In part 3, Ted explains why different is good, faith is crucial and airplanes are a great place to take in a movie.
“I want something that matters. I want something that resonates, that creates ripples and waves and hopefully can never be ignored.” – 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 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:
Scott: You’ve been involved with a number of great movies, many of them nominated for screenwriting Oscars. I’m curious, after having worked with a lot of different filmmakers, are there common skill-sets you’ve seen among writers and writer-directors you think are important for aspiring filmmakers to develop?
Ted: One thing I’ve always tried to do is not apply a template to the folks I’m working with. Which isn’t to say I don’t have a manner that I like to work, like trying to be sensitive to who I’m working with and what their own individual needs are.
Ultimately, I think they have to be the ones making the decisions, and if you are forcing an outcome, do this or work in that way, it’s not going to work and the relationship will falter and so will the work.
The thing that really amazes me about writers in particular and how much this is needed — and coming from a person who is a non-believer because often when we use these words, people take it in a religious way — the need for faith.
How somebody steps up to that computer screen and starts to work on that script and reach high without knowing if it will ever get made, recognizing that both the amount of capital, the number of people, how many different things and how many places it can go wrong, that’s commitment, an act of faith.
Even if we’re trying to do a high-concept film, you have to hit that tiny, tiny little bull’s-eye that is so far away.
Whether it’s writing or editing, the huge irony is that as you reach higher, as you are making something that is more unique and truly distinct, the end goal gets farther away.
As you are making progress, the distance is growing because as you succeed in your ambition to make art, to create that thing which is glorious, the demand on it also increases, and it becomes harder to reach. It’s a truly ironic and difficult situation.
I think faith in oneself, faith in the creative process is really a key thing in the toolkit. I would also say it’s discipline and tied to that emotional balance because it’s generally a fairly solitary experience and very few projects are ready early.
I think those three things — faith, discipline, and emotional balance — really are the most crucial.
Let me add for me personally, if I don’t think there is a unique perspective in a project, it’s hard for me to stay committed and focused through the long haul. How we have that strength to believe in… it’s tied to faith of course, and our vision and others’ visions… I think often it comes from that idiosyncratic nature. Thankfully, all of the filmmakers I’ve worked with are a bunch of weirdos. [laughs]
Scott: You mention unique perspective. When you sit down and crack open a script as a potential project, would there be other things you’re particularly looking for?
Ted: Originality, ambition, and I would argue quality or depth of the idea. I want something that matters. I want something that resonates, that creates ripples and waves and hopefully can never be ignored.
Every time I fly a plane, I love to fly and watch movies on the plane, because I think it’s the diminished oxygen or air pressure that somehow reduces my ability to respond in a cold and negative way, and stuff that I would definitely consider crap, I have a pretty major emotional response to when I’m up on a plane, despite the diminished viewing level of it.
I’ve found that in my flight from San Francisco to New York, when I sit down, I start watching a movie, I often get through four movies on that plane ride, and I dig that. I try to catch the studio movies I’ve missed, and the redundancy of the formula, it’s so surprising to me.
I just can’t believe that that’s what we’re putting out. You see right through it. My son must have been seven or eight when we were going through the reboots of “The Doctor Who” series, and he turns to me and says, “I get the code.”
That reality, how we live in an era where a seven-year-old knows that the gun introduced in the first act is going to go off in the third, we’re not doing enough to push structure and formula further.
Yes, there are things that resonate time and time again in a work utilizing that language, that cultural heritage. But we do so little to push the language, whether it’s storytelling or filmmaking.
Some of the nuance in something like 12 Years a Slave, that feels like it’s pushing the language forward. You can count on Steve McQueen to do that, and he had a script that gave him the foundation to really do that. It’s so, so rare, particularly in our mass-market movies.
Frankly, it was really exciting for me to see World War Z. It felt like here was a mass-market, summer popcorn movie that was playing a bit with form. I was really thankful for it. But I’m sure that’s why Hollywood was predicting it was going to be a big failure precisely because it deviated from form.
Scott: World War Z did well enough they’re going to do a sequel.
Ted: Right, thankfully. I totally dug it. It is that originality, ambition, playfulness with structure, scenes, characters. I feel like that drives me to a movie.
When I was a teenager, I saw many more movies that I was like, what the fuck, that messed with my sense of reality or what would happen next really surprised me. A thing out of the screenwriter or director’s head I could never imagine that was taking me to a unique place.
It’s so rare that I watch a movie now and I don’t feel like I’m ahead of it or I’ve been here before.
Scott: It’s funny you mention that. I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey last night with my 13-year-old son, and it’s just mind-boggling, still to this day.
Ted: We had that experience this year, not with our son, but just watching 2001 together, my wife and I watching it again precisely for that. To feel like, how do we reprogram ourselves so that our heads take us to the unexpected? How would you ever get a movie like 2001 made nowadays?
In Part 4, Ted talks about some of the programs for filmmakers the San Francisco Film Society offers and some clues as to what the future holds in store for him.