This is the second in an ongoing series, Meet The Producers Of Midnight Madness 2010.
Let me introduce you to Ted Hope. He is a producer that has many years of experience in the film industry and he is very generous with the vast knowledge he has acquired throughout his career.
In the late 1980s, American independent film burst on the scene with the promise of new visions, new stories, and new approaches. Ted Hope was among the first producers to emerge from the pack and one of the few today consistently delivering vital and exciting new work. With partner Anne Carey, Hope is the co-founder of New York production company This is That. In six years, This is That has produced seventeen features. A survey of Hope’s work, numbering over fifty films, includes many highlights and breakthroughs of the last two decades. Ted’s films have received numerous awards, including three Academy Award Best Screenplay nominations. He is currently the head of motion pictures for Amazon Studios.
You recently wrote that there are two determining factors on how your films are made: superior quality of the material, and the willingness of the collaborators to make great sacrifices. In regards to Super, could you talk about some of the sacrifices you and your team made to realize the film?
Super was a wonderful example of team work. We communicated our limitations to everyone before they signed on, and with only one exception, everyone recognizes that we were in it together. Indie filmmaking is a demonstration on the interconnectedness of all things. If you go over on the wardrobe budget, it means you can't license the music you want at the end of the day. The cast and crew got this. No one had anything beyond the essentials. We were lean and mean, a rapid Super shooting machine. It was always about the movie and not the perks. The crew had the best housing -- and Miranda, James, and I had the worst.
This isn't the kind of movie that gets made every day and every one indicated that they knew it was a privilege to be part of it. Yet, you can't ask people to do their best work and truly give their all, if such an example of commitment wasn't embraced from the top down. James Gunn's enthusiasm, passion, and preparedness was infectious. He was first to arrive and knew what he wanted. He made his process transparent and was the first to enforce the necessity to move fast. The team organized so well around him that we never had to sacrifice quality.
We have seen most of the studio "independents" fall by the wayside recently. It seems to me the film business is becoming huge studio productions and small DIY films. What is your take on the current state of the film-making business? Do you foresee anyone stepping in to replace medium budgeted productions?
It's true that the middle ground has vanished. I feel fortunate to have been able to work at a time and at a pace that I have been able to establish a track record of quality films produced at limited budgets that deliver profitable results. It is going to be really difficult to create challenging work unless it embraces minimal budgets or utilizes audience appealing genres. It is really surprising to me that there are not more companies committed to the space that once was occupied by the likes of New Line & Dimension.
With the polarities of content and budget prominent in the industry today, actors are struggling to find roles that allow them to truly create unique characters in unique situations. It is the best time to cast challenging material that I have ever experienced. Good actors need good work. I have been really impressed with the quality of actor-centric genre films from all over the globe this past year, from MOON to HOUSE OF THE DEVIL to THE SQUARE to THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED to THE PROPHET to ANIMAL KINGDOM. These are awesome films with real audience appeal, albeit not at the largest numbers but at defined, easy to reach, internationally appealing strands. There is good business to be done, and new technologies to deliver it. Once folks on all sides realize where we really are right now, audiences are going to experience a golden age of great work.
You have also written that "being a film producer requires abandoning the concept that you work for a living." Could you elaborate on this?
I was very fortunate to start producing when I did in the late '80s. The business had changed and the mainstream infrastructure failed to acknowledge it for almost a decade. I benefited for fifteen years by that oversight. The film business has changed again, but our methods, models, and work still is based on practices of many years ago. We are not living and working in the present. Our work currently is not able to extract it's full value from utilizing the current practices and platforms.
Because film is currently a capital intensive growth-focused industry, we will forever be experiencing boom and bust cycles, and the tragedies that come with it. Those that have the capital generally establish footholds and gates that allow to maximize earnings from the labor and art of others -- they take the risk and reap the benefits as a result, or at least that's the structure of the world we work in. Creators and artists are first concerned with getting their work made; this desire makes them vulnerable and they are exploited.
Early on, I was asked whether I was a filmmaker or a businessman. I thought I could be both, but when you care first and foremost about your film, you are willing to make great sacrifices to get your movie made. I work to get my movies made -- and still can earn a living doing that. IMHO, movies are too hard to make well to make anything other than what you care about. Once you reveal you care, you are open to being exploited, even by your partners. Even if I am not being fairly compensated, I am still happy to be able to support myself and all the others I employ, by working at creating movies I am passionate about. I would shoot myself if I had to create the crap that is generally passed off as entertainment these days, but you can earn a living producing it! At least, I still have that choice!
This Interview first appeared 09/08/10 on the TIFF Midnight Madness Blog