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Aug 18, 2009

Since helping launch the ’90s new wave of American independent film, producer Ted Hope continues to rewrite the script for how movies get made.

By Rachel Fernandes

Ted Hope is an anomaly. In a position where you’re only as good as your latest box office receipts, Hope is one of only a handful of film producers who consistently put the creative process first.

“I love work that has something to say and a new way of saying it,” he explains.

Starting in the early ’90s with directors like Ang Lee, Hal Hartley, Todd Solondz, and John Waters and continuing through recent successes, like this summer’s Greg Mottola-directed coming-of-age comedy, Adventureland, Hope built his reputation by finding and producing groundbreaking movies. In the process, he has established himself as a cornerstone of the independent film community.

One of the keys to Hope’s two decades of success has been keeping up with the ever-evolving—and constantly increasing—demands of the producer role. In recent years, this has meant incorporating new technological tools, such a social networking sites and Twitter, to help develop his audience. Hope has embraced these new responsibilities by launching and maintaining two influential movie industry blogs.

“The definition of what a producer does has been constantly expanding over the years…Today, there’s responsibility to bring some of your audience to your movie,” Hope says. “And with that, all of us who are engaged in the creative process have to take a responsibility for curating. There’s many different ways to do that, but it makes sense to take advantage of these currently free and incredibly useful social networking tools. Spread the word about what you love.”

The New Independents

Before he made his name by making movies, Hope was intent on changing the world. His focus on grassroots community organization even included a brief stint working for Ralph Nader.

But when he realized the daunting task at hand, he moved to a new plan—attending film school at New York University.

“I started to become frustrated at how slow political change could come and how resistant some people were,” Hope says. “I wanted to find a way to get into their heads—to the level of what it meant for them to be alive.”

For Hope, that meant making movies, and he couldn’t have timed his career change any better.

“My first year was the year that Stranger Than Paradise, She’s Gotta Have It and Blood Simple [Jim Jarmusch’s, Spike Lee’s and the Coen Brothers’ first films, respectively] played at the New York Film Festival,” Hope recalls. “It was really the beginning of a change in American independents. That combined with the do-it-yourself punk rock aesthetic made me see that there really was a different way of doing things than the Hollywood model.”

At film school and while working as a production assistant and assistant director, Hope found himself at the center of the emerging new wave of independent filmmaking. Along with helping make Hal Hartley’s first films, he produced the early work of fellow student Ang Lee.

In 1990, Hope launched the production and distribution company Good Machine with James Schamus, who he had met while working as a freelance script reader for New Line Cinema.

Over the next decade, the company scored a series of successes, including Lee’s critical breakthrough, The Ice Storm, Todd Solondz’s Happiness and Todd Field’s In the Bedroom.

In 2002, after selling Good Machine to Universal Studios, Hope and new partner Anne Carey founded This Is That Productions as a platform for continuing his work. The venture has been instrumental in making critical and commercial hits like 21 Grams, The Savages and Adventureland.

While his continued success has upped the stakes—and profiles—of many of the films he produces, Hope remains keenly aware of the importance of independent films and filmmakers. And even after 20 years in the business, he continues to see himself as an agent for change, a passion his work as a blogger has stoked.

“For the creative side, it feels like we’re on the verge of a really positive new paradigm,” he says. “The ability to access audiences and to distribute your material—albeit not in the wide, well marketed way we all got comfortable with, but in a way that really may help to foster a community—is stronger than it ever was before.”

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