Colleagues honor Hope at Hamptons

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EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. -- The Hamptons International Film Festival feted indie producer Ted Hope on Thursday night at its third annual Industry Toast, the unofficial kickoff to the fest for many top members of the New York film industry.

Former and present colleagues, from Focus Features CEO James Schamus and directors John Waters and Todd Solondz to fellow producers Christine Vachon, Ross Katz, Anthony Bregman and Anne Carey turned out to honor Hope's career, which includes such films as "The Ice Storm," "In the Bedroom," "Happiness" and "21 Grams."

The tribute comes at a pivotal moment in the history of the company he founded, This Is That Prods. Hope's longtime partner Bregman (who started as the producer's unpaid assistant at Good Machine in 1992) left on good terms this month to form his own production company, Likely Story, leaving the This Is That reins to Hope and fellow partner Carey.

"Maybe this marks a nice closure to Phase 2 of my career, the first at Good Machine and the next with Anthony at This Is That," Hope said before the event. Although he initially spoke of producing two-three films a year with his new streamlined staff, he now says that he will keep his output steady. "We produced seven films this year, and we may end up producing seven more next year and seven more the year after that," he said.

The honor also gave Hope a chance to reflect on the state of the indie film industry. "We're on these traditional tracks: domestic business leading to international business, leading to ancillary business. We've got to get away from this strict theatrical fetish we have," he said. "When the guys at Netflix say 'Palindromes' has exceeded its boxoffice dollars in rentals and is driving more business to Todd Solondz's earlier films, that says a lot about where our business is heading."

Hope also hinted that, despite Bregman's departure, This Is That should continue to grow and evolve along with the industry. "Studios may be cutting back on their films, but there are entrepreneurs out there creating even more opportunities than before, with companies like Netflix and people in the DVD premiere business," he said.

Before the event, Hope's longtime friend, sometime partner and frequent rival Vachon -- who described their relationship as "sometimes cutthroat competitors" -- said she was told she couldn't toast him because she'd toasted Picturehouse head Bob Berney the year before. For Hope, that may have been a good thing. "We had a falling out this summer because I confided to (Ted) about a problem I had on a movie and he told someone he shouldn't have told," she said. "Then I realized how hard it was not to confide in him because he's the only person who understands what I go through getting an independent film made."

Tributes at the event ranged from reverent to scathing. HIFF executive director Denise Kasell said, "I think he's a rarity among us: an honest man." But Hope was frequently razzed for his parsimonious style and, as host Rosie Perez put it, his "SpongeBob SquarePants voice -- the only one in the business I know with a voice like mine."

Schamus read fake letters from such fellow filmmakers as David O. Russell ("You passed on 'Spank the Monkey,' so guess what, you can spank my monkey, asshole!") but added, "I owe more to Ted Hope than anyone here."

It was a busy day for Hope, who spoke onstage in the afternoon with Vachon about her new memoir "A Killer Life." Hope wrote a few pages for his friend's book, in part because he related so much. "If you take away the names and titles, we've all gone through the same experiences she has," he said. "Every week I have conversations with other producers about MPAA ratings or IATSE issues or commiserating over getting financing."

But for Hope, it has clearly been worth it. "I always tell aspiring producers, Don't do it if you're looking for any recognition because you're not going to get it," he said. "So I'm glad to be an exception to the rule."
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