Back to IndieWire

FIRST PERSON | Ted Hope: How The New Truly Free Filmmaking Community Will Rise From Indie’s Ashes

FIRST PERSON | Ted Hope: How The New Truly Free Filmmaking Community Will Rise From Indie's Ashes

This morning, Saturday September 27th in Los Angeles, producer Ted Hope gave the keynote speech at Film Independent‘s Filmmaker Forum “There is no crisis,” Hope proclaimed in his opening comments. How can there be a “Death Of Indie” when Indie — real Indie, True Indie — has yet to even live?” he asks. Creativity is not a victim of a distribution meltdown. Hope notes that the moment when the constraints of traditional models are changed for the collective good is now. His complete prepared remarks, as delivered to indieWIRE today, are included below.

How The New Truly Free Filmmaking Community Will Rise From Indie’s Ashes

I can’t talk about the “crisis” of the indie film industry. There is no crisis. The country is in crisis. The economy is in crisis. We, the filmmakers, aren’t in crisis.

The business is changing, but for us — us who are called Indie Filmmakers — that’s good that the business is changing. Filmmaking is an incredible priviledge and we need to accept it as such — and accept the full responsibility that comes with that priviledge.

The proclamations of Indie Film’s demise are grossly exaggerated. How can there be a “Death Of Indie” when Indie — real Indie, True Indie — has yet to even live?

Yes, there’s a profound paradigm shift, and that shift is the coming of true independence. The hope of this new independence is being threatened even before it has arrived. Are we going to fight for our independence and can we even shoulder the responsibility that independence requires? That is: will we band together and work for our communal needs? Are we ready to leave dreams of stardom and wealth behind us?

When someone says “Indie is dead,” they are talking about the state of the ‘Indie Film Business,’ as opposed to what are actually the films themselves. They can say “The sky is falling” because for the last fifteen years, the existing power base in the film industry has focused on films fit for the exisiting business model, as opposed to ever truly concentrating on creating a business model for the films that filmmakers want to make.

We invite you to share your thoughts, ideas and feedback at the end of this article.

This is where we are right now: on the verge of a TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE, one that is driven by both the creators and the audiences, pulled down by the audience and not pushed onto them by those that control the apparatus and the supply. We now have the power and the tool for something different, but will we fight to preserve the Internet, the tool that offers us our new freedom? Can we banish the the dream of golden distribution deals, and move away from asking others to distribute and market it for us? Can we accept that being a filmmaker means taking responsibility for your films, the primary responsibility, all the way through the process? That is independence and that is freedom

Indie, True Indie, is in its infancy. The popular term “Indie” is a distortion, growing out of our communal laziness and complacency – our willingness to be marketed blandly and not specifically. Our culture is vast and diverse, and we need to celebrate these differences, not diminish them. It’s time to put that term “Indie” to rest.

Independence is within our reach, but we but we have to do what we have never done before: we have to choose.

It’s a lot like the Presidential election. And it’s also a lot like the way psychotherapy works: we have to ask ourselves if the pain we are experiencing presently is enough to motivate us to overcome the fear inherent in change itself.

We have to change our behavior and make that choice. We have to choose the type of culture we want. We have to choose the type of films we want available to us. We have to choose whether the Internet is ours or the corporations. We have to choose whether we decide for ourselves whether a film is worthwhile or whether we let those same corporations decide. We have to choose who our audiences are and how we are to reach them. We have to choose how we can all best contribute to this new system. And as we act on those choices, we have to get others to make a choice too.

For the last fifteen years our Community has made huge strides at demystifying the production process and providing access to the financing and distribution gatekeepers. Some call this democratization, but it is not. This demystification of production was a great first step, but it is not the whole shebang. In some ways, understanding the great behemoth that is production is also a distraction. It has distracted us from making really good films. And as it has distracted us from gaining the knowledge and seizing the power that is available to us. We have learned how to make films and how to bring them to market. We now have to demystify how to market and distribute films, and to do it in a way truly suited to the films we are making and desire to make.

Don’t get me wrong the last fifteen years have been great. The Indie Period – as I suspect history will call it — has brought us a far more diverse array of films than we had previously. It got better; we got more – but that is still not freedom. We are still in a damn similar place to the way it was back when cinema was invented 100 years ago. And it’s time we moved to a new term, to the period of a Truly Free Film Culture.

If we want the freedom to tell the stories we want to tell, we all have to start to contribute to build the infrastructure that can support them. We need to step back from the glamour of making all these films, and instead help each other build the links, articulate the message, make the commitments, that will turn us truly into a Truly Free Film community. We have to stop making so many films.

The work before us is a major readjustment that will require many sacrifices. We must redesign the business structure for what the films actually are. We have to recognize that a Truly Free Film Culture is quite different from Studio Films and even different from the prestige film that the specialized distributors make. But look at what we gain: we will stop self-censoring our work to fit a business model that was appropriated from Hollywood and their mass market films to begin with. We will reach out to the audiences that are hungry for something new, for something truthful, for something about the world they experience, for something that is as complex as the emotions they feel. We can let them guide us because for the first time we can have real access and contact with them.

Presently, we are divided and conquered by a system that preys upon our dreams of success, encouraging us to squander collective progress on false hopes on personal enrichment. We follow the herd and only lead reluctantly. If we want Truly Free Films we have to stop dreaming of wealth, and take the job of building the community and support system.

For the last decade and a half, we have been myopically focused on production. Using Sundance submissions as a barometer, our production ability has increased eight and half times over — 850% — from 400 to 3600 films in fifteen years.

C’mon! What are we doing? Wasting a tremendous amount of energy, talent, and brainpower – that much is clear. If the average budget of Sundance submissions is $500K, that means the aggregate production costs are $1.8 billion dollars a year. That’s a hell of a lot of money to lose annually. And you can bet the Indie World isn’t going to get a government bail out like Wall Street and the Banking Industry have.

We need to recognize the responsibility of telling unique stories in unique ways. We are frequently innovators and groundbreakers, but that brings additional responsibilities. Working at the intersection of art and commerce, requires consideration for those that come after us. It is our responsibility to do all within our power to deliver a positive financial return. If we lose money, it will be a lot harder for those that follow us. With a debt of $1.8 billion per annum you can bet it will be a lot harder for a lot of people. And it should be – but it didn’t need to be.

We don’t get better films or build audiences by picking up cameras. Despite this huge boom in production, the number of truly talented uniquely voiced auteurs produced annually remains unchanged. What’s happened instead is the infrastructure has rusted, the industry has failed to innovate, and we are standing on a precipice begging the giant to banish us into oblivion.

There is a silver lining too this dark cloud of over production that they like to call The Glut. As a young man I never found peace until I moved to New York City; the calm I found in New York, is explained by a line of Woody Allen’s: “in New York, you always know what you are missing”. What’s great about a surplus of options – and we have that now, and not just from movies, but from the web, from books, from shows – what’s great is that you have to make a choice. You have to commit. And you have to commit in advance.

The business model of the current entertainment industry is predicated on consumers not making choices but acting on impulses. Choice comes from research, from knowledge, and from tastes. Speak to someone from Netflix, and they will tell you that the longer someone is a member, the more their tastes move to auteurs, to quality film. Once we all wake up and realize that with films, as frankly with everything, we have to be thoughtful. We have to make it a choice, a choice for, and not an impulse.

We are now in a cultural war and not just the red state/blue state, participate vs. obey kind, not just the kind of cultural war that politicians seem to want to break this country down to. We are in a culture war in terms of what we get to see, enjoy and make. The Lovers Of Cinema have been losing this war because the Makers have invested in a dream of Prince Charming, content to have him sweep down, pick us up and sing that rags to riches refrain even if it comes but once a year to one lucky filmmaker out of 3,600.

So what is this TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE I am proposing? It is one that utilizes first and foremost the remarkable tool that is The Internet. It is the Internet that transforms the culture business from a business that is based around limited supply and the rule of gatekeepers to a business that around the fulfillment of all audience desire, and not just the desire of mass audiences, but also of the niches.

We have never had this sort opportunity before and the great tragedy is that just as we are learning what it means, forces are vying to take it away from us. The principal that all information, all creators, all audiences should be treated equally within the structure that is the Internet is popularly referred to as Net Neutrality. The Telecos, the Cable Companies, and their great ally, the Hollywood Motion Picture Studios and the MPAA are now trying to end that equality. And with it you will lose the opportunity to be TRULY FREE FILMMAKERS. But they are not going to succeed because we are going to band together and organize, we are going to save the Internet, and keep equal access for all.

A TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE will respect the audience’s needs and desires as much as it currently respects the filmmakers. A TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE recognizes film as a dialogue and recognizes that a dialogue requires a community. Participants in a TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE work to participate in that community, work to get others to participate in that community. We work to get others to make a choice, to make a choice about what they want to do, what they want to see. We all become curators. We all promote the films we love. We reach out and mobilize others to vote with their feet, vote with their eyes, and vote with their dollars, to not act on impulses, but on knowledge and experience.

A TRULY FREE FILMMAKER — be they producer or director — recognizes their responsibility is not just to find a good script, not just to find a good cast, a good package. A TRULY FREE FILMMAKER recognizes that they must do more than find the funding, and even more than justifying that funding. The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER now recognizes their responsibility to also find the audience, grow the audience, expand the audience, and then also to move the audience, not just emotionally, but also literally: to move them onwards further to other things. Whether it is by direct contact, email blasts, or blogging, whatever it is, express what you want our culture to be.

The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER also recognizes that knowledge is power, and not ownership. The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER recognizes that others, as many others as possible, sharing in that knowledge will make everything better: the films, the apparatus, the business, and the just plain pleasure of participating. We are walking into new territory and we best map it out together.

The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER is no longer bound to just the 5 or 6 reel length. The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER is no longer bound to projection as the primary audience platform and is not stuck on the one film one theater one week type of release. The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER recognizes that just because there is no user term, no audience term, no consumer term for the cohesive cross-platform immersive experience, does not mean that we don’t want that. A child understands that when you say “Pokemon” you mean not just the films, or tv shows, but also the cards, the games, the figures, the books. And a child understands that when you say “Brand Management” or “Franchise” you are just looking for ways to separate you from your wallet. We need to define that term to help the audience recognize what it is they want, what it is that we now can create, own, and distribute independently.

It is this thing that we once called the Independent Community that is the sector that truly innovates. The lower cost of our creations allows for greater risks. It is what we used to call “indies” that have innovated on a technical level, on a content level, on a story telling approach, and it is this, the TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE that will innovate still further in the future of distribution.

With the passion that produces 3600 films a year, with just a portion of those resources, we can build a new infrastructure that opens up new audiences, new models, new revenue streams that can build a true alternative to the mainstream culture that has been force fed us for years. We are on the verge of truly opening up what can be told, how it is told, to whom it is told, and where is told. We can seize it, but it requires that we embrace the full responsibility of what independence means.

Independence requires knowing your film inside and out. Knowing not just what you are choosing to do, but what you have chosen not to do. Independence comes with knowing that you have fully considered all your options. It is knowing your audience, knowing how to reach them – and not abstractly, but concretely. Let’s make the next ten years about seizing our independence, killing “indie” film, and bringing forth a Truly Free Film Culture.

Thank you.

Ted Hope


Ted Hope has produced over 50 independent films. He takes particular joy in first features, having produced 14 of them. His extensive list of credits includes, “The Savages,” “American Splendor,” “21 Grams,” “Lovely & Amazing,” “Human Nature,” and “Happiness.”

indieWIRE readers are invited to share their feedback with Ted Hope and the film community at the end of this article.

This Article is related to: Uncategorized


Alby James

Excellent speech. Ted Hope is saying something that we all need to hear. I think that many in the indie sector in the film business have let the desire for a nice lifestyle take over from the desire to find the great writer and director whose passion and vision and view of the world is the real motive for making a film. More has not meant better, as Ted Hope says, but, thank God, those filmmakers who are driven by passion and an individual voice have still been able to make films and these are the ones we seek out each year. And it's great that we now have some great speciality film VOD services where such films are made more frequently available.


I think Ted Hope is spot on..I completely agree about making less films..there is such a glut of films and people wanting to make them that we are living in this Glut and the audiences are tuning out. Hope is on the horizon and it might just be the vision of Ted Hope


Big fan of Ted Hope; I agree with most of this, the good news is that new audiences for INDIE films, as well as the studio system flicks are merging with the help of the internet;

‘audience tend to care less about where the story generates from and this is actually a win win for smaller niche market films in terms of finding their perspective audiences.


BRAVO! Very inspiring speech. I touched on this in my recent blog. I call it the “Kevin Smith syndrome” check it out:


I appreciate this overview of the state of the indie film world right now as it highlights the very struggle many of us independent producers have — getting our films noticed. Ted is right to point out that it’s our audience that holds the secret to our success as independent filmmakers. We spend years developing projects, attaching the right talent, finding the investors who will support our specific project, making the film, finishing it and releasing it to the world — only to find that the support system isn’t there for the film to reach its audience. We can’t just rely on our producer reps, sales agents or distributors to find our audience. We have to build it ourselves. We need to build our audience as a community and service it — tell stories that entertain and excite this community — because in the end they are the ones that will pay our investors back and keep us solvent in order to do what we do best: storytelling. If the audience is given as much thought as the script and production and financing then I think we will be moving toward this Truly Free Film Culture.

Jane Kosek

Wonder Ent.


>New ways : check it out


Is cinema dead?

What is cinema in the age of globalization?

Why can’t a greater public see the many films that play mainly in film festivals?

Like the music business, is the film business broken?

Where will movies play in the future?

Do we need a new cinema?

Is the Internet the venue for a new kind of movie?

Many questions have steered me to create:

{+ }

On September 29th a new kind of documentary is launched on the Internet and for one year, every Monday, new film chapters of varying lengths, will be posted online.

Every film chapter, in and of itself, is a short documentary but when viewed together, whether chronologically or in arbitrary sequences, tell a story. They can be viewed in any order. These are not viral videos or news reports. This is a new cinema narrative technique and the Internet is the only way to tell this story. This presents a new way to watch a film.

This is a new kind of cinema in a new venue, a cinema free of television and corporate production restraints. It rips away the walls corporations have erected between the audience and artists, an experimental cinema, sorely lacking in the new world order, accessible outside of traditional venues and television.

Director Lech Kowalski blogs about each chapter and the audience can interact with comments or submit films and music of their own. Jerome Soudan from Mimetic is the musical composer for the documentary. Web designer Jerome Pidoux, known as Elephant has designed the site. Chapters can be viewed full screen, smaller image or with a black border. Headsets or external speakers connected to the computer will produce optimum sound quality.

Director Lech Kowalski is a cult figure in underground cinema. Renowned for his controversial award-winning documentaries a journalist once called him “a warrior battling with a camera to redefine the art of documentary” Born in London to Polish immigrants who fled Russian concentration camps, Kowalski grew up in nomadic displacement in the United States. He began his carreer in the 70’s in New York. His impressive array of documentaries have garnered critical praise and awards such as the Jury Award for East of Paradise at Venice film festival in 2005, the Special Jury Award for On Hitler’s Highway at the 2002 Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival, and the Golden Gate Award for Rock Soup at the 1992 San Francisco International Film Festival. His seminal film, DOA (1980), is a punk escapade that follows the Sex Pistols tour of the USA. – A Capricci Films & Extinkt Films coproduction

Capricci Films is a French production and distribution company based in Nantes. It’s catalogue includes films by Pedro Costa, Albert Serra and Jean-Claude Rousseau.

Extinkt Films, created by Lech Kowalski and Odile Allard, produces and distributes Lech Kowalski’s films. is partially funded by CNAP, (French National Center for Visuals Arts), CNC-French National Cinema Center-(help for innovative documentary, DICREAM), and has a partnership with 104, where screenings of the film chapters are shown to the public.


It’s astounding to me that this dialogue about the future of film is resurfacing. So many people forget that, by the mid-1960s, many people (including Stan Brakhage and Annette Michelson and Jonas Mekas) were talking about changes in technology (at that time, they meant 8mm and super-8mm film; video was also just getting started) and how this would cause changes in the structure of film viewing and film distribution.

As Ted Hope has said, and as Jonathan Rosenbaum said in another context, the changes are already here, and we must now figure out how this affects us. But it is heartening to see that some people view these developments as a positive sign, rather than simply bemoan the sky is falling, because the big picture remains one of constant reinvention.

diy filmmaker sujewa

Nice speech Ted, lots of enthusiasm.

This one line did stand out as being, hmmm, not in line with the rest of the ideas:

“We have to stop making so many films.”

I am not sure calling people to stop making movies is 1) a good idea, and 2) is of any use, ’cause being indie filmmakers is ALL (or primarily) about making movies, and people will (and probably should) make as many movies as they are able to. Specially since there is a LOT of people, from various backgrounds, that have yet to try their hand at making indie movies.

And the more movies one makes, the better one gets at it (at least in my relatively limited experience).

Maybe there is another interpertation of that line. But anyway, nice speech, nice to see experienced producers taking a lot of interest in DIY filmmaking & self-distribution & community building.

– Sujewa

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *