Toronto: Producer Ted Hope Sees "Golden Age of New Voices" for Indie Film Business

Sure, streaming giants have rocked indie filmmakers, but the business has always been nasty and brutal, the legendary producer told a TIFF masterclass.

Sure, Ted Hope sees downside in today's indie film business amid fast-expanding streaming giants. But it was ever thus, the legendary producer told a master class at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday.

"It's been a non-stop onslaught of transformative change since I arrived in New York City.  Yes, we're no longer a single-title, revenue based, studio-driven ecosystem. Now we're in a streaming dominant, portfolio-based, attention-driven, global economy, and that's changed everything," Hope, who ran Amazon Studios at one point, said during  a virtual conversation moderated by THR executive film editor Tatiana Siegel.

But Hope told the virtual session at TIFF that indie film has been nasty and brutal from its early days. And incessant change will remain through to when the current streaming model overtaking the business collapses, as indie film inevitably continues its transformation.

"People will be saying, Oh my God, I can't believe it's not that way, but at least I can look back and say, I remember when it was something different and each time we found a way to build it better. Yes, a few babies will get thrown out with the bathwater," Hope insisted.

As result, Hope recommended to emerging directors that they keep a "small footprint" in terms of material needs and expenses to survive and thrive on what promises to be an endless roller coaster ride.

"It's an incredible privilege to be able to get to do what you love. You may not get paid well to do it, you may work horrible hours and you may be surrounded by liars, cheats and malcontents and misanthropes. But still to work on the precipice of inspiration and disaster is pretty thrilling," he said.

While at Amazon Studios, Hope had movie producing credits for The Aeronauts, Manchester by the Sea and Cold War. As the film industry moves even quicker and headlong amid a pandemic towards the streaming arena, Hope said film producers and directors have learnt over time how to mitigate risk. "Yes, bigger, but we've learnt how to deal with it better," he said of the current movie business.

Hope argued the Coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated a shift in industry power from the major studios to global streaming giants. And that transition to global film financing and distribution deals threatens the traditional indie film financing model that relied heavily on international territory deals and soft money.

"I'm very concerned that, without the independent financing model and the national subsidy model, we will lose distinctive film voices," Hope said. At the same time, he sees global streamers, including out of international markets like Asia, increasing their appetite for indie film titles as they look to grow their subscriber bases.

"It's a great way to gather people together, to discover new content," Hope, who has produced indie directors like Ang Lee, Todd Solondz, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Michel Gondry, said. And he sees the film industry shifting from being domestically-driven out of Hollywood to being a global player in need of regional and distinctive voices and content.

"We will see a huge new range of perspectives, that I think will change and expand the storytelling form. We're going to hit a real golden age of new voices who are given permission and free rein to explore their vision," Hope added in a note of optimism.

The veteran indie producer didn't give much away, but Hope assured his TIFF audience that he's at work on ways to restore a golden age for indie filmmakers, as "outlier" voices once again get a chance to thrive in the business, much as they did during the 1980s when he cut his teeth in filmmaking.

"I've been able to share some thoughts with folks and they've responded very positively to them. I'm not ready to talk about it now. But everyone recognizes the need and change will come," he told the TIFF masterclass.