Archive for March, 2018

“You are about to enter an industry that’s filled with narcissistic, egotistical, misanthropic liars and cheats. You’d better find a safe harbor of people you trust. Being an artist is exhausting and nobody appreciates your work to the degree that you want them to… unless you have people around you that say I hear you, I see you, we are in this together, I’m going to help lift you up.”
Ted Hope
Speaking to students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts 
Amazon Studios’ Ted Hope shares principles of artistic success 

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I’m reading through Ted Hope’s book Hope for Film, From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions (the Kindle version which I recommend) and came along this passage that he calls “My formula for the perfect Sundance Film.” I hope you find it helpful. (From pages 78-79.)


1. The protagonist: Center the story around an everyday person, someone the audience can identify with (not a wealthy or an evil type).

2. The plot: The protagonist needs to go through a serious arc, suffer hardship, and then come to some understanding that the audience didn’t expect.

3. Be bold: Show risk-taking in the filmmaking. Make it feel like it may all fall apart, but then save it at the last moment: People should say, “It’s bold.”

4. Be disciplined: If you can’t be bold, be disciplined. If it doesn’t fit the form, cut it out.

5. Own your aesthetic: Embrace, even flaunt, your aesthetic and the limits of your aesthetic. Don’t be ashamed of your limitations. Own your choices.

6. Engage bigger issues: The story has to be bigger than the movie itself and should deal with issues of either class conflict, gender conflict, sexual conflict, or other political issues. How do you comment on the world at large while still examining the minute and particular?

7. Cast: You need to cast a few stars or soon-to-be stars, so it should be an ensemble piece that covers generational conflict. You have the old-name actor you’re bringing back and the up-and-comer whom no one had seen yet, along with actors who can move from TV into feature films.

8. Shock value: It needs some moment of audacity, the kind of thing that people will talk about and that might even shock the uninitiated.

9. The right mix: Have a sense of humor about great tragedy— or find the tragedy in the hilarious. Embrace the cocktail; make it at least feel fresh.

10. Leave them wanting more: Shorter is better; 90 minutes is the new 120 (today, 80 is the new 90). No one ever says, “I wish it had been longer” when they leave the theater.



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The work I did with [writer/director Nicole Holofcener] on the Walking and Talking script would set the template for my standard development process with dozens of filmmakers later. In large part, it starts with a series of questions: How do you find the theme? What do you want the big takeaway from the movie to be for the audience? What do you want them to remember intellectually, and what do you want them to feel emotionally? At a certain point, Nicole came up with this image in her mind: The character Amelia (played in the film by Keener) is holding her friend Laura (played by Heche), who is getting married and starting a new way of life, afloat in the water. That, to me, was a baptismal moment of surrender and passage. It was about loving someone so much that you let her go. And that was the big takeaway of the movie in a single visual and heartfelt instant. But it was a process to get there. Once we found this telling scene, and once the theme of love as loss emerged, we had to make sure that the theme emerged elsewhere in the script.
Producer Ted Hope (The Ice Storm)
Hope for Film (with Anthony Kaufman
pp 65-66

Related posts:
Writing from Theme
Sheldon Turner on Theme
John Carpenter on Theme 
Diablo Cody on Theme 
Ryan Coogler on the Theme of Black Panther 

Scott W. Smith

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