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Jessica Steen
Director Sam Hoffman discusses a
scene with actress Jessica Steen.

An Exclusive Interview with Director Sam Hoffman

Sam Hoffman has learned his trade from some of America’s foremost directors. His impressive credits (listed here) include stints as an Assistant Director for Woody Allen, Nicholas Hytner, Stanley Tucci, Carl Franklin, Barry Levinson, Tim Robbins, Brian DePalma, Penny Marshall and others. "The Ride Home" is Hoffman’s second short film and it is loosely based on his grandmother’s experience. Hoffman often lectures on film and has consulted as a guest expert on film scheduling. He lives in New York City with his wife Andrea Crane. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988, Hoffman began work as a Production Assistant and rose through the production ranks. He has been a member of the Director’s Guild of America since 1991.

The following interview was conducted by George Cifrancis exclusivly for The Jessica Steen Page via email in October 2000.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, about how you got interested in film making?

Yes. I am 33 years old and live in New York City with my wife Andrea Crane. I have been working my way up the "Assistant Director" ranks since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Literature in 1988. I had planned to go to law school (the family profession - dad's a judge) after college. However, I took a Super 8mm filmmaking class during my senior year and caught the bug. So I deferred my admission to Law School for a year to see if I could find work. Needless to say, I've never looked back.

Where did you get the idea for "The Ride Home"?

The idea for "The Ride Home" came from a conversation my father had with my grandmother. She has Alzheimer's and mistook him for her husband (his father). I started to wonder what it might be like inside her mind and the movie was an attempt to visualize what her thought process could be. The short form is ideal for this sort of thing because you can keep a true subjective stream-of-consciousness alive for the length of the movie, while I think this would be rather difficult in a feature length.

How did Jessica Steen come to be involved in the movie? Were you familiar with her work before?

Actually, finding Jessica was an extremely lucky accident for me. We had cast Elizabeth Lawrence in the role of "older Clara" and John Slattery in the role of Max. John had worked with Jessica before, and they had remained friends. He told me that she resembled Elizabeth Lawrence enough to play a younger version of the same character. My casting director, Kathleen Chopin, knew Jessica's work and told me I would be lucky to get her. I saw her tape and agreed. I also thought that since she and John would be playing husband and wife, it would be great that they already had a relationship. And of course it turned out that she was fantastic. I only wish I had been making a comedy, because she's really funny and my movie was just so serious.

What was it like working with Jessica?

Working with Jessica was great. She has a unique ability to be very serious about her work, yet be charming and hilarious at the same time. Also, we were shooting my short at a real busy time for her and she was still able to put everything aside and give me a wonderful performance. I really appreciate that. I hope we can work together again in the future.

Where was the film shot and about how long did it take to complete?

The film took about a month to prep, 4 days to shoot, 3 weeks to edit and a couple of months to post. All in all, about 6 months. I would have prepped it a little longer but I wanted to shoot in early February, a slow production time, when a lot of the film professionals in New York are out of work. Its much easier to get people to work for free if they have no other offers. We prepped the movie in New York, turning my apartment into a production office. There was not a single surface that wasn't covered with a computer, fax machine, box of props or pile of wardrobe. My wife was an incredible sport and would generally get home from her own job and make a lasagna or a pot of home made soup for all the volunteers that were helping during the day. Then we shot entirely in New Jersey, 1 day in Perth Amboy and 3 days in the town in which I grew up: Highland Park. The towns were both really hospitable and gave us police support as a free courtesy. Shooting in my home town was convenient, as we turned my parents house into a hair, makeup and wardrobe area and even shot in the house across the street.

You have been working as an assitant director for quite some time now with some pretty major directors, do you have any aspirations to direct feature length films yourself any time soon? How difficult is it to jump from being an assistant director to a director?

I absolutely aspire to direct features. I feel like I've been training for that job my entire career. Currently, I am attached to an independent feature called "Jersey City" that we are hoping to shoot in the spring. I also have a script that I co-wrote making the rounds. Jumping from AD to director is more challenging than one might imagine. Because it is not an established trajectory (although it is in Europe and Asia) the AD in question must follow the same process as any aspiring director - write or develop scripts, direct short films, raise independent financing, etc. My advantage consists of the relationships I've made over my career, as well as what I've learned by working with established directors. Currently, as Woody Allen's AD I have the opportunity to listen to him "think out loud" on set. This is a better film school than most will have.

If there is anything you would like the audience to take with them after they saw the movie, what would it be?

I just hope they enjoy the 12 minutes they spend with the movie.

Special thanks to Sam Hoffman for taking the time to do this interview. -- George Cifrancis

Click Here for more information about Sam's film "The Ride Home".

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Last update: April 5, 2001 2:26 AM