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Closing My Book And Opening Another
By Ted Hope
Last week, I greatly enjoyed my first three days on the job at Fandor– and anticipating all the ones still to come. It’s funny how timing works sometimes… It couldn’t be a better time for me to learn and engage in something new. And it’s remarkable how sometimes somethings end, just as something new begins. Such changes and coordination need so much support, it is a marvel that so much still gets done.
Ten years ago, my wife and I fell in love. Our romance really blossomed over email and phone calls while I was on the jury at Sundance. Our discussions about what distinguished great work from the good, not only led to my “32 Qualities of Better Film” (now 37!) post, but helped me recognize that Vanessa and I had a tremendous amount in common, too much to ever let get away. Most importantly, we both were committed to avoiding stasis, or really anything close to it. We were then and still today remain committed to learning, growing, and changing. I could not have taken the risks and leaps that I have without a partner like Vanessa, and I don’t see how anyone would be able to. From the beginning, we pledged to help each other continue to explore the further and the wonder. Our collaboration has pushed me onwards in the best possible ways, going beyond the individual, to both partnership and community.
Ten years ago, when I was on the jury at Sundance, I made sure I not only saw the films in the competition I was judging, but thanks to my pass and the drivers the festival provided, I managed to see five or six additional films as well. Watching the great amount of work that gets made is always incredibly inspiring to me, but it also is depressing. Good work does not get seen. Far too much quality work screens far too early, when it needs to continue to percolate and advance. Our infrastructure encourages makers to show off their wares in an immature state, destining a vast amount to the realm of the noble failure. It was on those early emails and calls with Vanessa that I pledged to do something about it. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I did not imagine how long it would take (and continues to take).
Ten years ago, Vanessa and I pledged to do what we had not done before but wanted to. For her, it was to direct a movie exploring the US/China relationship that she had been exploring her entire adult life. We are in the final throws now of the edit of ALL EYES AND EARS, a hybrid documentary on that very subject. As I have struggled with my frustrations and disappointments about the pace of change and our industry’s institutions’ challenges in addressing them, watching Vanessa’s refusal to settle at “good enough” or to succumb to the pull of premature completion that festival deadlines can not help but prompt, has been a constant motivator for me to keep striving to do what is possible and not just accept things as they are. It is too easy to be seduced into doing what is easily available and generally pleasing. Opportunity, as well as power, corrupts, and it requires collaboration to keep our priorities focused.
I have been fortunate. Early semi-success begat more opportunity and I found the right collaborators, listened carefully, and chose wisely. I could keep making movies for the rest of my life. Yet, as I have explained previously, good enough is not enough. This is true for me, and I hope others feel and act the same way. We can not settle. But I know I would drift, succumb, if it was not for the others who keep me mindful of all that matters.
When Vanessa shared her dream of directing a movie, I confessed that I was frustrated that I had never written a book, sharing my path and considerations. I felt then, as I do now, if I could just get my thoughts down, perhaps I could help others achieve the creative careers they desired, and maybe push things forward in our industry and culture. Five years or so ago, I started this blog in an effort to get closer to the book I pledged ten years ago to write. I put words down and shared. I reflected. I stopped being precious. I wondered aloud. And I started writing regularly.
The night before I started my new job at Fandor, I finished the last chapter of that book that I had told Vanessa ten years earlier that I wished I would write. The timing felt extraordinary. What a way to mark my transition. The process of writing helped demonstrate to me how much support others have shared with me along the way. We build nothing on our own. My first book is no exception. As much as I had wanted to write it, as much support and encouragement I had in my life for it, I could not have started it, maintained it, or completed it without the help of others. A couple of years ago, my friend, journalist Anthony Kaufman proposed we conspire and write the book together. He did not know the prominent place I had positioned it on my To Do List. Nor could he had been prepared for all the competing demands on my time that forever pushed it over to the Do Later Dungeon. I took him up on his offer and now we are almost done.
With Anthony’s incredible help I wrote nine chapters on producing film, and one on trying to build a better infrastructure for all of us. With Vanessa’s consistent inspiration and encouragement, I have continued to reach, learn, and take risks. I think I found some useful lessons. I definitely inspired myself to push further, and to never overlook the help of my friends. We can do better than we ever dreamed possible, but we will never do it alone. I can’t believe we completed the work the night before I started my new job with a new team who truly seem eager and more than capable of pushing film culture further. We don’t get anywhere by ourselves and we certainly don’t get very far when our goals are not aligned with others.
I look forward to sharing again what I might learn in the adventures ahead. If my first three days at Fandor are any indication, it’s going to be very exciting times.