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Fact-Checking Movie Producer Ted Hope's Crazy Hollywood Memoir

Adam L. Brinklow | August 13, 2014 | Lifestyle Story Culture

Ted Hope has been many things: SF Film Festival Commissioner, CEO of the indie movie streaming startup Fandor, producer behind movies such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and 21 Grams. Hope's new memoir, Hope for Film, is chock-full of weird and wild anecdotes about his Hollywood years, like the time a sleep-deprived pilot nearly killed everyone on a flight to Sundance, or when a jilted actress arranged a meeting just so she could throw coffee on a director. Some Hope stories are so out-there we just had to look up his collaborators on those movies to see if this was all for real:

Did Hope's crew really set fire to an entire town for Ride with the Devil (1999)?

Hope says: The only way they could afford to shoot the pivotal town-burning scene in Ang Lee's Civil War epic was to find a real condemned town and actually burn it.

Line Producer Declan Baldwin Says: “It was a flood town, scheduled for demolition. Pattonsburg, Missouri. It had flooded twice in so many years and FEMA was tired of coming in there, so they evacuated everyone to a new Pattonsburg on higher ground. They were bulldozing most of it but we could shoot there so long as it didn't hold up their schedule. We hired some Mennonites to pick up the houses and move them where we wanted, dressed them to look period appropriate, and torched it all.”

Did Hope's staff really have to steal their gear back from Russian gangsters for The Way of the World (1992)?

Hope says: Coney Island ne'er-do-wells stole some of his sound equipment and demanded a ransom, so his intern went to retrieve it.

Former intern Anthony Bregman says: "We got a call from some Russian gang saying they 'found' our sound equipment and they'd give it back if we paid the 'storage fee' of $50. I was 26 and I'd just started working for Ted and I wanted to prove myself. I went to the meeting at this Coney Island bar with the $50 and two subway tokens. I come in and three big guys in double-breasted suits are waiting for me. The Russians tell me they have our reel-to-reel recorder, but 'the price has gone up.' I grabbed the recorder and ran."

Did Hope's assistant producers really stay up all night roping flies for Human Nature (2001)?

Hope says: Director Michel Gondry insisted on shooting with live flies (rather than computer effects) so that Rhys Ifans' man-raised-by-apes character would look authentic. There was no time to order them through proper channels, so the crew pulled an all-nighter catching flies by hand.

Co-producer Julie Fong says: “It’s true, we couldn’t get a fly wrangler in time. We were shooting in the forest, so two assistants and I found a horse stable out there and lured them into a jar with honey. Then we had to figure out how to tie filament to their legs so they'd stay in the shot."

Did Hope's team really have to rebuild Phoenix, Arizona in the Bronx for The Savages (2007)?

Hope says: After an exhaustive casting search, actor Phillip Bosco signed on for the key role in the film. The catch: He has agoraphobia and refused to get on an airplane. So the Arizona shooting locales had to be reproduced in New York just for him.

Production Designer Jane Anne Stewart says: “You get a thespian like that, you want to keep him. We had just enough money to rebuild half of the real location in a Bronx sound stage. We confined Bosco’s scenes the living room, so whenever you see a character turn around in those scenes they’re going from a New York winter to 120 degree Arizona day. You have to do that kind of thing working with stars. For Jack Nicholson on About Schmidt we had to rebuild the entire set inside a warehouse to meet his schedule."

Hope for Film is available today at Bay Area bookstores and on Amazon.

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