of aspiring filmmakers, who as you come of age, it’s hard to emulate Steven Spielberg and even Martin Scorsese and those kinds of budgets, but you can learn … Now we know, digitally, you can make a movie pretty cheaply. I mean you could learn from Roger Gorman, and you can learn from Val Lewton. Again, I don’t have any proof of that, but anecdotally, I know that’s happened. You can learn from studio films made in the 1940s, and 50s, and 30s when the studio system was … Many of these films that we’re showing on TCM Select are a demonstration of the best of the studio system, what the system was capable of with these great artists, each with their own little individual piece of the pie that they were supposed to cover, their part of the assembly line. They did it so remarkably well.

Well, thanks, Ben. I’ve been contemplating subscribing to FilmStruck, but after yesterday’s news, I finally pulled the trigger. I’m looking forward to diving in.

That’s great to here, really, really good. Warms all our hearts. We believe in FilmStruck so strongly at TCM. That again goes back to your first question on why I’m so excited to be part of it. It’s such an exciting endeavor if you love film. We’re a network that’s always going to respect the past, but we don’t want to be stuck in the past. Now, to be able to have a balance where we continue to have this great network at TCM, which again, I always just want to keep emphasizing, not going anywhere, but now be able to offer these TCM Select classics on FilmStruck, it’s a perfect balance. Yesterday was a very exciting day for me personally.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)