The surprising news broke this afternoon that Ted Hope would be stepping down as head of the San Francisco Film Society after having taken the position of executive director on September 1st of last year. The role represented a high-profile change of pace and of city for the formerly New York-based Hope, a respected, prolific indie film producer and industry figure who’s gotten more than 20 films to Sundance over the years. At the non-profit, which runs the San Francisco Film Festival, Hope ambitiously aimed to bring together the film and tech communities, launching A2E: Artist to Entrepreneur, a series of labs intended to make direct distribution feasible with the help of changing technology and new businesses, and to potentially allow filmmakers to make a sustainable living by holding onto the rights for their work. But the SFFS announced today that Hope will be moving on after a little over a year, with Hope explaining in a statement that “as much as I fully embrace the mission of the Film Society, my passion is more entrepreneurial.” Indiewire caught up with Hope by phone to find out more about the shift and what’s next.
So, big news day. You said in your statement that your “passion is more entrepreneurial.” Can you elaborate?
I think it’s just being an indie producer — you determine what movies what movies you want to make and how you’re going to make them, whether it’s starting a company or anything, you’re your own boss. That’s how I’ve been used to working. The things I’ve been brought to, the Bay Area and the Film Society, are wonderful things that also need as much tending and guiding as my own garden. The Film Society is unique in having not just a world-renowned festival but a grant program. Those are running at full steam as they were before I got here. But they involve time, energy, commitment focus, strategy, all of that. There’s a good reason why there are 26 employees here. It takes an army to get stuff and I’ve always been an army of one.
Was there a point in time during the past year when you realized that?
It’s tough coming from the background I have. You get job offers, projects come your way, people ask you to produce stuff. I’m committed here because of a shared mission, but I’d be a liar if I said every time a script was sent your way, you have to bristle. I said no to everything for this entire year, so I was certainly prepared for it, but at a certain point you hit a roadblock and you look where the alternative roads are. I loved throwing my energy behind something and not having to look back. Here, at the Film Society, we’re always moving in seven directions. You can’t turn the ship around.
What’s going to happen to multimedia initiatives like your A2E lab?
I look to keep collaborating with the Film Society. Don’t get me wrong. It was the Film Society’s commitment to give you a sense of the entrepreneurial culture of the Bay Area. That’s the team that attracted me here. I’m just of a different sort than a 57-year-old organization. I can’t speak for what will happen at the festival level come spring. I know that the Film Society is eager to collaborate, so watch this space for more details. I certainly will continue in the vein that I have as a passionate advocate for innovative risk-tasking.
Do you hope to keep producing films immediately?
Nothing right away. When I took the gig, I remained involved in certain projects but haven’t been involved with them day to day. People say, “Don’t talk about a movie until there’s money in the bank.” I’ve always believed in not talking about movies until the money’s been spent.
It is a great film community here. I’ve been mentored, which rarely ever happened. From the very beginning, the first or second person who reached out to James Schamus and I in our careers was Francis Ford Coppola. Getting to know the Bay Area film culture has been great. Vanessa and I are not moving back to New York. I’m thrilled that I was able to wean myself from that addiction — I no longer have the bug of indie film producing of quantity. I only want to focus on quality. I never want to make another movie just to pay my bills. I want to practice what they do out here — the handcrafted, artisinal jewel, whether it’s a bike or an indie.
Is there any connection with your decision and last week’s news that your former producing partner James Schamus was leaving Focus Features?
Only that James scooped my news. The Film Society had talked about this for a while. The search for an ED is already underway. It saddens me that James isn’t running Focus, that there isn’t that type of company around anymore.
As much as I’d like to speculate about Good Machine 2, to quote Tom Hall, I think there’s a much greater chance of Hüsker Dü But James is someone I look to for advice and to talk with whenever I can. In terms of producing and all of that, who knows? Yeah, I’d like to work with Anthony Bregman and Ross Katz and David Linde and… everyone I’ve ever worked with.
What did you learn during your past year about the paradigms of distribution that you talked about so extensively before you took the job?
I think more and more, the model that Sundance had lead with the Artists Services platform, that’s the model we’re going to see in the non-profit, film-supported community. It just makes an awful lot of sense that the organization isn’t just about audience-building and audience development. They’ve always been about the deep connection between the creators and the audience.
There’s a huge necessity, as the shift moves to targeted niches, that the non-profit world will fill in that gap. You know, I look to be heavily involved in that. I’m very excited by it. There’s no much headway for all of us to make. Once I reached this decision, the Film Society asked me to stay heavily involved. I joined the advisory board. There are more things for us to do together.