I’m glad I got lucky enough to be in a place in which I can practice this art as a potential lifelong path. I love doing what I do, and I hope to reach people who, like me, didn’t know what to do with themselves before some works of art changed them.
Mike Hoffman, filmmaker, is a freshman at Wofford majoring in English and possibly Theatre. One of Mike’s films, “An Epic Struggle in Photographs: Cecil Williams,” won the first place prize in a competition and the Columbia Museum of Art. We loved it! Check it out, and then read more about Mike’s art in our interview with him below.
Q: When and how did you first become interested in the art of filmmaking?
A: In my junior year of high school, I took “Advanced Media Arts,” which was an intro level theory/ practice course. I really enjoyed working with a camera. I felt pressured by the blank page in creative writing, and filmmaking felt like the prefect medium for self- expression.
Q: Is your passion for film something you plan to incorporate into a career? If so, how?
A: Absolutely. Doesn’t matter where or what role I take, on set or off set, but I’m working on making movies. Failure’s a pretty likely outcome, but the alternative, pursuing a career which makes reliable money and doesn’t interest me, seems like the worst path I could take in life.
Q: What’s your absolute favorite film, and why?
A: “Absolute favorite” is hard to declare. There are different types of films, of course, but for this I suppose I’d go with the one closest to me personally, Clerks. I grew up in southern New Jersey, so the setting’s nostalgic for me, and the film’s origins stuck with me. Kevin Smith was working in the convenience store in which the film is set, and his friends, who he thanks in the credits, convinced him to pursue his dream of making a movie, and acted in it with him. That, and Randal’s incitement of Dante to stop making excuses and do something with his life, had a meaningful impact on me, and it’s remained one of my favorites.
Q: In your opinion, what are the top 5 films that we need to watch?
A: The Graduate. Full Metal Jacket. Requiem For a Dream. Princess Mononoke. The Big Lebowski.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the Cecil Williams project?
A: Someone brought my attention to the project because the museum commissioning it wanted a submission from my high school. I was looking for every opportunity to work on something at the time, and jumped at it. Being very inexperienced, I didn’t have a clear idea beyond the basic parameters of the project, i.e. interviewing a person from their list and making a civil rights related documentary.
I went down to Orangeburg, spoke with him for maybe half an hour, then started looking over the footage and some of his photos trying to make something cohesive and worth watching. On reflection, I should’ve done more research and used my time with him to access his in- depth perspective into that part of history, but what’s done is done. I think the general theme and execution of the project turned out all right, and I enjoyed making it, but it lacks depth. Substance is the goal I’ve been working towards since then.
Q: What’s been your greatest success as a filmmaker so far?
A: Cecil Williams project got me three hundred bucks, that’s a pretty quantifiable success. My goal, of course, is not profit, but I haven’t had a real artistic success yet. I don’t have a work with content meaningful enough to stake my name on as proof of my existence- that’s the long term goal.
Q: What kind of themes are you most interested in conveying to your audiences?
A: I feel a desire to make a film for the people I grew up with, the video game generation. It’s a hard concept to approach; I believe in characters as the core of good films, people need someone to identify with when they’re watching, but people like me who grew up playing games were largely inactive. It’s tough to conceptualize a compelling narrative surrounding them.
Nonetheless, there’s a shared history and sense of community there. I felt, in a small way, that I was part of something greater, and got to have invaluable experiences unlike any other growing up on the Internet. I want to make a film about that culture so that others can see into the world which so many never saw.
Q: How have your classes at Wofford inspired your filmmaking, if they have? Where else do you find inspiration?
A: I was extremely pleasantly surprised at how much Wofford fostered my interest. Dan Day and Mark Ferguson, along with all my friends in the Theatre department, keep showing me new aspects of humanity and creativity which strengthen my perspective.
Julie Sexeny’s class, Sexuality in Film and Screenwriting, gives me a great place to watch, discuss, and write about some great films I’d never have seen otherwise. She also got me the opportunity to study on set in a local production. I’d have left Wofford if not for the opportunities I’ve gotten thanks to these people.
Q: How would you describe your style as a filmmaker?
A: Every frame I edit is designed to make a little statement, hopefully building on a central one. I don’t waste any of the viewer’s time, and nothing is unimportant. There’s a number of works I steal from, or “pay homage to” in my work. They’re a bit numerous to list (lots of different mediums,) but I firmly believe that taking content from other sources and building on it is a vital part of every artistic medium. What I take influence from is a part of me, and I don’t try to deny it in hopes of being more “original.”
Q: Any projects in the works right now?
A: Looking to work in some way for the Hub- Bub’s “Expecting Goodness” festival, not sure how yet.
Q: Finally, where can our readers find more of your art?!
A: I have a secondary channel for non- serious projects which I will likely delete when people expect me to look like a professional (https://www.youtube.com/user/silentlambda/videos). Until then, you can look at some ramblings which may give a sense of the culture I’m a part of.