Tessa Hoffe

by Sarah Barnett / 27 May, 2006

There's a bit of Wellington in Weatherfield this Thursday. Last year Kiwi filmmaker Tessa Hoffe, 32, directed two five-episode blocks of Coro-nation Street, the first of which starts screening here this week. Hoffe, whose first love is film (her shorts include 1997's The Collector and 1998's Group Therapy), left for the UK a couple of years ago, following a stint directing Shortland Street. She landed work on Grange Hill and Hollyoaks first, then moved on to Coro. And although there are no hatches, matches, dispatches, or appearances by Gandalf, there's still a shocker in her first episode: no one visits the Rover's.

Where did you start? I started off as a runner for a Wellington production company owned by Lee Tamahori. I was about 17 and I knew very quickly that I wanted to be a director. So it just became a matter of putting myself into situations where I was going to learn about film-making. I went to film school in New York when I was 20.

How did you swing that? I wanted to stay in New Zealand, but I was 19 and there was no way anyone was going to give me - some young, blonde teenager - any money to make a film. I'd had a couple of years working in the industry so I knew the process, but I needed to find out if I could do it. There was a course in New York where that was exactly what you did, so I saved a bit of money, took out a bank loan, got three credit cards, went off to New York and made a little film. It was a really good experience, and confirmed that I was on the right track.

So Shortland Street was a change of pace? I was about 27 when I got the job at Shortland Street - I think I just sent the producer my short film, then I got offered the job. I'd never done multi-camera before, never done tele-vision, I'd only ever worked in the film industry. I had to adapt to a different kind of environment and learn a whole range of new skills - it was a really good learning experience. I'd worked there for about a year, then I felt it was time to do something else, but I couldn't get any other work. I was considered a very young director who hadn't done enough to warrant working on a more serious drama. I didn't agree with them, but if they're not gonna give you a job, they're not gonna give you a job. So I had to leave, really. Before I came to England, I started looking up different shows that are made here, and got through to some producers. I'd never heard of some of the shows, but I'd say, "I really want to work on your show", and most of them got back to me and said, "When can we meet you?" I was shocked - I just thought, "Shit, I'd better go."

And you eventually wound up on Coro. How was it, seeing your episodes? The most exciting bit was hearing the credits and seeing my name come up under that tune. That was incredible - it's such an iconic show. It wasn't something that was on my television as a kid, but I knew who all the characters were - it's kind of strange. It's the best show of its type in the world. There's just no doubt about it, the writing is great. So it took me a couple of years, but I got it in the end.

But you missed Sir Ian McKellen? He finished about two weeks before I started! I couldn't believe it - I was really gutted.

Do you have a chance to make a bit of your own mark and bring some creativity to it? I think that you do, I think that that's entirely up to the director, and that's with anything that a director does. Some stuff in the studio is shot with three cameras - on sets like the Rover's Return. But on the Street and in some of the other sets, like the Platts', it's single camera, so there's a real mix of different ways that you can shoot, which is really nice, because you can change it a bit. There's always scope to put your mark on things, but the key is to do it without alienating the audience. The drama's there, the scene is written very ... well, so you don't need to do a hell of a lot, just try to make each scene work as well as possible, really. Are you a fan of the show?

Um, I tune in every now and then ... And you know all these people: Rita and Norris and Les, they're just people whom you know of. It's bizarre, it's a strange phenomenon. It's extraordinary.

Some of the actors have been their characters for decades. Do they still need direction? For me, the most scary thing about doing Coronation Street was the fact that I was going to have to work with these actors. They've seen directors come and go, other actors come and go, and they know the place inside out. And I was thinking that they're not gonna want some bloody young thing telling them what to do, but I had nothing to worry about as they were just so lovely. I think it helped that I just couldn't stop smiling with glee that I was directing Coronation Street.


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