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We Love Ted Hope

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by Peter Belsito
July 7, 2013 1:30 PM
3 Comments
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ted hope
Ted is a personal friend, one of the best U.S. (indie) producers (look him up IMDb and be amazed) and the recent newly appointed Executive Director San Francisco Film Society.

The following article from Ted’s website is funny, frightening and, in the end, right on.

He explains rather cogently how the ‘new world’ we are all hurtling into regarding the new, different and constantly changing ways the digital internet world is affecting the cinema watching experience.  His thesis is about the somewhat bizarre ‘studio mentality’ and how ‘they’ are trying to co-opt the new means of connecting with cinema as they exist now and are still (and always will be!!) rising.

And, as he hilariously points out here, how they are trying to kill off the indies (and especially him!! – personally and figuratively) in an hilarious aside…

His conclusion that despite their money, power and demented means ‘they’ will fail and ‘we’ will ultimately win.

Thank you Ted.

They Found A Way To Kill Indie… But….
By Ted Hope
From his Blog HOPE FOR FILM, the Truly Free Film section, July 4th, 2013

Was it for Independence Day specifically that Hollywood wanted to find a way to kill indie? Or is it just a symptom of a greater dis-ease?

Hollywood once was a city of dreams, but they have been making a different bed for some time now — and everyone knows it is draped in spreadsheets.  Yet, as evidenced by some recent statements, they too can still dream, and sometimes even of slaying the beast and recognizing what they really want.

Conspiracies are such a pleasure, because real or imagined, they demonstrate the great lengths we go to to connect the dots and fill in the blanks.  The hard things to remember is not all dots want to be connected and the blanks are so named because nothing is actually there. I got a few notes recently making hay over my name check in WHITE HOUSE DOWN. Apparently, noted conservative James Woods’ character confesses early on something to the effect of “Killing Ted Hope was the second hardest thing I ever had to do.” Yikes, nut jobs have sent death threats before, but did someone have a bone to pick with me — or was it something bigger?

More than a few felt the use of my easy to type seven letter moniker was evidence of a bigger plot.  What were they trying to say?  Yeah, Indie dies hard.  We get that and we have quite a lot of fight still left in us.  And as evidenced by the limp box-office performance of that flick, the public does not appreciate such sacrificial fantasy, even when Channing Tatum gets down to his tank top in the process.

Okay, I haven’t seen the movie, but I do look forward to the plane ride I find myself on that may one day feature it.  Yet, I have had the great pleasure of having a center seat to other sideways attempts to slaughter the indie horde in the past.  My son knows one as the story of how when the little guy stands up to the big man he discovers the love of his life — but for most that tale was called The Screener Ban (and we can save the love story part for a future post).

In 2003, the MPAA convinced The Studios to stop sending out “screeners”.  Jack Valenti, the MPAA head at the time, claimed it was an effort to stymie “piracy”, but it was eventually recognized by the courts to harm competition, particularly of indie films vs. Hollywood product, and particularly in terms of end of the year Oscar campaigns — which where the Indies have consistently triumphed.  Trade organizations can not dictate policy to their members without violating anti-trust law, and there was no argument that it was what happened there in The Screen Ban. It was a difficult effort to organize as many card-carrying indie soldiers feared that if they mounted a court effort, they would be penalized for biting the hand that feeds them. But then nonetheless the true indies rose up, and we won.

The question that remains is why did Jack do it?  Was it really about piracy?  Or was it an early effort to kill hope for (indie) film?  Was it the result of back room strategy session where the big wigs said let’s lasso the long hairs and get ‘em away from our gold?

In my testimony in that court case I mapped out how my livelihood was dependent on producing a consistent level of quality films, that despite low production and marketing budgets had a good chance at Oscar play. The Oscar attention brought the real gift though, and that was the overhead deal.  If one got enough invites to possibly hold that little golden guy, others were willing to risk a few ducats to get to come along to the dance. Without the consistent cash flow of an overhead deal to smooth out the bumps, indie producing was close to an impossible task for those not born of the manor.  The judge understood the chain: Oscar competition gave me a path to participation; without it, indies would struggle to survive.  But the little guy won that round.  Indie could not be killed, at least not yet…

That was then.  This is now.  And there has been a great deal of friction in the in between. The good news is I have borne witness far more often to arrogance and ignorance as the elixir for action, than ever any effort of big picture strategy. Sure that is a humble victory, but at least on our deathbed we can all rejoice that is just our fault, and not the hand of an alien demon.  The bad news came in the whittling away of respect for the producer and the encouragement of quantity over quality.  Indie became infected by a “just get it done” attitude of desperation.  When you are forced to just pay the bills, it becomes hard of dreaming a glorious alternative.

Yet if we’ve learned anything from our diet of Hollywood snacks, it that the best plots come from outside the box.  Let’s toss logic and experience aside as they only lead to base rate neglect.  Let’s dream the big conspiracy; it makes for a better movie and maybe through it we can see a better future.  Let’s say there is a conspiracy by Hollywood to kill off indie. How would that story go?

Let’s say you were a big powerful force, high on your own supply, and your vision grew so blurred that you started to pull a King Lear and not recognize those who truly love and support you as the ally they truly are.  Let’s say you had the ability to see some of the future and you knew it wasn’t pretty. It looked like your control may be threatened, and that the value you hoarded might be losing its luster.  And let’s say that the past had revealed that you had a tendency to underestimate the challenges that you and your kind so often face. You had learned that when  you have a formidable enemy, you can’t just do a half-ass assassination attempt again. So faced with possible extinction, what would you do?  For the sake of ease, let’s just call this character of ours Hollywood. Or perhaps it is The Vast Global Film Industry.

Possibly the two best battle strategies, tried and tested, are either to win with overt and supreme fire power, or to more clandestinely divide and conquer.  And if you were born from a culture that rarely rewarded subtlety or grace, you’d probably pursue the path of pure excess… and try do both.  Which is precisely where find ourselves now in our story.

Let’s look at where we are in this Epic Battle.  DVDs were once akin to the working classes, supplying the army of Hollywood with the necessary fodder of flesh to fuel the juggernaut — predictable revenue making up half the bottom line.  The rich need not enlist as long as there were plenty of “noble young man” ready to sacrifice for the cause, convinced it was an honor and not recognizing they were given little choice.  And like our country’s history of war, Hollywood could use the security the physical disc delivered to draft the cream of the crop into the executive suite — or well-funded set.  The point being that although DVDs were not necessarily as great an equalizer as a military draft, they were predictable and allowed for more diversified slates which in term allowed for some migration from the indie sector into the studio ranks.  And now they are virtually gone.  It is a different battle, fought by unmanned drones.

I think the best stories always make you feel for the other side, and I only wish that the studios cared enough about film culture and our governments cared enough about the people to organize vast conspiracies against them.  Maybe we should see both our government’s spying and  their misbranding of whistle-blowing patriots as agents of espionage as a misguided cry of love and appreciation — they are deciding we the people matter and they are now making greater efforts than ever before to notice us, albeit for all the wrong things.  It’s an interesting riddle though, right? When the big spy is discovered by the little guy and the spy shouts loudly at the little discoverer, “No! You’re the spy — and I won’t let you fly”, how does the story end?  And where does liberty, freedom, opportunity, and solidarity get to stand then?  We are only as good as the stories we tell. Yep, happy true independence day.

I digress, but only to point out IF the bifurcation of film culture into tentpole multi-headed behemoths of brand-delivered insta-global recognition serials on one hand, and the scrappy bands of passionate freedom fighters on the other is the result of Strangelovian strategy to once again gather the most gold, boy have the Titans Of Industry shot themselves in the foot bigtime this time (or at least riddled the face of their closest allies with buckshot).  The White House may be down, but Hope isn’t down. At least not in the true indie sector. As all the wise sages have screamed, Hollywood is imploding. We don’t need to a Deep Throat to tell you it was an inside job.  Sure they are bringing most of us down with them, but someone always learns how to surf the wake.

It’s about standing on the board, seeing the see.  Indie means you don’t need everybody. We have never been free to walk that walk before. We have new weapons, or is it armor? Distribution was a tool of the few, but platforms are op for the many.  Let THEM just go ahead and try to make everyone join hands.  Let THEM yell to the nation and let’s see if they all come along.  There is great business in letting everyone dance to a different drummer.  Make that: there are great businessES.  That is where we all can stand.  That’s our wave to ride. It may look like unruly nature, but chaos is a gloriously ordered thing: step back far enough or leap in deep enough and the fractals are revealed.  You have got to admit they are beautiful.  See the sea for what it is.

The happy ending of the story is we recognize that the more we are connected the more we can be apart.  The great liberation of our age is specialization.  Explosions and implosions all make waves and we need to ride ripples. Let others gamble bucketloads on mindless drivel and we can be free to deliver emotional truth, ambitious artistry, & heartfelt empathy to the few that still hope that there is a good machine that can consistently produce quality and diversity. We know that there is because it is us.

You thought you killed hope but in this damn dream factory we always make sequels. Happy independence day. The battle is just beginning…  And this time it is for the win.


 

 

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3 Comments

  • Brian Kowalchuk | July 7, 2013 11:54 PMReply

    Upon further review, the correct quote is "You're gonna need a bigger boat." 'nuff said.

  • Brian Kowalchuk | July 7, 2013 11:43 PMReply

    I don't think the indie film spirit will ever be broken. It simply cannot break because there are too many stories to tell, too many filmmakers with access to digital film cameras which continue to increase in quality. Nor will the major studio's eye ever stray far from the megabudget deal. It all changed 40 years ago when Roy Scheider uttered those immortal words, "We're gonna need a bigger boat". Hollywood studios have been building bigger boats ever since, and ever shall do so. Just as indie filmmakers will forever point their camera lenses at more unique and personal stories. May the force be with them all. (C'mon, James, be nice to Ted).

  • Jill C Brooke | July 7, 2013 9:57 PMReply

    Some good points but I think the Independence Day that Hollywood tried to "celebrate" with the action-packed "White House Down" and the bloated mess that is "The Lone Ranger" were shot down by some wise-cracking, gun-totin' women ("The Heat") and some gibberish-speaking lab creatures ("Despicable Me 2)! Not that either film could be considered "indies" but for once the American public has spoken with their wallets and they say loud and clear: Give Us Some Variety! Yes, even in the summer!

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