Ted concludes his conversation with Go Into The Story, offering up resources for screenwriters, hope for the “creator class” and a call for change.
“I hope to find partners who believe in the mission that the creators and their supporters should be the direct financial beneficiaries of the work they create.” – 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 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:
Scott: I know you’re leaving your position at the San Francisco Film Society, but you wanted to talk about four programs there which filmmakers should know about.
Ted: Right, first they’re just beginning the new calls for the Kenneth Rainin Foundation grants, which is the Society’s flagship grant program. It funds all stages of the filmmaking process, including screenwriting, and has been involved in such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station and Short Term 12.
There is the SFFS / Hearst Screenwriting Grant which is awarded once annually. It’s not huge, fifteen grand, but it’s something. We gave it this year to Alistair Banks Griffin.
Another SFFS screenwriting fellowship is the Djerassi Residency Award. They award it once annually to provide a one month all expenses paid writing retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. I have to say, it’s one of the most beautiful artist colonies I’ve been to in a really gorgeous place. This year’s winner was Lea Nakonechny.
And there’s the “Off The Page” screenwriting workshop where we bring writers, directors, and actors at an early stage in the writing process to collaborate together. That workshop was crucial for Ryan Coogler, who was able to bring both Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz together to workshop the script for Fruitvale Station through that program.
There’s so few ways for writers to get funded outside the market, so I wanted to make sure that your community is aware that these four programs exist here in San Francisco, and they are open to anyone, no matter where you’re from.
Scott: So after your stint at the San Francisco Film Society, what’s next for Ted Hope?
Ted: I do want to produce, but I want to be in a position where I don’t have to do things just to get movies made. I may be a fool, but I want to be in a position where I can say, this is what I believe is best for the movie and we’re going to fight to the end to make sure that happens.
Beyond that, I hope to find partners who believe in the mission that the creators and their supporters should be the direct financial beneficiaries of the work they create, who recognize our business is moving away from the one-off focus, the single product to more of a relationship with a community and a fan base, and how that will affect its creative process.
When we move away from the emphasis on mass-market culture to one of niche communities, we offer for the first time, I think, the opportunity to really develop a class of owner-operators who are responsible for their own I.P. and recognize how to do that in a direct-to-audience, direct-to-community basis.
That is an infrastructure that globally needs help in coming together. I really think it will allow for far greater diversity and greater ambition, creatively speaking, from the creator class. It will mean I’ll get to do less of what I love or think I do particularly well. But I’ll be able to, hopefully, make it better for a lot more filmmakers yet to come or who are currently practicing and struggling to support themselves.
Scott: Here’s my hope. That somebody in Silicon Valley hears your message and hooks up with you, and you have the support and infrastructure to do something like this.
Ted: I hope it happens. I knocked on lots of Hollywood’s doors. I still couldn’t get them. I’m going to do my best. The thing is if you go up against a brick wall, time and time again, occasionally somehow it opens up and lets you through to the other side. Maybe if we keep trying, we’ll hit that.
Note: Subsequent to my interview, Ted accepted the position of CEO at Fandor. In an informative article by Anne Thompson (Indiewire) about the move, Ted had this to say:
“I wanted to engage in total system reboot of the film industry.” Impressed by Fandor’s specialized content, he sees the SVOD service as ”built around a key concept that the film industry needs to embrace: we need to have a vibrant film culture and to make sure that artists and their supporters are direct financial beneficiaries of the work they do.”
As an SVOD platform, Fandor’s curated core business gives half of their subscription revenue, 50 %, to the rights holders. “It’s done on a pro rata basis,” says Hope, “based on the minutes viewed. If you have a short and it’s ten minutes and 100 people watch ten minutes, that’s 1000 minutes calculated overall viewing time. The more subscribers we have and the more work is viewed, the more people benefit. It’s a sensible logic, it’s how it should work.”
Hope also admires Fandor’s film journal Keyframe and looks forward to enhancing social media engagement with sharing the movies they love. “It’s appalling that after 120 years in this experiment of cinema we don’t really utilize as an industry and as a culture movies’ most unique aspect, their ability to evoke a shared emotional response amongst strangers. Film has a unique ability to compel people to talk about it afterward. One of its great strengths is one we have to exploit more fully.”
For Hope, the movie industry at large is an enterprise entrenched in “old world methods, as opposed to the world we live in today. We fail to utilize all the technological changes that have occurred. Previously cinema had to be mass market enterprise, to make films for every audience we can. We can market to niche audiences now, make special interest films. You can see some of this potential in the doc world, where targeting and engagement can impact our ability to call to action within the film viewing experience in a way we haven’t been able to do before.”
Hope remains convinced that of the 50,000 or so titles generated on a global basis a year–and an American market that can only handle from 500-600 theatrical releases–he’s missing out on some of the best of world cinema. “I know I’m not finding the films that are best for me, as well as I might. That is an opportunity for both creators and audiences and the industry. I look forward to helping facilitate the creation of utilization and tools platforms and practices that improve the audience’s return on their investment and engagement. And allows creators and rights holders to maximize that engagement to help them to see in real time, as technology now allows, how people are engaging and what that return on that engagement could be.”
For the rest of the article, go here.
I think I speak for the entire Go Into The Story community in thanking Ted for taking the time for the interview and sharing his thoughts about the movie business. Beyond that, let’s hope Ted can help steer the indie film world into new and more fruitful directions.