'Baby Driver' Costume Designer Makes Directorial Debut With Feminist Western Film
Courtney Hoffman's 'The Good Time Girls' stars Laura Dern and Alia Shawkat.
It's not often you hear about costume designers making a transition to the director's chair, but Courtney Hoffman is about to change that. Hoffman, who is the wardrobe wizard behind Baby Driver, Captain Fantastic and The Hateful Eight, is making her directorial debut with a feminist Western short called The Good Time Girls, starring Laura Dern, Alia Shawkat, Annalise Basso and Garret Dillahunt.
"It wasn't always something I knew I wanted to do," Hoffman tells The Hollywood Reporter over the phone while working in Budapest. But the relationships she formed with directors and actors on set changed her mind, she says, name-checking Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and Edgar Wright as mentors. Hoffman also worked on Palo Alto with Gia Coppola and Life Partners with Susanna Fogel.
"What I was giving to them as a costume designer was more — they trusted me with how I affected their performances," says Hoffman. "It was that kind of relationship and comfort that I realized I could give to people as a director."
After being on set for several Western films, including Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, the native Angeleno began to question the dearth of women in the classic genre.
"The first film I ever designed was also a Western, so I just started asking myself a lot of questions about the women. Who were the women that actually lived through this history, and are there any examples of women that break that?" she recalls. "I think, specifically, Westerns are America's Greek mythology, and it has created the white male hero in cinema and storytelling."
Hoffman continues: "To me, breaking down those boundaries with gender felt really exciting." The Good Time Girls features a group of women in the desert seeking revenge against the outlaws that have wronged them.
At the time, she discovered that AFI's Directing Workshop for Women was accepting applications, so she submitted the screenplay for Good Time Girls and — spoiler alert — she was accepted into the three-week program. From there, Hoffman had to figure out how to get funding for her film and ended up partnering with Refinery29's ShatterBox Anthology, an initiative launched in January 2016 that supports female filmmakers. (Coincidentally, Hoffman landed on R29's 30 Under 30 list of rising stars in Los Angeles in 2013.)
When it was time to cast the film, she says she knew she wanted Dern to play the leading lady. "I didn't know Laura, but I had done The Hateful Eight with [her dad] Bruce [Dern], who used to always joke and say I was a genius. I also helped keep Bruce alive on set because it was so cold. Quentin [Tarantino] rewrote a scene to get him a blanket so we could keep him warm and hide [even more] electric blankets under it," says Hoffman.
She ended up sitting next to the actress at the Hateful Eight premiere, where she introduced herself, only to have Dern respond, "I know who you are, my dad talks about you all the time." Says Hoffman: "It was so, so special." The director sent Dern the script, and the rest is history.
Hoffman's assembled a cast of women she had previously met on other films, including the prop master from Water for Elephants [Hope M. Parrish] and the makeup artist from Captain Fantastic [Karen McDonald]. She also enlisted producer Jordana Mollick, who had hired Hoffman as a costume designer for Life Partners. "I joked that it was my feminist army because it was the best women I had worked with," she says.
"I just know I've found what I was really born to do," says Hoffman. "We have this amazing set of circumstances where the industry is changing at the same time I'm changing, and it's really working in my favor."
The Good Time Girls is set to premiere in Los Angeles on Aug. 1 and will be available for viewing online at refinery29.com on Aug. 2.