Ted Hope, one of the film industry’s most respected figures, has been named executive director of the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS), effective September 1, 2012. In a surprise move, the veteran film producer will embark upon a new chapter in his professional life, leaving New York City, where he produced independent films through his companies Good Machine, This is that corporation and Double Hope Films, to lead the Film Society into the future. - SFFS.
On Demand Weekly's Editor-In-Chief, Britt Bensen spoke to Ted by phone.
Film Festival Spotlight: Ted Hope - San Francisco Film Society’s New Executive Director
Ted Hope discusses film in the Bay Area, scarcity of control and VOD
On Demand Weekly (ODW): Why did you join the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS)?
Ted Hope (TH): The San Francisco International Film Festival is much more than just a film festival. It is the San Francisco Film Society. Other than perhaps Cannes, Venice, Berlin, I don’t think if someone had called me to come work at their film festival I would have done that. I had been impressed with what has happened with the (SF) Film Society over the years under Graham Leggat, from the oldest in the Americas to giving out artist grants and participating in many forms of education.
Graham Leggat (SFFS)
After Graham passed away, they then brought in Bingham Ray who I had collaborated with and admired his rabble-rousing for independent cinema. Meanwhile, for the last 3 – 5 years, I had been climbing up on my soap box saying to folks in the indie film realm, it’s got to change. We have to take charge of what we’re doing. We have to experiment more and broaden the definition of what cinema is and how we create, submit and appreciate it. I started some initiatives on that front, but it’s really slow going.
Bingham Ray (SFFS)
I joked with friends that my profession is independent film producer,
but my hobby is trying to build a better mouse trap of independent films.
How can we make sure that good films get seen? Cause we’re now living in a time that there is no guarantee they will.
When I had my first discussion with SFFS about what I envision as a present day modern day film society to be, they appreciated what I had to say and they asked if I wanted to build it in concert with them. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. How often do you get that mission to work with somebody to build better together? To try to save independent film, help it rise.
Ted Hope (SFFS)
It was about 10 years ago I sold my first company, Good Machine, to Universal. I very much like the idea of big challenges. We aren’t always invited to confront those. It was the right time. I was very receptive to the possibility of the move.
ODW: Where do you see the SF Film Society’s presence in the Bay Area beyond the film festival, including the Sundance Kabuki and the New People’s?
TH: I think it is important to bring year-round programming that is distinct and not available elsewhere. But that is not the only way to serve a community of artists and those who appreciate and support them. I think what has been done at the Kabuki and the New People’s is great, but it’s not a model that is fully working. It’s very hard to program a single screen. It’s also a question of cost and benefit.
New People's (SF)
Can we come up with solutions to bring ambitious, diverse and excellent cinema to the Bay Area?
I can’t claim to begin to say what makes most sense at this time. I need to dig down and speak to the various stake holders and give it a careful look. The festival is in great shape, but trying to figure out the year-round programming compliments is something that needs a much deeper look.
ODW: In the current digital era, do you think a film festival (society) can have a beneficial presence that is not a physical event?
TH: It’s everybody’s responsibility who makes, loves, and earns a living in the film world to look at the challenge that we face: the film business in general is designed around concepts that no longer apply to the world we’re living in. There is the Hollywood system, then the American independent system, that is the most dependent system that one can imagine. I base around the concept of scarcity of control. Can we control an impulse? The scarcity of content, the control of where we access it and the impulse of consumption.
The reality of the world we live in now is one of super abundance, a plethora of great titles generated globally on an annual basis. Some say 50,000 titles. The US is only able to handle 500. It would take the US, the top consumption market in the world, an entire century to consume the annual supply. It’s not something that can be controlled. It’s available everywhere. However you want it. Anytime.
The only reasonable way to deal with it is educated and informed choice. I think that’s what a film society’s goal really is. Not just how we curate the content, but curate the community so they can gather and make known what content most appeals to them. There is a tremendous amount of work the film society can do in that regard for the artist, the investors and those who appreciate it.
Our film culture is entirely market driven.
It requires the creators a level of self-censorship because they want their movies to sell. There is a different way we can start to work to serve the audiences. It opens us up to more diverse subject matter, such as BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. Folks who are looking at the different values the film would bring to the world other than monetary and profit. As a result they made a film that was incredibly distinct and very ambitious and also succeeded in the marketplace Trying to find how we can continue to make that call to action for ambitious, diverse work is what the film society is all about.
ODW: SFIFF is usually in the spring. Is there anything coming up in the meantime?
TH: When I have something I will make sure you know. I have produced a great deal of movies (ex: AMERICAN SPLENDOR) and started a few businesses.
American Splendor (Fine Line)
I like to get things done. And yet in calling around to my friends who run other film festivals in America for advice they say. ‘Ted, be willing to go slow. Don’t make too many changes right away’. And I think that is excellent advice. I want to learn the community and organization. We have a great team already in place. I want to take stock of what we have.
ODW: How do you see VOD changing the film landscape, from film festivals using technology to engage film goers to filmmakers taking non-theatrical distribution deals at film markets?
TH: That's a big question, but we already see the answers starting to unfold. As the lovers of cinema recognize they can access anything anywhere anytime, and the captains of industry in the culture strands accept their business is one of infinite choice, everyone becomes more desperate for the curators and filters that help connect us with what we will enjoy most.
Film culture diversifies further into various event programing that includes both blockbusters and traditional geo-specific festivals, and all the various forms of electronic transmission, both in a solitary passive viewing mode, and in a more social active form. This all access world of super-abundance will increase the value of alternative forms, beyond the feature film, whether they are to maintain engagement or deliver a more immersive experience. I think it can't help but lead artists and those who support them to recognize the value in maintaining ownership of their work and opting for short term licenses to specific platforms.
ODW: What is your favorite on demand platforms to watch films?
TH: I have great breath of tastes when it comes to film and as a result I am not particularly a fan of a la carte pricing. I like the subscription model that can be accessible through all my devices and as result Netflix works best for my needs.
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