SF Weekly Talks to Ted Hope, Director of the San Francisco Film Society
Our interview with film producer and executive director of the San Francisco Film Society Ted Hope was an extended affair, with Hope providing far more in his substantive responses to our questions than we were able to include in an article of limited length (see that article in this week's print issue).
Therefore, we have included the excerpts from our Q&A below as a supplement. Here, Hope elaborates upon the decision to relocate to San Francisco from New York, and upon the state of the film business at the present transformative moment.
What was your process in deciding to take the position at SFFS?
I had never thought I'd leave New York. I had never thought I'd do anything other than produce. But I think I've lived my life in 10-year plans, and it happened that I had just completed a 10-year plan. I had run the company I founded, Good Machine, for 10 years, and then sold it to Universal. And then I had been an independent producer through three different companies of my own for the last 10 years. Around that period [spring of 2012], I had been doing some self-criticism, taking stock in what I had wrought, and made some determinations. I had pledged to myself to adopt a new way of working
over the last three years, which was to be budget-agnostic, to try to make two films a year that I cared about, and wait for things to shift. I had achieved that goal of getting six movies funded, but they were frequently lower-budgeted films, which meant a) that my fees weren't quite enough to live on, b) because the fees were lower, I couldn't commit as much time to them, so my personal satisfaction was reduced, and c) because the budgets were lower, the imperative that they have the same sort of cultural impact that films with higher costs carry with them was hard to deliver. So I had a realization that it wasn't particularly satisfying, and I was looking for a way to combine all those things that I had been pursuing into something satisfactory to me on a personal level. So, when that call came from the San Francisco Film Society, to me, it was a mandate: "Do you want to save film culture?" It was an offer that I couldn't refuse.
When I first heard about your taking the job, I immediately thought of SFFS's filmmaker support grants -- I assumed it would have been a huge attraction to you.
Yeah, and I think it's a huge attraction to filmmakers. In my conversations with director, writers, producers, cinematographers, when they hear about the granting we've been able to do through the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, when they hear about our FilmHouse program, and when they hear of things I'm looking forward to launching in the near future, they seriously say, "Man, I want to move out there." If we can improve upon the good work that's already being done by the current administration here in San Francisco to make the city a more hospitable place for filming, I think we can look at bringing the entertainment economy into the local area as a major form of support.
You're obviously a fundraiser by profession, but how have you found the transition to fundraising in a nonprofit context? I assume that's a significant part of your role as ED?
I have to say that's been a pleasurable transformation. I think I've raised close to $700 million for film funding over the years, and as much as I'd like to feel like the lion's share of that came from people who believed that the movies that I was making were going to make our world a better place, I think it had a lot more to do with the celebrities I would get them to meet along the way. Not to be cynical, but I think that was quite frequently the main form of barter. Whereas, when I started to speak to people about the legacy of the Film Society and the future I envision for it, that kind of glitz and glamor is a small piece of it. [Donors are] not looking for the kind of attitude that's on display when you watch something like the Oscars. They really are looking, particularly here in San Francisco, for that question of, "How can the organization be the bottle for the finest wine that truly will allow us to do both good and well?" And that's a much more appetizing message for me to be serving up on a daily basis.
I wanted to connect your vision for the SF Film Society to the larger world of the film business as it exists at the moment. There's a bifurcation right now where you have the studios doing things in one particular way, in terms of looking for franchise-oriented projects. And then you have independent filmmakers who are all over the map, trying anything and everything to get their films made and seen. I was wondering if you had any idea how this might all shake out?
It's absolutely that bifurcation into mass-market, tent pole mega-budgets relying on explosions and CGI on the one hand, and then the hordes of passionate amateurs -- and I use that word in the French definition of those who work from their hearts, out of love. With that, you see this incredible surplus -- far more good movies are being made than ever before, and we're having a harder time finding the time to watch them. And with that kind of supply-and-demand economics, some of our most talented artists are struggling to survive. And they find themselves asking, do they need to abandon what they love in order to appease the market gods? You see the fallacy of that approach when you look at something like The Beasts of the Southern Wild or Fruitvale. We need to find ways we can help artists be true to their hearts. I think what that paradigm shift often becomes, is how you help artists and audiences and industry transition to this world of plenty, and the best practices that that requires. It's the shift from making or consuming one movie at a time to one of a creative model focused on a relationship, an ongoing conversation. Not just making something for an audience, but making something that a community can use. And that changes the definition of what we all do. We're not just feature filmmakers. We're creative individuals looking to be generative in our output.
I was just on a panel at SXSW with the director of this short film, Caine's Arcade, which is a marvelous documentary about a kid who builds a cardboard arcade. In addition to getting 9 million views online, they raised $250,000 for this kid's education, and $300,000 to start a foundation focused on the entrepreneurial use of one's imagination.
That film has always been that glue that keeps a community together, that creates empathy where there previously wasn't any. So ... there is a bifurcation and, frankly, it creates a crisis, but one in which I see an opportunity for the Bay Area to embrace the same mandate that I felt I was given in coming here, which is to lift the culture.