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July 18 at 8:15am

10+ Things To Think About If You Want To Make Better Films

By Ted Hope

(photo by Ted, art from the street)

(photo by Ted, art from the street)

I watch a lot of films. I think I watch about 250 a year. I also watch a lot of films that never come out, that most audiences never get access to.

I learn a great deal from the “noble failures”, the films that have ambition but just miss the mark fully in execution. I honestly like these films and find pleasure in watching them, but I also know that most people like their entertainment and culture to be in a more perfectly realized state — even if most of us don’t have the resources to bring our work to that state. I think most people’s taste is shaped by their training; we learn to like what we get — unfortunately.

Yet I also think there are some things that always connect and strike a chord with the audience.  These universal pleasures are not story tricks or character traits per se, but  themes we discover in the stories that move us most,  concepts that help people relate and engage with the work we watch.  Yet, since it is summer, the movies that come to most of us are designed to separate us from our wallets; the movies of summer are supposed to be what most people want.  I go to check them out with the rest of the hordes, and I walk away with less than I entered with.  I am not just talking about the loss of money and time either, I have lost some of my spirit.  The filmmakers and the financiers, the huge team of collaborators responsible for getting the work in front of people, all seem to forget some of the good stuff.  Shouldn’t we all be asking ourselves what really matters?  I think the answers still can be very entertaining.

Years ago, I had a sit-down with the filmmaker Michael Moore.  I confessed to him that I had formerly been a community organizer and felt a bit foolish sometimes having devoted my life subsequently to getting films made and seen.  I wanted to return to politics and bring about some change.  Michael stared at me a bit confused.  The room was silent for a minute before it reminded me that all my films were political:  that by giving characters respect and depth, by allowing the audience the room to make up their own mind, by demonstrating a commitment to quality and art — verses just profit and dreck — I was doing something very political.

I do try to think about the world, about the power of my labor and what I can add to the world.  I ask myself: “what is needed?” Sometimes these themes infect my stories and projects.  Sometimes they effect my polices and methods.  Sometimes they shape my commitments and relationships.  I think they make my films better.  I think they could make your life better too.  I think if we let them into our lives and art and business, we will build a better world together.  At least I am willing to hope that they all will.  And give my life, labor, and love to the effort to prove they might.

What am I talking about?  I am not really sure honestly, but I am happy to give a try to articulating it further.  My list’s not in an order, and I am sure to miss some very important things.  I will fail.  I will get it wrong. But isn’t that what a conversation is all about: a group endeavor to unearth something greater?

  1. Empathy – Making movies is a privilege.  Our path and those of others could have easily gone a different way with a little bit of influence, good or bad.  There will always be so many good movies yet to be made because all characters can be related to.  Until you can walk in another’s shoes, you are not ready to begin the journey.
  2. Justice -Bryan Stevenson’s Ted Talk speaks well of the connection we feel when we see and combat injustice in the world.  What could ever be a greater good?
  3. Change/Growth – It is so easy to get stuck in a rut.  It is so easy not to see the forest for the trees.  It is hard to keep a perspective on things.  We can’t stand still.  I don’t think we can do it alone.  We need to check to make sure we are always moving forward, and are loved ones are doing the same.
  4. Emotional Truth – People forget how to live.  We model ourselves on the world around us.  The surface of things takes precedence over the depth if don’t commit to digging deeper. Simple is not what we are.  Go further. Creation requires an acceptance of responsibility for and with what is delivered.
  5. Identity – Who are we?  Who are they?  Why are we unique? Why are we the same?  What’s not to celebrate?
  6. Specificity – There is a universal aspect to the culturally specific.   There is freedom in the commitment.  Freedom requires responsibility.  Limits expand horizons.  Make a commitment and embrace it.  Generalities, including this one, are all lies.
  7. Compassion – It is not easy.  It is not fair. No one has earned it.  We make mistakes.  The nature of human kind is to fail.  So get over it and let your heart lead your mind and body.  We can all relate.
  8. Generosity – It is not a zero sum game.  There is more than enough for everybody.  Getting yours does not means they can have more or get their first.  If we reach out and provide, everyone accelerates.  Nothing else feels better than giving it away.
  9. Curiosity – Does it need to be this way?  Could it be done another way?  Why them? Why then?  What lies beneath?
  10. Ambition – We all need something to aspire to and that is one of the roles of art.  We show ourselves and everyone else what we could be.  If we refuse to settle, we lift everyone up with us.
  11. Transcendence – The pain, frustration, pace, and horrible things people do will never go away. We can fight against it and keep it down and we can rise above it and not let their bad ways change our good. We can see the bad as our lot and our identity and know that they too suffer for it. We can hold out a hand and hold the good inside us.
  12. There is no end.  No list will be finished. No film truly completed.  It’s an ongoing story with many authors, collaborators,  participants, and proselytizers.  We are mayflies on the windshield of history.  Evolution is the way of everything.

And if you want “A Simple Way To Make Films That Change People And The World” read this.

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  1. Michael Sutter / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Great, great post. Time to get back to writing with these things in mind.

  2. Edward Stencel / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Thank you Ted, for this wonderful insight into story telling.

  3. nupur jain / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    wow! am inspired. 

  4. Terence Donnellan / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Hi Ted,


    I always enjoy reading your posts, and I’ve seen most of the
    films you’ve been involved with from early on. 
    I am sometimes amazed that on top of everything else you do, you have
    the time to write here.  So thanks for
    all your efforts.


    At the risk of being self-promoting, I have written a novel
    about a filmmaker who feels very much like you do, and perhaps like many of us
    feel.  Here’s a brief synopsis for my
    novel,“A Tincture of Madness” 


    Independent filmmaker, Blasket McManus has struggled his
    entire life to make small, personal films. 
    But in a culture obsessed with blockbuster superheroes and vampire
    horror flicks, Hollywood considers Blasket irrelevant.  To show he still matters, Blasket creates his
    most ambitious film: The Promised Land, a
    dark comedy about the American Dream. 
    The film wins seven Academy Awards and the Grand Prize at the Cannes
    Film Festival. 

    Unfortunately, Blasket is locked
    away in Bellevue Psychiatric Ward where doctors tell him he suffers from mental
    illness, has never made any films, and is a danger to society. Blasket must now
    prove he is sane enough to live in the civilized world before doctors give him
    a lobotomy.


    “A Tincture of Madness” is a tragicomedy that explores the fine line between genius
    and madness.




  5. Burns the fire / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Love, love, love. Sing it!!

  6. S / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    What? This is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Motivation. Every great, memorable, and emotionally impacting film has successfully incorporated a few of Maslow’s motivations, with tremendous skill and talent. If overthetop filmmakers only utilized these motivations, we’d have great films on our hands and before us.

  7. Revit1 / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    I agree with almost everything you’ve expressed and it makes you realize how difficult it is to craft a movie that will incorporate all of your prompts. It’s one thing to know what it takes and quite another to write a script that will meet all of your guidelines. Too daunting, too distracting if you start with them on your mind, however. It has been easier for me to formulate a storyline over time based on my experiences and values, transate the story into a rough draft, allow it to age with many, many rewrites to a point where you feel it’s ready for feedback from professionals you respect, incorporate their insights that resonate with your vision/theme/ underlining truth of the story and do several more re-writes until you are reasonably satisfied wIth your final polish. My point is that your script/film has to be organic reflecting who you are and the story you want to tell. I think it would be helpful to go back as you’re near the end to see if your story has included any of you insights.
    that you’ve articulated so well.

  8. Hyatguy / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Oh Captain! My Captain…

  9. Deirdre2 / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Aristotle sid that spectacle needed to match story (a poor paraphrasing). Technology also is a part of good filmmaking: whether that is simply being technically sound (down to continuity or choice of shots) to, my favorite, pushing the genre forward. I still remember taking the train into NYC to see RAGING BULL and being amazed at the editing and sound. I loved how MOULIN ROUGE took huge risks in both style and form. Now it seems GRAVITY is doing this as well. When story matches spectacle, we all leap forward. It is rare that a film has both, but when they do….magic.

  10. GrrllaFilmMag / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Great list! Very true.

  11. James Devereaux / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    I heard a great thing the other day: “only the prospect of self-knowledge will bring people to the theatre and keep them there” . That made a LOT of sense to me.

    Thanks again for another terrific post.

  12. Out in the Street Films / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Excellent. I am inspired, enlightened, and agree with everything except to say, what about the films that only a very few ever see?

    There’s a curation problem. Who or what gave the self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the arts their authority? Or perhaps a better question is, why do we acknowledge them as authority? And this happens in the indie world in festivals driven my theme and marketing (never fairness); as well as the corporate world driven by business profit logic (which doesn’t even work).

  13. Ted Hope / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    I think we live in a time when we can make our collections, championing them and help those films get seen. It may not have the impact of a festival like Sundance, but it is a start. I would be very interested in seeing such a list with greater context from you.

  14. Out in the Street Films / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    Thanks Ted. Good idea. My concern is more that there are films I’m not aware of for this reason. I will see if I can list a few.

  15. suchitab / Jul 18 at 8:15am

    “I do try to think about the world, about the power of my labor and what I can add to the world. I ask myself: “what is needed?” Sometimes these themes infect my stories and projects. Sometimes they effect my polices and methods. Sometimes they shape my commitments and relationships. I think they make my films better. I think they could make your life better too. I think if we let them into our lives and art and business, we will build a better world together…..” thank you:)

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