Tessa Hoffe couldn’t wait to get on with the rest of her life. Born in Wellington, she loved reading and sports while attending Onslow College, 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 [directing]", 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 job as a runner with weekend bar work. 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. After making three or four shorts as exercises, she directed the script in 1994; the process was a "revelation". 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 prestigious French festival Clermont-Ferrand, the British Short Film Festival, and fests in Santiago and Kiev. It was broadcast by Canal+ and Italy's Telepiù, and on UK television.
The international recognition helped Hoffe 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 Wellington short film festival Drifting Clouds, and was again invited to Clermont-Ferrand in France. It was purchased by Canal+. Her third short film Street Talk was a finalist at Drifting Clouds in 2001.
The short films won Hoffe a job on long-running soap Shortland Street. She directed 40+ episodes in 2001 and 2002, finding the experience "informative, but not overly positive". In 2003 Hoffe headed to the United Kingdom. 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 on Channel Four’s flagship teen soap Hollyoaks. Hoffe went on to direct multiple episodes of popular soaps Coronation Street, Emmerdale Farm and Grange Hill. She enjoyed the work and the "extra pressures and expectations" of helming bigger episodes.
Hoffe has also directed on childrens’ sci-fi drama World’s End and BAFTA-nominated foster family tale Rocket's Island. She helmed ten episodes of Nickelodeon's popular period mystery House of Anubis, and worked on two YouTube shows featuring American teens with a dark side: Emmy-nominated dramedy Youth & Consequences and Wayne. In 2020 she joined British ice skating drama Zero Chill, before starting on Irish gangster series Kin.
It irks Hoffe that she is often described as a 'female director' rather than just a '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 festivals. In early 2017 she completed self-funded short Spinosaurus. Based on the plight of a child carer, it co-starred her son Enzo, who was four at the time; making the film with him proved "an amazing experience". The film picked up theatrical distribution in Europe, and was invited to over 25 festivals, winning a run of awards along the way. A feature-length script, spinning off Spinosaurus, came joint third in the 2017 Euroscript Screenwriting Competition. Enzo also acted in Hoffe's Brexit-inspired short Majority (2020).
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell; updated on 13 January 2020
Tessa Hoffe website. Accessed 13 January 2020
Sarah Barnett, ‘Tessa Hoffe, Director’ (Interview) - The Listener, 27 May 2006
'Tessa Hoffe' Internet Movie Database website. Accessed 13 January 2020