Video: TIFF 2001 Moguls Talk With Ted Hope (aka Me)

At the Toronto International Film Festival this year I had the privilege of being asked to partake in their "Moguls" talk. Anthony Kaufman interviewed me. I think I set a record taking up the first sixteen minutes or so with my first answer. Granted it was about how MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and DARK HORSE came together, and neither one was a simple story -- but then never are, are they? Well, it does boil down in each instance to making the movie for less than what the apparent value is, but that's the film business today, isn't it?

Just in case you are wondering, the class that I mention isn't happening when I said it was. It's happening soon though, and we will announce it sooner.

I talk about SUPER around the 35 minute mark. 41 Min: budget agnostic, genre agnostic, medium agnostic, platform agnostic. First and foremost, I want.... 42 Min: What makes a good film? 43 Min: When I was falling in love with my wife Vanessa... 44 Min: That list is this one. 45:50 Reverse engineering of Film 46:45 How can film mirror free will? 47:30 The End Of The Auteur Era Of Film 54:30 "Making Independent Films is a crime." 57:20 "There's never been a better time to shoot celluloid than there is today." 58:10 "Independent Film is a luxury good."

If you want to help me index this further, I would appreciate it.

I Don't Do Panels. I Do Do Panels. I Am Doing A Lot Of Panels! What Am I Doing?

I don't like panels. They can never be conversations. They are usually five people pushing separate agendas that have no relation to what the audience is looking to learn. I like discussions. Two, maybe three participants is best. It was just me & Anthony Kaufman in Toronto. I happily moderate panels though, when it is an issue, film, or organization I care about. And sometimes I break my own rules. This weekend I am doing one panel and one conversation. I hope you will come. I may start enforcing my rules after this.

Tomorrow I am participating in " Co-Production Strategies: Identifying and Negotiating US and International Partnerships" at the Film Finance Forum / East. Get tickets here. "This session will address how to identify the right partners and locations for enhanced incentives, work out financial structuring, distribution territories, agreements, and accounting practices, among many other issues when working on co-productions in the current environment."

Moderator: Jeff Begun, Production Executive, The Incentives Office Panelists: Ted Hope, Producer, Double Hope Films Randall Emmett, Co-Chair, Emmett/Furla Films Harris Tulchin, Owner, Harris Tulchin & Associates Pat Swinney Kaufman, Executive Director, New York State Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development Lloyd Kaufman, President, Troma Entertainment

On Sunday, I am participating in IFP's Independent Film Week in "The Hot Button: Is Indie Filmmaking A Career Or A Hobby?" My fellow participants are Scott Macauley and Mynette Louie. The blurb explains: "As production budgets contract and sales struggle to rebound, is it possible to make a career of independent filmmaking? Join the debate on the sustainability of the industry." Get tickets here.

Video: Christine Vachon Does A Good Ted Hope Impression

Christine Vachon recently had a talk with Anthony Kaufman at the NewFest Visionary Award presentation and had many interesting things to say about her career, producing, and indie film -- all that plus a lovely impression of yours truly.

The interview is a wealth of good advice. Add this video to your film school curriculum. Scott Macauley has selected some of his favorite quotes for you. And IW's own, Anthony Kaufman -- who moderated the event, gave a nice brief of the discussion, here.

Anthony Kaufman's MUST READ New Blog: Reel Politik

I have long felt the indie film community has needed someone to write regularly and call attention the various issues that both effect our life as filmmakers, and how film, in all its various forms, effect our life as citizens, societies, and individuals. What an awesome gift for us all that Anthony Kaufman has taken it upon himself to do this. His first post from his re-booted blog, REEL POLITIK, lays out the manifesto:

Anthony Kaufman’s ReelPolitik
Why relaunch my blog with a specific emphasis on film and politics?

Inspired by such declarations of purpose as Dogme 95, the Oberhausen Manifesto, Dziga Vertov’s We: Variant of a Manifesto and Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles,” I’d like to outline my reasons below in a little manifesto. I’ve always liked such proclamations. Pretentious and polemical, sure. But they’re also passionate and alive.

So here are 6 reasons for ReelPolitik’s being:

1. Because over the next 16 months, we will enter a contentious period of political skulduggery, with lies, distortions, and propaganda from both the right and the left. And filmmakers, film lovers and the film community need more places to exchange ideas, vent, and respond to the political-ideological formations of that mass entertainment machine known as the movies. As a community, we must also remember that there’s strength in numbers, and if we don’t want the country (and the world) to go to hell, we must stay politically involved.

2. Because we have lost sight of what film can do.

Read the rest here.

Sundance Sale Dissection: Septien

Today's guest post is from attorney and sales rep George Rush.  It is part one of two. George handled the sale of Michael Tully's Septian to IFC's Sundance Selects. I have worked as a lawyer or a producer’s rep on hundreds of films over the years, and this experience has made me quite skeptical about the business model for independent producers.  The business is worse than it has been historically, but it is still the same very basic model.  You produce a film, a distributor exploits those rights.  You are good at creating content, they are good at marketing.  Hopefully those two things come together to benefit both parties.

I’m a hyper skeptic of producers essentially acting as their own distributors because generally they aren’t strong in both skill sets, and thus something usually suffers.  So I usually assume a producer is good at producing, and try to leave it at that.

Most of what I work on is low budget films with few if any stars.  Ten years ago, I considered a low budget film under two million dollars.  Today, I consider it under $500,000 and believe if you do something for a larger budget without a truly bankable cast, you are being reckless with your budget.

The distribution business has become tougher and they are paying less for content, and thus budgets go down correspondingly.  So how can you make something quality for under $500K—most people fail at this effort and there is a glut of so so films that just can’t compete with larger budgeted film—they are clearly inferior.  Indeed, most festival films in this budget range will never see the light of day beyond the festivals.  However, I don’t know how, but some people do.  It takes an extremely resourceful producer and director who is willing to take some chances to pull it off.

Enter Michael Tully’s Septien.  I hadn’t met Michael before, but I was somewhat familiar with him from Hammer to Nail.  He called me up and said he had a fucked up film that got into Sundance Midnight section.  As I listened to him, it didn’t sound like a genre film, but something that defied categorization.  He sent me a screener, and I really had no expectation when I popped it in.

I had worked on plenty of fucked up films, but most were weird for the sake of being weird and really didn’t have a life beyond a slender contrarian audience.  So I watched Michael’s film and it was fucked up, but it wasn’t weird for the sake of being weird.  There was something strange, unsettling, and wholly original about it.  I watched it again, and I was sold.  I loved it.

I lack a poker face, so I’ve found that trying to sell a film I didn’t like was pretty clear to the buyers.   I only rep a film if I am actually into it, and I loved this one. So I was in, but the film had challenges.  The first was how to characterize this film in a nutshell and who the audience was.  The film did not fit neatly into box.

I came up with a lot of ways to describe Septien -- but my refernces often veered into more obscure things like Dogtooth and Henry Darger.  Cool things for sure, but not exactly elements that scream big audience.  I also felt like the audience would be cool indie kids and would build buzz from there.  I know distributors have a difficult time reaching audiences under 30.  That audience is accustomed to watching things digitally for free.  Our challenges for the film are the indie audience skews older (my parents love The King’s Speech), and that for a distributor, this film would be as hard to market as it was for me to describe.

What to do?  Check back tomorrow for part two.

For another angle on why 38 Films -- Some dark -- Sold At Sundance 2011, check out Anthony Kaufman's article here.

George Rush is an entertainment attorney and producer’s rep in San Francisco.

AMERICA'S LEADING FILMMAKERS CALL FOR RELEASE OF IMPRISONED IRANIAN DIRECTOR JAFAR PANAHI

I am so heartened by this action. These filmmakers are all real leaders. I love that they have spoken up for artists' right of freedom of expression on a worldwide basis. We enjoy tremendous freedom here in the USA, but until that is shared by everyone, none of us can truly be free. We must be united in preserving this right for all. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Bros., Jim Jarmusch, Michael Moore, Ang Lee, Robert De Niro, and Oliver Stone, among other leading film industry figures, have condemned the detention of Jafar Panahi, the acclaimed director of "The White Balloon" and "Offside," and are urging the Iranian government to release him

New York, NY (April 30, 2010) – Jafar Panahi, an internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1st and has been held since in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. A number of filmmaking luminaries have come to Mr. Panahi's defense and "condemn his detention and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately," according to a new petition. (Petition text and full list of signatories is available below.)

Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with “unspecified crimes.” They have since reversed themselves, and the charges now allege that he was making a film against the regime, a very serious accusation in Iran.

Mr. Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has been kept from working for the past four years, but he continues to stay in Iran.

"Mr. Panahi deeply loves his country," says Jamsheed Akrami, an Iranian-American film scholar and filmmaker, who helped organize the petition. "Even though he knows he could have opportunities to work freely outside of his homeland, he has repeatedly refused to leave. He would never do anything against the national interests of his country and his people."

Mr. Panahi is one of the most heralded directors in the world. He has won such top prizes as the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for Offside (2006), the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Crimson Gold (2003), the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for The Circle (2000), the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival for The Mirror (1997) and the Cannes Camera d'Or for The White Balloon (1995).

PETITION: Free Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1st in a raid by plain-clothed security forces. He has been held since then in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

A recent letter from Mr. Panahi’s wife expressed her deep concerns about her husband's heart condition, and about his having been moved to a smaller cell. Mr. Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has effectively been kept from working for the past four years. Last October, his passport was confiscated and he was banned from leaving the country. Upon his arrest, Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with “unspecified crimes.” They have since reversed themselves, and the charges are now specifically related to his work as a filmmaker.

We (the undersigned) stand in solidarity with a fellow filmmaker, condemn this detention, and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately.

Iran’s contributions to international cinema have been rightfully heralded, and encouraged those of us outside the country to respect and cherish its people and their stories. Like artists everywhere, Iran’s filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed, and imprisoned.

Signed:

Paul Thomas Anderson Joel & Ethan Coen Francis Ford Coppola Jonathan Demme Robert De Niro Curtis Hanson Jim Jarmusch Ang Lee Richard Linklater Terrence Malick Michael Moore Robert Redford Martin Scorsese James Schamus Paul Schrader Steven Soderbergh Steven Spielberg Oliver Stone Frederick Wiseman

Petition Organizing Committee: Jamsheed Akrami, Godfrey Cheshire, Jem Cohen, Kent Jones, Anthony Kaufman

I am delighted that I was able to help in securing some of the directors' participation that the Organizing Committee had selected.  The prompt response and eagerness to help that I encountered from both the individual directors and their companies was truly inspiring.

Maybe New Eating Old Isn't Such A Good Diet...

On his Indiewire blog, Anthony Kaufman made the kind of observation I love: simple, right before us all, but ignored time and time again by the mainstream.  His point is that all the corporate acquisitions of art film companies have only led to disaster, and maybe this extends to old school media companies too.  The problem seems accentuated when it is an entity with new media dreams that acquires the traditional media company; what once worked with steady cash flow limps its way into non-existence.

There was a faint echo of this in the NY Times recent article on the difference between Hollywood and Silicon Valley cultures.  The necessary change from a salary mentality to an ownership one is not the easiest transition.  I have repeatedly been surprised by how few producers even are willing to take true entrepreneurial approach to production.  Sure we slave without fees for years on development, but when the time comes to go forward most remain strictly fee based.  Sure, I can't consider a back-end weighted deal when I need to pay my bills, but when that's not the case, I can get more creative.
History has shown repeatedly that Hollywood, and even the movie industry in general, just don't get new media.  Remember Pop.com? Before there was YouTube, there was Pop.com. It had it all: Dreamworks, John Sloss, Eddie Murphy, & Steve Martin. Here's Business Week's 9/25/2000 article on why they failed. Take a trip down memory lane here.
Frankly it's also looking like new media doesn't get the movie industry.  To me it comes down to the fact that film viewing is not a passive experience.  It is a collective community experience.  It is the aspects of community & collectivity that new media has to enhance when entering the film world.  And it is these very same aspects that we have to bring back to traditional cinema for it to grow vital again.  Ten years of impulse viewing and mass-market sell has destroyed the indie film culture.  We have to focus on developing audiences' informed decision making behavior and the aspects that extend film culture beyond the simple viewing process.