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Ted Hope: “Hope For The Future: Filmmaker and Exhibitor Collaboration”

Ted Hope: "Hope For The Future: Filmmaker and Exhibitor Collaboration"

The following is the text of Ted Hope’s closing keynote address (as prepared and delivered to indieWIRE today) for the Arthouse Convergence, a gathering of exhibitors and others held this week in Salt Lake City prior to the Sundance Film Festival.

In case you haven’t heard, our business is in the midst of a transformation from a limited supply gatekeeper entertainment economy based on impulse buys to a new paradigm based on creator-controlled content and an ongoing dialogue with the audience. This affects all of us: filmmakers, exhibitors, distributors, and film lovers.

It once was that distributors generally only made available films that fit their pre-existing marketing model. Their marketing spend was not based on the film’s content – but their acquisition or production of a film was based on justifying that pre-set marketing spend. We (both the filmmaking and film exhibiting community) are now just learning how to determine, and to access, what an appropriate marketing spend — based on the film that was actually made – is, and in the process, we are learning how to prepare for, access, and exploit what have far too long been under-utilized tools and practices: community, collaboration, and appreciation.

Community, collaboration, and appreciation. These tools are the new tools. These are the good old tools. These tools are where our marketing money also now needs to be spent.

But let’s ALL step out of The Hell Of Now, and instead let’s imagine the future. Let’s imagine next year. Let’s imagine what the production/distribution/marketing/exhibition alliance could be like in a very short time. Let’s imagine what it would be like if we established a “Best Practices” for filmmakers and exhibitors alike and thus clarify what audiences can expect. These three entities –filmmakers, exhibitors, audiences — that want to create, exhibit and appreciate diverse high quality specialized work to the fullest.

Let’s imagine that next year is actually right now. So what does this present (formerly the future) look like?
– Each side recognizes each other as a partner – a critical partner – a partner that wants to inspire the other to the highest level of work and experience.
– Filmmakers recognize that completing their film is only half the work.
– They recognize that the other half of the job is both marketing their film and maintaining a dialogue with their audience.
– The filmmaker is taking responsibility for their work through the end (aka forever).
– They no longer entertain dreams of riches exchanged for rights.
– They no longer anticipate surrendering control of their film to distributors.
– The filmmaker now thinks of their ultimate creation as what will be their body of work. They no longer look at each movie as a stand-alone entity. They recognize it is all a continuum.
– They no longer see themselves contained with a single form of medium. They make long and short form work for different platforms and different audiences.
– They look at all their work as an ongoing dialogue with an evolving audience.
– The filmmaker has already established at least one platform from which to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their audience(s). This platform will be: Blogs and/or Social Networks. They maintain regular – daily or weekly – contact with their audience. They reward them, and visa versa.
– The filmmaker is no longer an isolated individual who only looks out for his or her own singular work. The filmmaker is a curator, championing others’ work. And others champion their work in return
– The filmmaker is an “expanded” collaborator who encourages audiences/fans participation, both or a richer dialogue and to mine their desires. She considers exhibitors’ needs in terms of reaching an audience.
– The filmmaker thinks for the long tail and they ask how their film will be discovered in ten years. They ask how will their film be relevant in ten years.
– The filmmaker recognizes that their action affects others, and they will either build on success or be burdened by others’ failure. They recognize that financial outcome is one measure of success but that audience and infrastructure building is another. Mostly they want to encourage good behavior in others.
– The filmmaker knows that power is a collective experience not a private one. They believe in an “open source” culture. They share information with others who share information.

How does this filmmaker work? Before the filmmaker shoots a frame, before she raises any money, this filmmaker identifies the audiences for the film and where those audiences can be reached. This filmmaker finds where the discussion of the issues within the film are taking place, identifies possible promotional partners for the film, be they brands or advocacy organizations.

Again before the camera is turned on, this filmmaker builds:
A team of passionate soon to be experts
A website specifically for the film;
Blog(s) addressing the issues within the film;
Blog(s) addressing the audiences for the film

And this filmmaker prepares to build the film beyond the 90 minute border by creating shorts, ARGS (Alternative Reality Games), a Graphic Novel, various books, IPhone Applications and Casual Games, truly anything and everything to drive audience’s attention to and their appreciation of the film at every step.

During production, the filmmaker is looking for new ways to expand the audience ad the audience’s participation. This filmmaker provides the audience with access to production particulars, be they production information or location specifics. They grant true fans access to the script and encourages them to go shoot their own version. The filmmaker tries to increase the audience’s rewards for their appreciation, and provides for them exclusive behind the scenes footage or maybe the filmmakers’ journal. Really what ever they can do, the filmmaker provides their true fans with access to the process in an unprecedented manner.

After the film is shot — and before it is ever publicly screened anywhere –the filmmaker has:
– listed the film everywhere online (IMDB, Wiki, Databases)
– tested the film themselves before audiences
– cut a trailer and put the trailer on their website and elsewhere. This filmmaker is even prepared to refresh that trailer upon release.
– Designed a poster (or several) and put the poster on their website and elsewhere/
– Designed a collectors’ edition DVD complete with lots of additional material
– Manufactured unique merchandising items
– Written a film clubs’ study guide
– Selected a stills collection and put some stills on their website and elsewhere.
– Selected clips and put the clips on their website and elsewhere.
– Manufactured DVDs and offered them for sale personally at early screenings.
– Locked a DVD manufacturer and fulfillment center.
– Locked a Digital Download partner.
– Locked an Online Streaming Partner.
– Built a highly selective festival strategy and is prepared to both execute it and support it.

After the first festival screening, in order to facilitate and grow positive word-of-mouth the filmmaker has:
– Set a pre-release publicity building speaking tour.
– Built a chain of Living Room Theaters through non-retail DVD sales.

During the release of the film, the filmmaker is prepared:
– To travel to anywhere that covers their expenses, even in part.
– To collaborate with other filmmakers in a traveling festival road show.
– To provide an I-Chat dialogue with audiences.
– Maintain dialogue with the audience throughout the release.
– Release new short-form work to heighten interest in the long-form.

What does this filmmaker want? The same thing as the exhibitor, the same thing as the audience. This filmmaker wants to make movies an event again. And you know what? This isn’t the future. This isn’t even next year. This is right now. This is how filmmakers are currently thinking. And the question we all need to ask is how do we collaborate with them?


So let’s look at how can the filmmaker and exhibitor collaborate? The exhibitor should redefine the theater in the audience, filmmaker, and industry’s mind that it is not just for exhibition any more. So what is it?
– An Indie Merchandise Store selling T-shirts, collectors DVDs, and indie film specific publications.
– The Theater is a gallery displaying traveling exhibits on indie history, and film-based artwork.
– It is a Preservation Center, leading the charge for preservation of indie and digital film. From this platform, the theaters will facilitate the vote for indie works in the National Film Registry.
– The theater is the community’s Media Literacy Center forever asking how can filmmakers further contribute?

What new practices will earn exhibitors the filmmakers’ love?
– Data-mining & transport. Filmmakers want to learn the details: Who comes to the theater and why? What gets an audience at a particular theater. Exhibitors who share this data back and forth with the filmmakers will be rewarded with the filmmakers’ loyalty.
– Throw out the old way and bring more filmmakers in earlier for shorter terms. Book your own “festival”. Utilize Filmmakers pre-release publicity tours. Set a subscription model with your audience freeing you to pursue the distributor-less film on your own.
– Recognize that your audience, your community, is your greatest asset, but respect their indivuality and recognize their loyalty to you. Facilitate access to and dialogue with your audience by the filmmakers. After all, you can’t keep them secret or hidden. Sooner or later, everyone will eventually find each other.
– Create your own social network. Supply it with new information regularly. Share it with Filmmakers. Share it with other theaters. Build this network that the Art House Convergence has brought together.
– Establish A Third Party Collections & Remuneration Agency so you don’t have to deal with filmmakers on payment and other back room issues.
– Establish best practices on what Exhibitors want from filmmakers and then get that word out to them (I would be more than happy to help).
– Establish an info on your community’s film tastes so filmmakers know what won’t work at your theater.
– Filmmakers are like any other entity. Dialogue with them does not have to be painful or intimidating. Good fences make for good neighbors, right?

What additional exhibition practices will filmmakers reward?
– Think Big. Don’t internalize the last two decades of neglect and despair. Share your dreams of growth
– Think Differently. You don’t really need to screen the same movie all week long, no matter what the distributors say. Build audiences for the classics. Ask local notables to program. Give them what they can’t get at home.
– Focus on community building. Can Monday be dedicated to Community programming at all the art houses. Share your mailing lists with filmmakers if they share theirs. Encourage others’ choices, reach out, and mobilize.
– Design for the audiences needs with flexible screening schedules. Shouldn’t the moto be: “What they want, when they want”?
– Communicate with the filmmakers and let them know want you & when.
– Accept the mutual responsibility to build the new infrastructure. Be willing to test the new infrastructure.
– Find new and build new alliances, be they Advocacy Groups or Corporate Sponsors. Use them for or Screening series and for Specific Films. These groups come with their own audience and a desire to build further upon it. Every theater should have ongoing media alliances so when a filmmaker visits they expect that they will go on radio show and record a podcast for a local website.
– Whatever you can do, invest in technology. Whether it is digital production or Digital Delivery everything points to that the physical will soon be gone. Costs will come down and new opportunities like more flexible programming and booking policies will become expected.
– Whatever can be done to wean oneself from Specialized Distribs Hit menu represents freedom. It is not healthy for anyone to be so dependent on a singular supplier.
– Fight to preserve Net Neutrality. It will soon come to a vote and an open internet is necessary to source, inform, and aggregate audiences.
– Educate and encourage people to make a choice, not an impulsive decision in all they do. Isn’t that one of the definitions of art film? A film that people must decide to view ahead of time.

With all that has occurred, all that has gone wrong, with the devastation that has been wrought on this country and our culture, WHY DO I REMAIN HOPEFUL?

Last month as the year ended, I asked myself that question, and in one hour came up with 52 reasons, one for each of the weeks to come (and all are available on TrulyFreeFilm.blogspot.com). And truly, the main reason, is right here in the room, at the first meeting of the Art House Convergence. It is all of us. It is we who have come here and it is the reason why we came here. We recognize the potential we hold. And now that potential is becoming a reality.

I believe in – and I know you do too, or else you wouldn’t be here now:
– The power of organization.
– The influence of collective action.
– The incredible results of collaboration.
– And all that entire great cinema inspires.

I know there is a great new era of art film on the eve of occurrence. I know this
because I have met the new generation of filmmakers and I know who they are.
And I can tell you that these filmmakers are:
– Individuals with far more diverse stories to tell than we imagined.
– Artists with a commitment to quality and innovation.
– Not just feature orientated.
– Recognizing that making the movie is only 50% of the job and that the other half is marketing.
– Early adopters of new technology.
– Committed to Social Networks.

And I know these filmmakers want to work for YOU, the exhibitors.

And I know we aren’t going to run out of great movies. Last year was the best year ever for American film made for budgets of under $1M. Internationally, new directors produced exciting new work and established auteurs expanded their range. Not only are these great works not currently reaching audiences, but now with the major corporations stepping out of the specialized space hopefully will give a chance for this harvest to really bloom!

Theaters are often said to be our place of worship – but they are really our community centers. Theaters are where we all come together to share our dreams, to experience what it means not to be defined as a demographic but to be recognized as the expansive, passionate, engaged, and connected individuals we are. As far as I can tell, exhibitors have been left to their own devices for all these years – and so maybe there’s hope for indie film because you have managed to survive, even prosper. And now you are working together. You are working with filmmakers. Wow. What’s to come?

I love movies. Obviously.
And: I love making them, but even more: I love watching them, but even more than that:
I love talking about them, sharing them.

Let’s stop thinking of theaters in terms of exhibition and instead recognize them, you, the theaters, for what they truly are – the heart of our community and our life line to the audiences.

Thank you. I can’t wait until next year.

A producer of “Adventureland,” which is screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Ted Hope is a partner at This is that, writes the Truly Free Film blog (among others), and is a founder of HammerToNail.

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