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“Giving Access Back to the People”: Fandor CEO Ted Hope on FIX and the Festival Alliance

Ted Hope

Back in July, Fandor announced the implementation of two new initiatives, FIX and the Fandor|Festival Alliance. The former aggregates the work of over a hundred participating filmmakers, fostering audience interaction, while the latter assists festivals with technological services and highlights their programming. When I spoke to Fandor CEO Ted Hope last week, in what I deemed a belated inquiry, he appropriately countered that there is no such thing in the digital era. “Nothing is grounded as this is how it is, it’s constantly being iterated. What we launched with is not where our goal is,” he said of FIX. In our discussion, he also spoke to the need for interactive online cinema, constant relationships between filmmaker and fan, streaming service and festivals, as well as the benefit an abundance of content. 

Filmmaker: FIX is a new Fandor initiative that allows filmmakers to better connect with audience members and one another. How is such a measure accomplished?

Ted Hope: One of the biggest challenges that filmmakers have right now is how to plan for the life cycle of their film. In the analog era, you had a simple theatrical release, one film out at a time, but you didn’t have the tools to build an aggregated audience around your work. [At Fandor], when we start to look at the different filmmakers we have and see their body of work, we see that through the platform, they can achieve a network effect. The question then becomes one of implementation. First, it’s about collecting their movies. Then, it’s about enhancing their page, and keeping up the conversation.

Say, in the near future, you want to follow Jodie Mack or Hal Hartley. You can decide that yes, you want to receive push notifications when [their] new work is available. Fandor is a curated platform, but in the near future, FIX filmmakers will have the ability to add content, so they gain revenue. Fandor is the model a lot of distribution will move towards, which is the difference between rights acquisition and artist services. Our licenses are relatively short term – one year to 18 months. Hal Hartley and I are finally getting the rights back to The Unbelievable Truth, what, 30 years after we made it. For all the subscription revenue that Fandor earns, 50% of that goes back to the films. They receive revenue on a prorated basis, on a per second watched basis. So if you’re a filmmaker, and you’ve built an audience of 10,000 people who have agreed to receive push notifications, and you’re putting up your two-minute short that you just generated in advance of your feature soon debuting, not only would you be gathering interest in your feature, but you’d be generating revenue.

The challenge that happens right now is that filmmakers and distributors have to keep going out and rebuilding their audience. The film industry is still based on one of the most arrogant ideas of business ever conceived: that we make something to bring people to. Doesn’t it make much more sense to bring it to where the people are already gathered? A subscription platform is that exact thing, people who have gathered around a similar interest. We have to deal with the cultural change of the abundance of content as opposed to scarcity. Back when I started making movies, you had under 300 a year released theatrically; now, we have 700, but 50,000 films generated on a global basis.

So how do we start to change? Fandor is not just a business driven by profit, we have a mission, to advance and preserve film art and culture. To create a global community who is united around entertaining important cinema experiences. How do we help these filmmakers, these creators of transformative works, increase their communication with audiences? Now, FIX is predominately promotionally based, but as we evolve, it’s about providing the tools for direct communication. Web 2.0 is about giving access and communication back to the people, but still, online cinema is offered as a product. They sell it on a grid, as a pair of shoes. It’s not an experience; it’s consumption. FIX is about the transformation from a one-off product to an ongoing relationship. And I’m incredibly excited about that.

Filmmaker: When you’re curating films for Fandor, are you looking to acquire a filmmaker’s whole oeuvre? What is the gatekeeping process like?

Hope: We licensed half of Werner Herzog’s catalogue recently, and by the end of the month, I hope to announce another filmmaker’s entire catalogue that is of equal status to Herzog. If you look at what was acquired of the Safdie brothers, or the Duplass brothers, it’s all their short work. It’s a model of following people early in their career, watching them develop, and providing that reference point. How do we enhance that conversation for the fans? We’re not just seeing the new work, it’s a much deeper dive. In terms of how we evaluate, it’s about what we judge to be unique and important. It includes short form work, experimental work, ephmera, as well as 500 different genres of film. It’s really the quality that we look at.

Filmmaker: How do you get onto FIX? You have filmmakers like Al Maysles, but also people I had hitherto never heard of.

Hope: Right now, the FIX directors are those who we have direct licensing arrangements with, or members of a filmmaker owned collective. It’s about the filmmaker who is the owner of their work, the artist-entrepreneur, as it were. Folks who don’t go through the typical corporate licensing structures.

Filmmaker: Earlier you mentioned that once a filmmaker is part of the FIX community, they can alert audiences to upcoming work. How does that happen?

Hope: That is a tool to come. First, we want to highlight all of the work, and advance it on a promotional basis. Simultaneously, we brought on a full time staff member, Amanda Salazar, to consult with the filmmakers and survey them on what they need most. Because we have a robust team of engineers and designers, we are building new technology to service the filmmakers’ primary needs. Improving things for filmmakers and film festivals will ultimately improve our business and the culture in general.

Filmmaker: Lastly, I just wanted to ask about the Festival Alliance, and how you plan to implement that relationship.

Hope: I just wrote a blog post on this this morning because it was on my mind. I wrote a bit about how festivals and platforms can collaborate. Because we have 5000 titles published on the platform, for any given festival, we have at least ten films that played their festival. We create individual pages for each festival and highlight that work, so people can get a better idea of what they screen. It’s also about recognizing the unique work that festivals have done in identifying, aggregating and maintaining a local community of very passionate film lovers. Now, festivals tend to be seasonal, and that creates its own set of challenges. Running the San Francisco Film Society, I saw the great difficulties of both financial support and labor capacity in terms of what could get executed and developed. I think something all festivals are running below their wishes on is access to technology and what can be done. So we took the availability of our content, and the ability to offer promotional opportunities, and gifted it to the festival, based off of their needs.

Filmmaker: You’re also finding a way to capitalize on a regional audience that, 95% of the year, when the festival isn’t running, doesn’t have direct access to these sorts of independent films. You’re extending their interest and commitment.

Hope: We’re all served by keeping audience members united and advancing them as a community. Let’s not make it harder, let’s make it easier. There’s the concept that with any stakeholder — filmmakers, festivals, distributors — we can build it better working together. A digital screening service helps identify the nature of cinephile’s behavior — what do they watch next, what are they responding to — to the degree that that’s information they want to share. Me, I just don’t know what to watch. There’s so much wonderful cinema out there that the average American will never encounter. I have a viewing list that’s two years longer than my life expectancy. How wonderful is that? I never have to worry about boredom, I never have to worry about not liking.

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