One of the pivotal figures of independent filmmaking during the fertile period of the 1990s and 2000s, Ted Hope has produced films by auteurs including Ang Lee, Nicole Holofcener, Todd Solondz, Todd Haynes, Bart Freundlich, Todd Fields and Michel Gondry. Last year, he wrote he would no longer depend on producing to make a living, but he remains passionate about creating, and about helping the indie movie business model evolve. “I want to make films that lift the world and our culture higher — and our current way of doing things does just the opposite,” he wrote at the time. After serving for a year as director of the San Francisco Film Festival, he became CEO of San Francisco-based Fandor, an online subscription film service. “Hope for Film” grew out of his writing on his longtime blog.
Why were the 1990s such a fertile period for indies?
It was clear people were hungry for a more accessible but still ambitious form of international cinema. We kept the auteur, but also learned to listen to the audience.
What defined the independent business when you got involved in it?
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The pivotal moment for me was Ang Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet.” No foreign sales agents knew how to market a movie about gay and Chinese subjects. But the international market was taking off, and we realized there were two arthouse distributors in every major territory that would compete to buy a film that they knew would eventually get U.S. distribution based on our track record. We realized this was the indie business: foreign sales. From ‘The Wedding Banquet” we knew we had to enter it. It took us two years to woo David Linde, but then we did.
How can new tools and more platforms help filmmakers?
They allow for new subject matter and approaches. You no longer have to make movies for mass audiences.
Almost 20 years ago in Filmmaker magazine, you predicted great opportunities for movies on the Internet. Despite some VOD successes, we still haven’t really seen that breakthrough title.
The challenge is creating urgency. The promise of the Internet is achieved by combining connectivity with consumption. Nobody has cracked the next stage, where online cinema becomes its own thing.
How does the new reality for independents differ from the traditional theatrical model?
We’re going from a place of scarcity to one of abundance. It’s not about focusing on a few titles. The business has shifted more than people are willing to admit.