Where do we go from here? Ted Hope on what’s wrong with indie film financing and distribution and why it’s time for a “systems reboot.”
“I am ultimately optimistic, but I feel we really must have a change of mindset or we’re going to lose a great class of creatives.” – Ted Hope
Scott Myers is an accomplished screenwriter and regularly writes about his craft and the film industry at large on his popular blog Go Into The Story, where he shares stories, doles out advice, answers reader questions and offers insight on the creative process of storytelling from his unique perspective. It’s a wonderful resource for film students and aspiring screenwriters from around the world.
Scott recently sat down with Fandor CEO Ted Hope to pick his brain about his experiences producing and marketing independent films. We’ll be republishing Scott’s four part interview with Ted here. Oh, and for those of you interested in screenwriting, following Scott on Twitter at @GoIntoTheStory is a must.
Last December, I was fortunate enough to have an in-depth interview with movie producer Ted Hope, who is leading the charge to give the indie film business what he calls a “systems reboot.” If there is a person best suited for this task, it’s Ted. You can go here to read his Wikipedia page for a detailed background, but the highlights include dozens of movies which he has produced including The Ice Storm, Happiness, American Splendor, 21 Grams, The Savages, Adventureland, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and many more, 23 of which have been selected for the Sundance Film Festival. In 2011, Ted became President of the San Francisco Film Society, then just recently left that position to become CEO of Fandor, a subscription service that hopes to do for festival and foreign films what Netflix does for mainstream films and TV series.
In Part 2, Ted explains why he thinks the indie film model needs a systems reboot and if he’s optimistic that can happen or not:
Scott: Let me ask you then, given the trajectory of the indie film world, are you optimistic about the future?
Ted: It’s going to take a while. I am ultimately optimistic, but I feel we really must have a change of mindset or we’re going to lose a great class of creatives.
Where are the good filmmakers who are really giving back and understanding where they came from? You have Richard Linklater. People don’t recognize how much he’s done. He started the Austin Film Society. Then you throw in his own bold experiments with form, the Before-After series, and now Boyhood, a movie he’s been making over a 12 year period. He’s doing an awful lot to advance the form and advance the dialogue.
You can’t have enough folks who are leading and sharing who recognize that this is an integrated network. It’s a community. We have to champion other people’s work in a big way to make it resonate.
I think we need to move culture away from the mass market to a mixed audience-based focus where the creators are the owners. We can get there, but what we lose in the process will be some great artists who cannot afford to keep going.
For myself, I will not be producing movies for my living because to do that means I have to do things that make my work suffer. It requires you to act in a manner of consistent compromise where I really cannot be reaching for the best work.
Scott: Let me shoot to the other side of the equation in looking at the major studios. They seem to have adopted this bifurcated business model where on the one hand, they go after these expensive, special-effects franchise movies. Then on the other extreme, they develop and produce low-budget genre pieces. Which basically leaves all the middle budget movies out in the cold. What’s your take on that business model?
Ted: The challenge remains, how do we make great work the subject of cultural conversation? The genius of the system, the beauty of the machine remains the marketing effort the studios provide. Without access to that, I think it’s really hard to actually get that level of traction.
We haven’t yet seen what bubbles up from the underground in indie film truly tackled in any major way. I think in the current paradigm, we’re still requiring that kind of studio support to get noticed, to get that cultural relevancy.
Now, if you look at things like Louis C.K. or Indie Game: The Movie Roger Corman, we are seeing direct distribution work for relative niche audiences. The indie business, whether it’s been the approach or the late ’80s, early ’90s films focusing on five demographics of race, class, creed, gender, and orientation, has always been about underserved audiences.
That’s a big mainstream that is being underserved. Meanwhile you look at the studios. Why is it that they release all of the tent poles in that short period of the summer? Why is it that they release all of the prestige pictures in this awards season? Why can’t we have a consistent diet that is varied throughout the year and allows us to develop anticipation and manufacture desire for specific titles? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
I understand where it comes from and why, but let’s step back and start to try to spread that out to work together. I think there is real opportunity, and I suspect it’s going to come from Silicon Valley, the VC [venture capital] world, where you can recognize that a well-funded, disruptive force can come along and say, you know what? You’re leaving so much on the table, and we can do this in a manner that is going to put the financial rewards directly into the hands of the creators and the supporters.
We are going to do it, and we are going to see a power shift because we have an industry and a culture that is built on antiquated concepts that no longer apply to the world we’re living in.
The longer we allow that to persist, the greater the opportunity that develops from outside forces. That’s a shame, because I think Hollywood, Indiewood, the current creative film community do what they do as well as it can ever be done, but the fact is, we’re in bed with the wrong people right now.
It is not benefiting the creators or their supporters. Unless there’s a complete switch to make that happen, we’re going to see a major shift of allegiance. That’s why I moved out here, frankly, because I don’t see it happening. I’m going to hitch my sails to the other stars.
Scott: You’re on the forefront of trying to raise the consciousness with your blogging and social media. What do you see your mission there being?
Ted: I really think we are in need of a total systems reboot of the indie film infrastructure, and it comes down to that simple concept of, we are not having the creators and their supporters be the direct financial beneficiaries.
I think that’s the best thing we could do for our culture, make sure that when you make work, you earn a return appropriate for the risk that’s been involved. That’s not the Hollywood system right now.
Tomorrow in Part 3, Ted talks about skill-sets he thinks every filmmaker should have and what he looks for in a script when he sits down to read it.
Click here for part 1 of this 4 part interview.
(Pictured above, Ted Hope (L) and Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List.)