Earlier this year, Fandor, the subscription streaming service, announced that veteran producer and former San Francisco Film Society executive director Ted Hope would head the online company as its new CEO. Yesterday at SXSW, Hope sat down with Indiewire to discuss his plans and goals for the site.
Why Fandor? And why now?
I feel like my filmmaking powers are their heights right now. When I work on a script or when I work in the edit room, I know what I can contribute and can do it quickly and well. I love it. I want to make great movies, but ultimately, it captures the state of the world to recognize that i felt I could do more helping Fandor become a sustainable cog in the enterprise than I could making any more movies. Filmmaking, particularly trying to make ambitious diverse stories that haven’t really been told well before, is not a sustainable enterprise right now. It’s a tragic situation that good movies don’t get seen. Artists can’t support themselves.
How did you connect with Fandor?
Chris Kelly (Fandor board member) and I had come together on the urgent need for a total systems reboot of the film industry and tried to develop a real end-to-end solution. He believed that a subscription VOD service (SVOD) predicated on a revenue share formula was going to be a foundation of that. Looking at what he had built — he and Dan Aronson (Fandor founder & CTO) and Jonathan Marlow (Fandor founder and chief content officer) and Albert Reinhardt (Fandor founder and VP of Product), had all built at Fandor, I was like “I think actually you’re right. That’s where it starts.” There are some things we need to do differently, but I think it’s a great foundation for that.
There’s a lot of talk at SXSW about how filmmakers don’t need to rely on the gatekeepers any more. How do you feel about the DIY direct distribution model? And how does Fandor fit into that?
I completely agree with the direct distribution model. DIY, direct-to-fan, I take a little umbrage at those terms. If VHX and other DIY models are artist-to-fan, we’re artist-to-community. Or better yet, we’re artist-community to audience-community. The problem in the film industry is that people think they can do it themselves. They think that they matter more than the collective whole and I don’t agree with that, frankly.
The most powerful thing that we can do is think outside of ourselves and work together to advance the things that matter most to us. I want to use Fandor as the tech solution for the different stakeholders — not the gatekeepers — the stakeholders in the process, that includes filmmakers 100%. That includes fans 100%. It includes film festivals. It includes distributors. It includes financiers. We have to move away from the 1:1 relationship and look much more to how we build ripple affects to allow everything to be amplified.
The problem is — and I’ve experimented with this myself — when you’re one voice in the many you’re just adding to the din. We need ways that community is built and sustained so we end this idiotic process where we try to think that we can have a movie that everyone is going to come to. Isn’t it a little more logical that we should bring our movies where everyone is gathered? That is the core idea of a film festival and why I was so drawn to work with one — because people are already coming together to celebrate what they love.
How do we do that not on a seasonal basis over one weekend, but over the course of a year? And how do we make sure that it’s not a reinforcement of gatekeepers where somebody is an individualized curator, but we empower other curators? So if my interest is films currently dealing with privacy issues and inequitable power, all the other folks who are working in that field of storytelling, telling stories about that, can be together and amplify each other. That’s the kind of thing I’m looking to do at Fandor.
So do you see Fandor as a sort of curated digital film festival?
Fandor is the world’s film society in that what we call cinema, what we call film is a representation of only a part of what that bigger experience is. We want to deliver the cinema experience. Right now, when you look at what is being done online, it’s basically replicating the analog equivalents that go on offline. I don’t want Fandor to be a store. I don’t want Fandor to be a screen and I don’t want Fandor to be a platform. I want us to be a vibrant community that encompasses the big definition of cinema. Cinema is not just a three-act structure. It’s not just the five steps of development, production, post-production, marketing, distribution. There’s this whole host of other aspects that deal with discovery, that deal with collaboration and participation, that deals with transitioning an audience from one work to the next. How do we encompass that full experience?
Fandor is based around experience design, the full extension of what the film element is, into all the different channels that we have.
So when someone subscribes to Fandor, the idea is not just to get access to the films on Fandor, but to be part of the Fandor community?
Absolutely. The first thing to recognize is that Fandor is a digital company. And the main thing is we have to stop thinking that anything is ever finished or perfect. In analog culture, we made our movies and they stood in stone. Everything in digital culture is evolving and another iteration is still yet to come. So when we talk about Fandor, let’s talk about the experience going forward and the constant state of change that it will be. But then, ultimately, what will always embody that experience, often I refer to the three C’s: curation, which we’ve done a really good job — we have over 5,000 titles on the site and 10,000 titles total — we’re going to be doing a better job of surfacing that curation directly to our audience; contextualization, movies shouldn’t end when you finish watching them.
What I’ve always loved about specialized films, art films in particular, is they compel you to talk about them when they’re done. That to me is a core part of the cinema experience, that dialogue between the screen and the audience on an ongoing basis. So contexualition is currently manifested most through Keyframe, our core appreciation web site. But I bring with me both Hope for Film and Hammer to Nail. Hope for Film is much more of a filmmaker toolkit, but with a personal voice. It’s a soap box, in some ways. Hammer to Nail is focused on peer-to-peer interviewing and reviewing. The third C after curation and contextualization is community.
So what is Fandor’s business model?
The core piece is certainly subscribers and we’ll be looking to grow, but we want to think about what we can do to save the film industry. First and foremost, is that question of how do we make sure that filmmakers and their financial supporters are the direct financial beneficiaries of the work they produce? That’s the best thing we could do is get the money back in the hands.
The film industry has not been delivering the returns that the tech industry has. We’re a tech company that uses film as its glue, but if you look at the basic business model, if we had a million subscribers — which we don’t have yet — but when we get to a million subscribers, $10/month is our subscription fee, $100/year is a discount — so a million people, paying $100 million splitting that subscription fee with rights holders, we have $50 million to kick back into the system to give you to your film. 50% of our subscription fee revenue goes back to the rights holders — whether they’re artists or whether they’re distributors. If everything that we do together with our partners can get us to a million subscribers, that’s an awful lot of money to go back to filmmakers that’s currently not in the system.
How many subscribers does Fandor have now?
Substantially below that. It’s not something I can talk about yet, but believe me, when we have stuff to crow about, I will.
What is your #1 goal out the gate?
There are so many different ways to look at that question. I look to make sure that Fandor is a sustainable piece of the film eco-system. I look for ways to enhance our subscriber growth significantly, because that’s going to benefit filmmakers and film festivals.