Ted Hope headshot

At this weekend's International Film Festival Summit in Austin, keynote speaker and San Francisco Film Society executive director Ted Hope told his fellow festival organizers that they have a chance to be at the forefront of change in an industry that's been curiously slow to embrace it. While the film industry as a whole has yet to make wholesale changes that respond to a world that's consumed by infinite choices in entertainment, film festivals have a particular opportunity. 

As Hope points out,

"My 12-year-old son has said he doesn’t like movies, although he loves most that he’s ever seen. He doesn’t see cinema as speaking to him – and if that doesn’t change, the audience and community he is part of will be lost to us forever. We need to find our unique stamp at every festival, and it won’t come from a top-down approach but from the crowd itself. Have we all utilized the tools we have to really listen, to evaluate and analyze?"

What follows is Hope's keynote. Tell us your thoughts in the comments. 

Thank you for inviting me into your community. I have been in the film business for close to 30 years now – but it is as if I lived on the other side of a wall from you. I had one vision of what it took to put on festivals, but that was just a pale shadow of the brutal reality I have come to face in my two months on the job at the San Francisco Film Society. It’s hard work running a film festival! If any of you have played my films over the years and I didn’t bestow flowers and thanks on you, please line up at the end of this talk and you can slap my hand, twice! I owe you guys!

I like to think the kind invite to speak today, though, is symbolic of us crashing down that wall, and the start of a new era – but then I have always been a tad grandiose… I mean, I did get drawn into this show business thing, after all.

Today, I think we all come for answers, but I have to warn you: my search for those answers has only led me to more questions. Those are the gifts I have to share after two months on the job as the Executive Director of The San Francisco Film Society. Questions that come from looking at our film culture and wondering how we can serve it best.

The film industry is the physical manifestation of Einstein’s definition of insanity.

We all have a tremendous challenge before us. The film business and its infrastructure were built -- and are still based, sad to say -- on principles and concepts that are no longer applicable to the world we live in. The film business was founded on a monopolistic idea of scarcity of content and total control of that content. But we couldn’t be further from the truth of that now.

We live in the time of grand abundance of content, total access to content and rampant distraction from content. Fifty thousand feature films are generated worldwide on an annual basis. America will remain the top consumption market in the world for at least another year, and it’s thought we, at best, consume between 500-600 titles a year – basically, only 1% of the world’s supply. It will take us an entire century to look at this year’s supply of film. And next year we will still have the other 49,500 we didn’t get to this year. And yet good movies don’t get widely seen. Do we really need any new movies? And why is our entire industry so damn slow to adapt to this time of grand abundance?

As film festivals, we can – and certainly should – worry about how filmmakers are going to adapt to these changes. Our entire film culture is currently seriously threatened because artists and their supporters are not rewarded for the work they make. The system only profits the outliers and the facilitators. 

I got to make the many films I did in part because I could deliver a predictably consistent positive return to my investors. That is virtually impossible now. The films I’ve made to date would not be made today; if they were, they were not be profitable or have the same sort of impact on the world. We are on the verge of being deprived of the stories that reach high and take chances. Picture a world without such tales. Is that the future we want? If it is, we need not do anything. But it isn’t, we have some serious work ahead of us.

We also need to ask about when and how the film business will pivot, or not, and how do we adapt to that subsequent adaptation, too. The film industry is a strange ritual, seeming committed to reinventing the wheel again and again, hoping that the same actions will somehow lead to different results. The film industry is the physical manifestation of Einstein’s definition of insanity. The music industry realized it needed to change its business model, and so hopefully soon will the film industry.