Ted Hope’s New Job: ‘Saving Independent Film’

"I hope it's not mission impossible," longtime producer Ted Hope says of his new role with the San Francisco Film Society

Veteran independent film producer Ted Hope, who this week announced that he is leaving New York to become executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, told TheWrap that his new bosses gave him a simple directive.

"Basically, they said they wanted to save independent film," said Hope on Thursday. "They made me an offer and gave me a mission that I couldn't refuse.

Jim Spellman/Getty Images"And I'm hoping it's not a mission impossible."

The producer was approached about the job in the wake of the sudden death in January of Bingham Ray, who was himself hired by the SFFS after the death of previous executive director Graham Leggat. 

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Hope has spent the last 30 years in New York as producer of such films as "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Adventureland" and "American Splendor." He has also been an outspoken advocate about the need for change in the world of indie film, particularly its business models.

That role, he said in a conversation light on specifics but long on passion, is one he will be able to indulge more fully with the resources of the SFFS behind him.

"For the last few years, my profession has been production," he said. "But my hobby and my passion has been, 'How do we build a better mousetrap? How do we change the way independent film is made and sold and distributed?'

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"I could only do so much about that on my own. But in San Francisco, they have the oldest film festival in the United States. They spend more than $1 million a year on filmmakers. They have a robust educational program. And they're located in the Bay Area, in a climate of innovation where you have people involved in technology and venture capital.

"How was I supposed to say no?"

His new task – using SFFS resources to help promote new artistic and business models for independent film, while establishing the Bay Area and Silicon Valley as a center for film culture – may indeed seem to be a mission impossible. But Hope insists that history suggests otherwise.

"I have to go back to the mid-'80s, when I came to New York thinking I wanted to make idiosyncratic, highly personal films, without movie stars, for budgets of under $1 million," he said. "There was no model for that at the time, apart from John Cassavetes and maybe John Sayles.

"But I arrived in New York the same year that 'Stranger Than Paradise,' 'Blood Simple' and 'She's Gotta Have It' hit – and still I was told at NYU that there was only one model for making movies, and it was Hollywood. That was wrong then, and it's still wrong."

Over the years, Hope worked with and championed the work of directors Ang Lee, Nicole Holocener and Michel Gondry, among others. His new goal, he said, is to "rebuild the model" and suggest alternatives at a time when independent film is under siege.

"It is the best of times and the worst of times," he said. "Never before has it been cheaper to make and distribute a movie, and never has it been harder to earn a sustainable living doing so. And it doesn't have to be that way.

"More money can be made, better films can be made, and people can have sustainable careers."

Hope officially starts at SFFS on Sept. 1, but he said he will essentially start full time at the Toronto Film Festival, which begins on Sept. 6.

Hope's production company, Double Hope Films, has a number of projects in development. He said he will continue to work on those but will bring in additional collaborators as his focus shifts to SFFS.