Having run the San Francisco Film Society as executive director for a year, indie producer Ted Hope is sticking with San Francisco. And despite his recent protestations to the contrary, producing a few films is still in his future. But as of January 30 his main gig is CEO of Fandor, the San Francisco-based curated online service for independent and international films. So don’t look for Hope in snowy Park City this year. He’s got other things on his plate. He will continue with SFFS on the Advisory Board as they seek a new exec director.
On his quest for a new economic model for distributing independent film and engaging cinephiles in an interactive community, Hope sees Fandor as an exciting opportunity to play out his ideas.
Good Machine co-founder Hope (“American Splendor,” “The Ice Storm,” “In the Bedroom” and “Happiness”) joined three-year-old subscription video-on-demand service Fandor’s Board of Advisors in March 2011, and has been impressed with their curated collection of 5000 high quality indie and foreign films as well as the ways they share revenues with filmmakers and rights holders.
As Fandor founder and current CEO Dan Aronson was looking to move into becoming the company’s CTO and continuing on the Board of Directors, he and board member and ex-Facebook exec Chris Kelly and chief content officer Jonathan Marlow approached Hope to take over as CEO, telling him: “Ted, if you decide to do a system reboot why not choose us as your first step?”
In 2013, Fandor brought in over three dozen new partners and individual filmmakers to its curated service. Fandor has also launched in Canada and expanded its services on a wide array of mobile and tablet devices, Sony Blu-ray players and home theater systems.
“Ted has repeatedly proven his entrepreneurial talents over the years in making incredible films and articulating a powerful future vision for the independent film business,” said Kelly. “We’re thrilled to have him lead Fandor’s quest to remake the film ecosystem. Ted’s front-line view of how social networks, mass-availability of media content, and the empowerment of audiences change film will assure that Fandor accelerates its pioneering approach to curation and digital content distribution.”
“I don’t feel that my mission has changed from what brought me to San Francisco in the first place,” Hope told me in a phone interview. “I really love the mission of the Film Society. Here I’m learning that a non-profit legacy organization does what it has always done. But to help an institution pivot to try and institute the changes we’re all living through wasn’t going to happen at a great pace.”
When Hope resigned many people asked him what he wanted to do. His answer: “I wanted to engage in total system reboot of the film industry.” Impressed by Fandor’s specialized content, he sees the SVOD service as “built around a key concept that the film industry needs to embrace: we need to have a vibrant film culture and to make sure that artists and their supporters are direct financial beneficiaries of the work they do.”
As an SVOD platform, Fandor’s curated core business gives half of their subscription revenue, 50 %, to the rights holders. “It’s done on a pro rata basis,” says Hope, “based on the minutes viewed. If you have a short and it’s ten minutes and 100 people watch ten minutes, that’s 1000 minutes calculated overall viewing time. The more subscribers we have and the more work is viewed, the more people benefit. It’s a sensible logic, it’s how it should work.”
Hope also admires Fandor’s film journal Keyframe and looks forward to enhancing social media engagement with sharing the movies they love. “It’s appalling that after 120 years in this experiment of cinema we don’t really utilize as an industry and as a culture movies’ most unique aspect, their ability to evoke a shared emotional response amongst strangers. Film has a unique ability to compel people to talk about it afterward. One of its great strengths is one we have to exploit more fully.”
For Hope, the movie industry at large is an enterprise entrenched in “old world methods, as opposed to the world we live in today. We fail to utilize all the technological changes that have occurred. Previously cinema had to be mass market enterprise, to make films for every audience we can. We can market to niche audiences now, make special interest films. You can see some of this potential in the doc world, where targeting and engagement can impact our ability to call to action within the film viewing experience in a way we haven’t been able to do before.”
Hope remains convinced that of the 50,000 or so titles generated on a global basis a year–and an American market that can only handle from 500-600 theatrical releases–he’s missing out on some of the best of world cinema. “I know I’m not finding the films that are best for me, as well as I might. That is an opportunity for both creators and audiences and the industry. I look forward to helping facilitate the creation of utilization and tools platforms and practices that improve the audience’s return on their investment and engagement. And allows creators and rights holders to maximize that engagement to help them to see in real time, as technology now allows, how people are engaging and what that return on that engagement could be.”
Hope is still excited from his first brainstorming session at Fandor’s offices with engineers, technologists, marketing, content and development execs talking about “the tools, experiences and solutions we can offer different stakeholders, festivals, exhibitors and audiences. That’s how I want to spend my time now.”
He does leave the door open for the occasional production venture. Inspired by the late Bay area producer Saul Zaentz, Hope, looks forward to this next chapter. “Zaentz didn’t start his film producing career until he was 50. I’m 50. Over my producing career I don’t took to make 70 more movies, I look to make a few films that have tremendous impact. So I have to help build the infrastructure to allow that to happen. We live in an era when good movies don’t get seen and aren’t appreciated and don’t resonate as deeply as they could. We could whole lot better.”