Tessa Hoffe couldn’t wait to get on with the rest of her life. Born in Wellington, she attended Onslow College. Hoffe loved reading and sports, but left school after the sixth form. Her first job in the TV and film industry was as a runner for Lee Tamahori and Brian Kassler’s production company, Flying Fish.
“I knew very quickly that the only job that interested me was Lee's job," says Hoffe. "None of the roles that I would have been expected to follow interested me at all. I always had a strong urge to write and it seemed the only way any of my ideas could come to fruition is if I directed them myself”.
Hoffe supplemented her screen job as a runner with bar work on weekends. She saved, got two credit cards and a bank loan, and headed for the New York Film Academy with short film script Barbara, Ann and Travis in her bag. She made "three or four" shorts as exercises, before directing Barbara, Ann and Travis (1994). The process was a "revelation" for her. Hoffe returned downunder to write and direct The Collector (1997) the story of a lonely civil servant’s self-inflicted isolation. It was chosen for the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival, the British Short Film Festival, and fests in Santiago and Kiev. The Collector was broadcast by Canal+ and Italy's Telepiù; it also screened on UK television.
The international recognition meant Hoffe could secure funding for her next film, Group Therapy (1998). The comedy about a therapy addict won Best Screenplay, Actor (Jed Brophy) and Actress (Ginette McDonald) at New Zealand's Drifting Cloud Film Festival. It was purchased by Canal +, and screened at the Dublin International Film Festival. Her third short film Street Talk (with Hoffe as writer/ director and producer) was a finalist at Drifting Clouds in 2001.
The short film work got Hoffe a job on long-running soap Shortland Street. She directed 40 to 50 episodes throughout 2001-2002 and found the experience "informative, but not overly positive". In 2003 Hoffe headed to the UK; plans for another short film had stalled, and emails to UK TV shows had sparked invitations to meet. Within six weeks of arriving Hoffe was directing Channel Four’s flagship teen soap Hollyoaks. Since then Hoffe has directed multiple episodes of popular soaps Coronation Street, Emmerdale Farm and Grange Hill. She enjoys the work and the "extra pressures and expectations" that come with directing the bigger episodes.
It irks Hoffe that she is often described as a ‘female director’ rather than just ‘director.’ “The stats in the UK are dire but there is ongoing work trying to change that”.
During five years living in Cuba, Hoffe directed short documentary Siete Dias (2010) which screened at multiple international festivals. In early 2017 she completed her sixth short film as writer and director. Based on the plight of a child carer, Spinosaurus co-stars her son Enzo, who was four at the time; making the film with him proved "an amazing experience". Set to premiere at the Palm Springs Film Festival, the film picked up theatrical distribution in Europe. A fetaure-length script, spinning off Spinosaurus, came joint third in the 2017 Euroscript Screenwriting Competition.
Hoffe has also directed episodes of childrens’ sci-fi drama World’s End and BAFTA-nominated foster family tale Rocket Island. She directed ten episodes of Nickelodeon's popular period mystery House of Anubis.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell