After Slamming Studios and Streamers at Locarno, a Less Frenetic Ted Hope Reflects on the Strikes, Indie Industry Ways Forward

Locarno can’t get enough of Ted Hope. Five years after receiving the festival’s Raimondo Rezzonico Award, the producer of modern indie classics such as “The Wedding Banquet” and “The Ice Storm” shook things up yesterday at Locarno’s StepIN think tank with an Out of the Box keynote, a sweeping blast on the state of the industry.

It resonated hugely with senior European industry executives who are often now battling the very same issues which Hope zeroed in on.

“It was an exercise in overload,” the former Amazon exec told Variety the day after he gave the 40-minute talk. He used 150 bullet points distilled from his Substack, and talked entertainingly at one and the same time. “It’s hard to engage people in this conversation, if you don’t do something like that. It gives me a lot of ammunition for my Gatling gun.”

On Friday, Hope delivered a masterclass. Global media didn’t want to wait that long to capture more of his take on the need for an indie cinema reset.  

Hope began as an independent producer fostering the early careers of such filmmakers as Ang Lee, Todd Soldonz and Hal Hartley. “I arrived at the perfect moment when the international sales market was blossoming and was very U.S.-centric,” he said, with bracing honesty. 

He moved on to head Amazon’s original film production, overseeing prizewinning features such as “The Salesman” and “Manchester by the Sea”. “I worked at Amazon for five plus years. Their leadership principles were things I had already decided were how I like to lead my life. They build out of first principles,” he told Variety.  

But now Hope feels the independent film sector is in bad shape: “It’s reached a point where you can start to see that the business goals of the corporations don’t align with independent artists. You try to examine the first principles of independent film, and what the appropriate tactics are to help it be sustainable, and you see they’re no longer aligned with the main film ecosystem.”

The alternative is what he calls “a non-independent, independent ecosystem.” What does that look like? Hope believes the first principle is “an initial acknowledgement that access to culture, both as a consumer and the opportunity to create, is actually a human right. That’s worth memorializing. It would benefit the economy and our quality of life. Culture is still America’s number one export, followed by the military.”

Hope sees the ongoing strikes as much as an opportunity as a crisis. “When I left Amazon, I had this big dream. How to build a better mousetrap. People would like to believe that the market, the electoral system, and collective bargaining would always lead to the best results, but many, particularly younger people, have come to realize that’s just not the case. We’ve seen the destruction of the environment and the collapse of the social contract. And so, how to think differently becomes a question.”  

You’re talking about essentially restructuring capitalism? 

“Your words, not mine, but, yeah, it is a savage system.” Hope cites Shoshana Zuboff’s book ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ as an influence. As for the strikes, “the unions are going to address the most basic necessities of survival – which will be wages –  but the questions of ownership of data, data transparency and generative AI, these are vitally important. Large scale corporations endeavor to minimalize the role of the artists and creators, and destroy our ability to go forward.” 

Not having access to the data about how a work is received hampers artists and producers. “I need to know how my work performs so I can course correct. I need to say that I think this worked and this didn’t work and try to get a comprehensive picture,” Hope said.

Hope added: “To me, that question of data ownership, data transparency, and generative AI is actually bigger. Some of those choices will have to be sacrificed for the other needs of wages and work, but it doesn’t mean those questions go away. It ultimately falls on government, and community recognition of how important these are to our overall quality of life.” 

One of his points was that Marvel and the studios have nothing to replace the superhero movie with. But hasn’t “Barbie” set up a whole new wave of IP driven movies for Mattel?

“Eventually, we will get to a place where we start to recognise that you want to provide the counterpoint when you provide the point, and you want to provide a wider spectrum of stories and perspectives along the way,” Hope told Variety

“I love that these things exist. What annoys me is the lack of focus. I saw ‘Superman,’ the Christopher Reeve version when it came out. And I saw the ‘Batmans,’ and ‘Iron Man,’ and those were all fun iterations to have, but they weren’t all that we got. They were unique and distinct, and “Barbie” is unique and distinct. What Greta Gerwig understood is it is a great cultural icon that can be used as a launchpad for many more ideas and in a fun and engaging way. Like we like to be entertained. 

Hope added: “There’s many other ways that people can do that than just that. I got to work with James Gunn, and you could see his vision of superhero stuff is disruptive. And he comes to it with love. He really digs it. But those people are rare. Greta Gerwig is a perfect alignment, and frankly, also ‘Oppenheimer.’ It’s a Chris Nolan film. And it’s just a good marriage of his style with subject matter.” 

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