Ted Hope has become celebrated in recent years more so as an authority on the paradigm shift in the independent film industry than for the films he has produced. This observation speaks more to the consistency, relevance and poignancy of his rhetoric, rather than any shortcomings with regard to his films. But when announcing the launch of the Artist to Entrepreneur (A2E) labs at the San Francisco Film Society—where Hope is the new executive director—earlier this month, he said, “I’m tired of talking.”
The product of his verbal fatigue has been the deservedly well-documented A2E direct distribution labs, the first manifestations of which ran May 2-5 alongside the San Francisco International Film Festival. The festival and the labs kicked off with an equally publicized State of Cinema address by Steven Soderbergh. In the months leading up to the address, Hope solicited suggestions of who should speak from his social media network and blog readership. When the decision was made to invite Soderbergh, Hope emailed the now legendary director—who once wrote Hope a check for one of his early films off a cold ask—and reportedly received a two-word reply: “I’m in.” Soderbergh didn’t ask anything in return for his appearance. No flight, no hotel, not even dinner.
Soderbergh’s generosity reflects the philosophical camaraderie shared between two men, and in turn a nation of frustrated filmmakers. This philosophy explains the flawed logic of the current infrastructure and culture of film, which is currently based on an economy of “scarcity of content, centralized control of that content, and ability to focus the majority of consumers to that content.” Although these are Hope’s words, Soderbergh’s speech traced a similar theme, his overall sentiment that cinema is under attack by the studio system (i.e. centralized controllers of content).
A Legacy of Independent Film
Hope alludes to this economy in his list 17 Things to Know about the Broken Film Industry. He would know a thing or two about making films outside the studio system. His resume includes 23 Sundance entries and 18 productions of first time feature filmmakers. These include the first features of Ang Lee, Nicole Holofcener, and Michel Gondry among others.
Perhaps one of Hope’s most enduring accomplishments is his hand in the genesis of Focus Features, which is one of the few specialty divisions that remains at a major studio. Others like Picturehouse, Miramax, and Warner Independent either dissolved or were folded back into their parent studio around 2008.
In 1990, Hope and James Schamus founded Good Machine, an independent film production company based in New York. Good Machine went on to produce Ang Lee’s early films including Academy Award nominees THE WEDDING BANQUET and EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN. Hope was executive producer of IN THE BEDROOM, nominated for five Academy Awards.
Hope and Schamus eventually brought in David Linde to start a foreign sales arm of Good Machine. In 2001, they sold the company to Universal. Schamus and Linde stayed on and merged with a sales company to create Focus Features.
Focus has since been greatly responsible for many modern independent film classics such as THE PIANIST, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, 21 GRAMS and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Several of these films were produced by the production company Hope started following Good Machine called This Is That. In recent years, the Lone Star Film Society has screened several films released or produced by Focus Features and/or Ted Hope, including THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, ADVENTURELAND, PARIAH, THE COLLABORATOR and HYDE PARK ON HUDSON.
Ted Hope’s many incarnations in film have helped define the independent industry over the last 20 years. His new role guiding one of the oldest film culture organizations in the country seems an ideal environment in which to build upon his already impressive legacy. If the reported energy in the room at the A2E labs is any indication, it’s a legacy that should endure for some time.
This post is part of the LSFS B1ST marketing and distribution mentorship program. By supporting filmmakers through one of the most difficult phases of filmmaking, marketing and distribution, the LSFS seeks to facilitate the development of a more sustainable independent film industry.