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Ted Hope on Independence

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 by

Ted Hope asks: When did “independent” become a negative word?
Ted Hope writes: “I hereby declare my independence”
Ted Hope proposes: “a sustainable film culture built on creative and financial independence”

But How is that going to happen?

Apparently stung by an individual who did not want to be called an “independent filmmaker”, an individual who said he was interesting in producing “a financially successful film for a wide audience”, Ted Hope held high the banner of “Independent Film”.

Be careful what you wish for, however. No one ever said that producing a financially successful film for a wide audience was impossible, or that only Hollywood could do it. But when you are talking about “financially successful” and “wide audience” you are not talking about filmmaking — you are talking about distribution. And Hollywood is very very good at distribution.

The Hollywood studio system today — referred to by the NY Times reviewer Stephen Holden as “manufactured entertainment” — knows how to distribute its product for extraordinary reward to global audiences. They know what the ingredients required are. They know how to manage the publicity process to build awareness. They unleash 10′s of millions of dollars to create interest and announce the availability. And they manage the pipeline of appearances after that initial release to create the greatest financial reward.

Hollywood is really good at this, and if Spielberg and Lucas think the end is coming, or if Variety touts the failure of “The Lone Ranger” and the triumph of “Despicable Me”, that’s far more evidence in support of their core skills at work than an argument for ineptitude.

Is a presence on the Variety top 100 list what the filmmaker that prompted Ted’s email wants? Maybe that filmmaker looked at the top 30 list in IndieWire and saw that the top 15 films in aggregate did over $100 million. Maybe he thinks those films are “financially successful”; maybe that fellow thinks those films reached a wide audience.

Totally wrong. The 31st top grossing film over all in 2012 was “The Rise of The Guardians” — according to Variety — and that film did $101 million all by itself. The other 30 films did more than $6.2 Billion dollars combined (in 2012 alone, according to the Box Office Mojo table that Variety cites). That is what we call “financially successful” and a “wide audience”.

I have a friend in Los Angeles who hangs out with the indie film crowd there, and one time I asked him about that: “isn’t it hard being an indie filmmaker in LA?” No, not so much he said. Being an indie filmmaker is what you do before you get a real job.

So thinking that “a financially successful film for a wide audience” is the goal of independent film is probably off base. If you happen by luck and chance to make such a film (and I think that the early Star Wars films were financed away from the Hollywood system), then the odds are that you’ll have made a film that works just like manufactured entertainment from the companies that manufacture and release those products on a regular basis.

I agree with Ted Hope. I am happy to join him in my personal commitment to “a sustainable film culture built on creative and financial independence.” We know that — on the creative side — the culture of creative independence is driven by authors who see the world in ways that make us understand things we didn’t know and people we have never met and places we can’t even imagine — authors who have learned how to tell stories about those things and people and places in ways that capture our attention, respect our own life experience, and expand our feelings accordingly. Film Festivals (like Ted Hope’s San Francisco International) find these kinds of filmmakers and films on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, those films are not the ones on IndieWires top 30 list of 2013.

My view is that Hope’s dream happens when we have the distribution muscle to match the community’s commitment to creative quality. Distribution is what creates “wide audiences” and produces “financial success”. I actually don’t think that it’s impossible to build that kind of distribution capability.

But maybe the intensity of the sun this weekend has me seeing waving images on the horizon! We’ve had so much rain and so little sun here recently..


Bob Alexander
New York City


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