The Film Business

Be Willing to Get It 80% Right: Ted Hope Interview

ted hope In this excerpt from Sell Your Own Damn Movie, Lloyd Kaufman sits down with Ted Hope and talks about the opportunities filmmakers have to build audiences.

LLOYD: Let’s talk a little bit about someone entering the industry today, because the democratization of cinema has made it possible for everyone to make his/her/its own damn movie. What do you think is the best way to have a film that’s kind of personal and independent distributed today? What would you do if you were an unknown and did not have your reputation and your relationship with the stars and all that stuff? If you were Edward McMullen today and you happened to want to make your personal film… I mean Edward Burns.

TED: What I would do is first focus on the audience. Even before you make your movie, you have to think about who your audience is going to be. Not just for this individual film, but for the long term. How do you satisfy them? How do you engage them? How do you collaborate with them? How do you seed, build, corral, and travel your audience? And not just through a single film project. I think it makes a lot of sense to sit there at first and say, “Okay, I’m going to make this feature. What else can I make around this feature? Can I make five short films? Can I use those shorts to build the ramp that will allow the audience to climb aboard my movie? And when I’m done with my movie, I don’t want to lose them. I’ve got to make sure that I stay engaged with them and give them the bridge to the next work.” Those are really important questions.

People understand in a big way the question of development, of getting your script right. They understand the questions of production and how to make it. They understand even the questions of selling and bringing your film to a festival. But what they haven’t paid as much attention to is the creative process of discovery and appreciation, presentation, participation, those other elements of cinema.

One of the reasons I went into making movies, and that I’m sitting here on your couch right now, is that I love talking about movies. Not just my movies but the movies I fell in love with that made me want to make cinema. When you think back, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, 60 years ago, let’s be real, the movie posters were far cooler than they are today. Usually now they’re just these big heads beckoning you to come see them in the 27th movie that they’ve done. They used to be finely drawn pictures that helped you understand what the movie would be about in a much better way than they do today. That poster, that trailer, those clips, your film blog, your website, that casual game you create, frequently will be the discovery portal to enter the narrative. They are where we start to shape the story. And the care and attention we need to pay those is huge. We have to recognize that’s how we enter the story. Then we have to recognize that films don’t go away, they’re always there. When I make my new film, I’m not just competing against Poultrygeist. I’m not just competing against the new Mel Gibson movie. I’m competing against the whole history of cinema. You sit here in your home and say, “Well, next on my Netflix queue I have this Kurosawa film, this Fritz Lang film, the fourth season of South Park , and I have Slither by James Gunn.” I have all these things I want to watch. I’m competing against the history of cinema. So why are you going to watch my movie tonight instead of those? I need to give you the access. I have to give you the ramp trail to get you to the wheel and make you content to keep running around. Okay, so that’s not the best metaphor…

As a new filmmaker, you have to recognize, that’s your job. You have to build the ramp to get us to watch the movie. You have to get us to say, “Kurosawa may be one of the greatest filmmakers ever, but tonight I’m going to watch Joe Blow’s $20,000 debut film.” And that can happen; you can win that nightly battle.

It always struck me as a funny thing that in America, new people are always worried about doing things the right way. The thing that’s really exciting about the time we live in now is that there aren’t any real experts. The expert is someone who has done it. We’re at a great place where you could have a will to fail and learn from it. Get over that hang-up about getting it 100% right. Be willing to get it 80% right. Just be sure to learn as you stumble. Don’t trip over the same stump twice. It’s a really exciting time where the rules have been thrown out, and that’s a time when the new leaders emerge and learn to take advantage of it and run with it.

Excerpted from Sell Your Own Damn Movie! © 2011 Lloyd Kaufman, published by Elsevier. All rights Reserved

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