Ted Hope Talks Indie Sprit, Amazon Studios’ Upcoming Lineup at Locarno Fest

Amazon Studios Head of Motion Picture Production Ted Hope talked up the streamer’s upcoming slate of awards hopefuls at the Locarno Festival in Switzerland where he was feted with a special prize for producers who best epitomize the indie ethos.

“A producer is someone who encourages people to recognize their ambition: to reach for a vision,” Hope said Thursday evening as he received Locarno’s Golden Leopard on the fest’s open-air Piazza Grande stage in front of thousands of people.

“And then your job is to protect that vision and make sure that the film has all of its aspects that it possibly can.” 

Cheers broke out when he recalled his first encounter with Ang Lee, more than 30 years ago, who told him: “If I don’t make a movie soon, I will die!”

During an onstage conversation on Friday Hope reminisced about how he cut his teeth as a producer on Lee’s early movies, including the “The Ice Storm,” and then went on to tell how “American Splendor” got made and recounted other milestones in his career which spans over 70 produced films, so far. He’s launched quintessentially indie helmers Hal Hartley, Todd Solondz, Nicole Holofcener and Michel Gondry, among many others. 

Hope, who joined Amazon in 2015, said these days he continues to “look for someone who has something new to say in a new way that maybe wasn’t given the support initially, because we are living in an era of an abundance of cinema.”

He also noted that after a push to make “awards films,” which yielded 3 Oscars, Amazon is “no longer so awards-obsessed.” 

“We are just trying to make really great movies. And some will be awards films, and some won’t. It doesn’t really matter.”

Which doesn’t mean they won’t push the right ones for Oscars.

Amazon Studios’ upcoming batch of completed titles includes Pawel Pawlikowski’s “tremendous” “Cold War” which will go out in U.S. theaters on December 21 and launched from Cannes where it won the best director prize. At Venice Amazon will launch Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria,” which “may be inspired by a prior movie [Dario Argento’s original] but is like no other movie you’ve ever seen,” Hope assured. And Mike Leigh’s 18th century political drama “Peterloo,” which “though on a big canvas is is still an incredibly intimate film,” Hope said.

Those films have “a kind of international patina,” he said. Whereas Amazon’s Toronto launches, Dan Fogelman’s “Life Itself” and  Felix Van Groeningen’s  “Beautiful Boy,” starring Timothee Chalamet as a methamphetamine addict, “might be a bit more domestic in their focus,” he noted, though they “certainly will travel all around the world.”

Reaffirming his –– and by extension Amazon’s –– commitment to the theatrical experience Hope said: “When I ask myself what makes something cinematic; that’s not just spectacle — like superheroes and capes and long underwear, and lots of explosions–– it’s that unique experience of being in the dark with a room full of strangers and having the same emotional response.”

“What is more fun than sitting in a giant room and seeing a grown man next to you cry?,” he exclaimed. “That to me is fun. It changes the way you feel about the world.”

And about both the Toronto-bound dramas, he vowed: “if they don’t get tears and laughter out of you, then you’re probably dead.”