I’ve known about Ted Hope for many years. He was one of the first people I ever associated with the words “independent film producer.” His long and acclaimed filmography includes such work as Trust, The Ice Storm, Happiness, American Splendor, In The Bedroom, The Savages, and many more. He also maintains a blog, called Truly Free Film, and is a chief architect behind great film news/reviews site Hammer To Nail. Ted’s latest production (with partner Anne Carey) is Greg Mottola’s coming-of-age comedy, Adventureland, which Miramax will open this weekend. I decided it was time to ask Ted a few questions:
Me: How did you get involved with Adventureland?
Ted Hope: Years back when I was struggling to get Nicole Holofcener’s Walking & Talking financed, Nicole said in a fit of despair that I should be working with someone who will actually make a lot of movies, like the guy who had just won best film at Columbia Film School, Greg Mottola. He already had a producer relationship so we just got to know each other, but life wasn’t as Nicole had predicted for him. By the time five or so years had passed since Daytrippers, his agents, who were also our agents, submitted the script to us as a ready-to-go project. We loved it but had some thoughts on how to enhance it and make it more resonant in the marketplace. Greg agreed but it took us over two years to get it right, and then he got what initially looked like a direct-to-DVD feature, but that turned out to be Superbad and the rest is history.
Me: The cast of the film is great. What was that process like, and did you ever worry about resembling a Judd Apatow comedy, which this clearly is not?
Ted Hope: We were ready to go out with the script for financing and casting a few weeks before Superbad came out. Interest in Greg was high, but time to put together a summer movie was short. Luckily Greg had thought hard about whom he wanted in the film prior and they were all accessible. Jesse [Eisenberg] & Kristen [Stewart] were pretty much whom he always wanted. Kristen had yet to get Twilight so she was still considered a virtual unknown. Greg knew Bill Hadar from Superbad and wanted him and Kristen Wiig from the get go too. Ryan Reynolds may have been the first person Greg had met for the role; he just happened to be in NYC right when we started. And Martin Starr just slayed it in an early audition and changed our conception of the character. Similarly Margarita Levieva came to the audition in full character and makeup. Both of them became the archetype so there was no one else we could cast. Perhaps most fortunate, was that our financing partners agreed with our vision for the roles and that allowed Greg to lock his cast quickly by his taste and not some Chinese Menu of what may work in different markets or with specific demographics.
(Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, in Adventureland.)
Me: In the spirit of the film, what was your worst summer job?
Ted Hope: My bad summer gigs were all pre-college and sucked because all I was doing was trading my labor for pay. I had yet to figure out that I could put my labor into play for things I wanted or enjoyed. Once I realized that, it was all politics or film for me. Before that I worked as a bag boy, a bus boy, in an apple orchard, painting houses, and scooping ice cream. What made heaven or hell of those jobs were the bosses. There were no Ems or Lisa P’s on the scene. The ice cream boss was a pill popping hysteric or shadowed everyone every second making our lives miserable, but telling her off was the highlight of the summer.
Me: You’ve really stepped into the world of social networking and blogging over the last year or so. Where did that initiative stem from?
Ted Hope: I have always been a bit of an internet junkie, but have an aversion to personal information and for that reasons had steered clear of social networking; I don’t have enough time for my friends as it is. Meanwhile, I had been growing restless watching the indie infrastructure wither away, but had frankly felt comfortable in my seat of privilege — i.e. we were getting our movies made.
When Mark Gill made his “Sky Falling” speech, it was clear to me that no one was speaking for the filmmakers, for the real indie community. I had read and met with a slew of good thinkers and innovators and felt the picture Gill painted was only for the business side of the establishment. Someone needed to get the word out about the new model that was emerging for filmmakers. When Dawn Hudson asked me to speak at Film Independent last fall, I felt I need to put up or shut up.
The state of things needs not be looked at only with despair. We are at a major time of transition and the possibilities are huge. Collaboration has always been what has improved our movies and enhanced our potential and the tools for collaboration have never been better. Social networking and an open source attitude offers filmmakers the freedom from an entertainment economy structured around scarcity and gatekeepers. We are all owners but we have been acting as slaves. We allow ourselves to corrupted by wealth and ego instead of strengthened by the wisdom of the community. The pursuit of instant gratification and success leads most to foolish choices that sacrifice opportunity for all along the way. Greater participation & focus on building a better system will greatly increase everyone’s power and improve their art and process. That is, in my humble opinion, and the social networking blogging open source stuff is the means.
Me: If a filmmaker is trying to get their first feature off the ground today, what’s the first warning you’d give them?
Ted Hope: There are over 1000 things coming at you that you need to consider. Slow down. Think. Collaborate. There are many immediately more productive ways than filmmaking that you can apply your labor, time, and money, that won’t suck in so many other people’s labor, time, and money, so if you are going to proceed down this path you MUST be incredibly thoughtful and considerate about what you are doing, what are you saying, what you will do with the results. It is irresponsible to do otherwise. Good work lifts us all, but anything less makes it harder still. Work together and aim higher.