Former Amazon Studios film executive Ted Hope delivered a blistering takedown of the studios and streamers during an “out-of-the-box” keynote at the Locarno Film Festival.
The veteran U.S. producer has been in the indie trenches since 1990 when he founded Good Machine, the label behind Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm” and Todd Solondz’s “Happiness,” but subsequently leaped to the other side of the fence when he became head of motion picture production in the early days at Amazon Studios.
During a wide-ranging address accompanied by a slide presentation at the Locarno Film Festival’s StepIN think tank on Wednesday, Hope lambasted streaming giants and studios, the Writer’s Guild of America, the impact of AI, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and more.
Hope’s talk started out with the heading: “50 Proofs That The Cinema Apocalypse Is Upon Us.” Here are some of Hope’s “proofs” of the impending apocalypse for indies, delivered in his bullet points:
- Nobody wants to strike. Two film unions striking proves the system is unfair, built to be unfair, and the industry leaders only look out for themselves.
- Media CEOs earn nine-figure salaries, while the industry’s creative talent workers need to take Uber gigs.
- Only 41% of eligible DGA members bothered to vote on their new union contract. If the DGA can’t be troubled to even vote electronically, does anyone really care about our industry?
- AMPAS has unlevelled the awards playing field by requiring a 10-city theatrical release while allowing [marketing] spending to go unchecked.
- AMPAS seems to be doing nothing to solve the runaway awards campaign funding.
- AI is a real threat to all film people’s jobs — and everyone’s jobs.
- The Creator Economy only favors the platforms and the highest-selling artists.
- The streamers pay everything that’s made “like it is a hit” (or did) … except for the hits.
- Netflix made $900 million on “Squid Game” but the creator received zero dollars in residuals.
- Creators do not have access or ownership of the data their work generates.
- There is no backend participation anymore. What happens to industries and ecosystems in which a reward equal to the risk is not offered? They collapse.
- “The streaming ecosystem may eventually shrink to 4 major platforms. Then we’d have sacrificed cable only to replace it with a broadcast-style monopoly.”
- Further massive media consolidation is likely. Who’s buying who this week? It always ends in massive layoffs.
- Despite a good weekend from “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan, the theatrical market is still shrinking; the market is down 16% from its 2018 peak. Ticket prices are up and revenues are still down. That’s because attendance is way down.
- Superhero flicks are mortally wounded and the overlords seem clueless as to what to fill the vacuum with.
Hope joined Amazon in 2015, the early days of the company’s original movies program. He was hired to oversee the production of feature films — which he did with a deep indie ethos — but stepped down from the role in 2020.
“The indie film sector is f**** but it actually has a huge chance to build something and I actually think that is quite doable and the chance of building something better are quite high,” said Hope.
Talking to the audience as 150 bullet points flashed on a screen behind him, Hope also addressed the virtues of indie filmmaking; why an indie filmmaking system should not be dependent on global streamers and studios; indie-first principles and tenets; and 19 possibilities to build a better future for the indie sector.
“Stop accepting the status quo,” one bullet point implored. “Think of the long-term process of change & improvement.” “Require back end participation. Claw back rights: If a right is not utilized, why grant it?” Another bullet point simply stated: “Grant of ownership reversion to artists.”
“Denying back-end participation is a violation of human rights,” Hope said.
Railing at a U.S. movie apocalypse in Locarno, Hope talked about how to “refound” the U.S. indie industry, which he doesn’t consider a utopian concept. It’s entirely possible, he argued. But “people don’t embrace change until the pain of the present forces them,” he added. “We’ve been this parasite for the last 50 years. Really what we’re looking for is the next 10 years and how to build something better. This is the work of the next 10 years.”
Hope addressed an industry audience made up largely of emerging and senior members of Europe’s film industry. The huge difference in Europe is countries’ protectionist incentive systems of not only tax breaks but also direct subsidies that are often straight public-sector grants.
Nonetheless, many of Hope’s issues are still key to current industry debates in Europe, such as rights ownership and reversion on streamer productions. The European Union is mooting new legislation, said to come into effect in late 2024, to address this matter. But whether it will be a half-measure – one of Hope’s bug-bears – remains to be seen.