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Monday, January 20, 2014

Ted Hope: Storyteller and Film-Producer

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Ted Hope is a storyteller. And he’s gotten good at it. In fact, his stories have been nominated for two Academy Awards and won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize three times. From Producing feature films (21 Grams, American Splendor, The Savages) to Business Ventures (CEO of Fandor), Ted is a natural idea machine. But how does Ted discover, manage, and share all of his curiosity? The answer is Pinterest.

Can you tell us a brief background and how you got started in the film industry as a Producer?

I was always one of the kids in the neighborhood or school who made something happen – be it a pick up game of ball or a prank or a show. My original plan had been to change the world and I first thought politics was the way to do that, but I did not have the patience for it. I moved to NYC and attended NYU Film School the year that the Coen Brothers, Spike Lee, and Jim Jarmusch’s first films were all released – and I knew that was the sort of films I wanted to help make and get appreciated. I worked on a bunch of low budget horror films initially though, working my way up the crew ladder, and at night my friends and I would talk about how to apply those production methods to movies we cared about. From my political days, I knew how to organize folks, and when my apartment building went co-op I organized the tenants to hold out until we got enough money to pay off my student loans & give me enough that allowed me to work cheap on a movie or two. I had the good fortune to meet both the director Hal Hartley (who I went on to produce) and the producer/writer James Schamus (who became my business partner) early on.

You’ve probably read quite a few words on page. What makes your heart beat when you read a script?

Primarily, I want something that is original and ambitious, grounded in emotional truth. I like the experiment over the proof – in that I like to see risks taken and limits pushed. You can tell when the writer is turned on by what they have put on the page, knowing that they have displayed something dangerous. It doesn’t have to “work”, as I have confidence that I can help make that happen. I don’t want the author to play it safe.

How do you stumble upon new creative ideas personally or for your next projects?

I keep myself open to awe, wonder, and mystery. I think about the people, ideas, and things that I love. I find delight in what is very different from me. Curiosity is a muscle and there is nothing better that the wealth of people, stories, images, and films to spark it. I am drawn to the noble failure because when we stumble in execution we are showing others a path to some new place.

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Where do you think story and audiences are heading thanks to new studios and distribution players trying to retain audiences with streaming, episodic content?

When a storytelling platform aims to serve everyone or make the most amount of money possible, I think they make certain sacrifices to do so – and we will suffer for that. Serialized content only recently has elevated itself out of the realm of a cheap drug, and the cliffhanger (bridge between episodes) is the lowest fix. Movies, like some images, have an incredible power to create a shared emotional response amongst strangers from diverse backgrounds. If we can bridge the gap from the emotional power stories generate to the engagement with a community, we can spur people onto incredible impact. Audiences are demanding a greater return on the investment of their engagement (ROIE) and are not content to just passively consume. We want to build new worlds with the things that capture our fascination – and Pinterest does this very well, and I plan to build further upon it on how we interact with film on Fandor.

You’ve worked with a scope of people in a variety of different areas, domestically and internationally. What can you say about the global film community?

Our differences bring us together. I was very fortunate to have one of my early productions be Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet. The film connected with audiences worldwide. Whether people were Chinese, gay, or not, they connected to it deeply. I saw that the more specific we can be, the more universal a work becomes. If we want to grow vibrantly, change, and innovate – we need to bust out of our silos and echo chambers. We’d be fools not to look for ideas and connections from places as far away from ourselves as possible. I just recently became CEO of Fandor, which is a new streaming subscription service for both fans and makers of the widest variety of cinema. Global film culture is under threat. We can not just let those that have the most money and influence be what is available. I am voting with my all my labor, ideas, love, and a great deal of my time and money for a world of diverse and ambitious cinema.

We noticed you’re an active Pinner, especially with various Filmmaking 101 and Film School boards. Do you use Pinterest for educating filmmakers?

My boards are mostly for the film community and not myself. They are collections of things that I admire, have been inspired by, or want to return to – things that have helped me or I think will help others. I try to use my entire collection to give someone a clear idea of who I am and what matters to me. Like me, the boards are constantly evolving and shifting. I think we are all pressed for time these days and when you are a creative person, it is your obligation to be able to give people a quick snapshot of who your really are. My Pinterest boards are a step behind the curtain for anyone who wants a peak.

Recently I have been most excited by the collection of boards I created that are all dubbed “Film School”. I break them down into separate categories like “Film School: Producing” or Film School: Directing” and pin articles that pertain to that subject. Of course, I include a good amount of what I write personally. I tend to visit the homepage of the ones I follow for a quick dip into beauty or inspiration. After I pin something and get the link that connects me to someone who has also pinned that article, I then wade a little deeper into their pool to see what kind of collector they are.

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You probably get hit up constantly for advice. If you can sum up a few words of wisdom for new storytellers looking to follow in your footsteps, what would it be?

Remain in love, work that love, and grow it exponentially. You are a hunter, gatherer, and mad scientist unearthing truth, beauty, and wonder. You are not alone but part of something far greater than you will ever be, and you will be more impactful as the team player than as the hero. Make both for the moment and for all eternity. Think big picture and end game, taking the steps to appreciate the process and the result. Build precise complexity and simple chaos constantly. Take gigantic risks and succeed in your failure most gloriously. Enjoy both the fragility and the permanence, strengthening each.

Thank you Ted for your insight into the film world. If you want to keep up with Ted and sneak a peek into his mind, his new projects, and a glimpse into the entertainment community, check out his Pinterest boards, his blog, Twitter feed, and new role at Fandor.