When Steven Hoffner took over the reins as the new program coordinator for Toronto Film School’s Online Video Production Diploma last year, he was eager to make his mark.
“What I’m most excited about is certainly the idea of bringing about positive change. I’m not the type of person to suggest changes for the sake of justifying my job, but when I see something, a lightbulb goes off in my head, like, ‘Oh, how can we make that better?’” the award-winning producer, director and founder of 383 Pictures said at the time.
“I get excited thinking about it, because I like to put myself in the shoes of a student and think about what I would want to learn.”
To those ends, Hoffner said one of his main goals in his new role was to enhance the Online Video Production Diploma’s approach to achieving its learning outcomes by incorporating more practical elements into its curriculum.
“That’s sort of my prerogative, because I’m a very hands-on person. I totally believe in understanding theory and the basics of film and TV, and all the history of cinema…but what I’m interested in taking a look at are the goals of the program when it comes to practical versus theory,” he said.
“I want anyone taking this program to walk away feeling confident they can pick up a camera and make something special.”
A Class of 2006 University of Toronto graduate himself, Hoffner said he started off his own studies in drama and film as an aspiring actor. As a kid, the self-described Scarborough-born-and-raised “goof” was inspired by Jim Carrey to pursue his dreams of in front of the camera.
“I was always kind of a shy kid who loved movies, but it wasn’t until I saw Ace Ventura: Pet Detective that I realized I wanted to be an entertainer,” Hoffner laughed, noting that he saw some early success in stand-up as a teen with a talent for impressions.
“But then I realized, okay, maybe acting wasn’t number one for me…I really didn’t like the idea of having other people offer me opportunities in this business, because as an actor, you really are at the whim of people’s decisions, so I learned how to work behind the camera.”
It was at the Hart House Film Board, Hoffner said, that he taught himself his craft – learning how to edit, direct and produce as he went about making two feature films in his spare time as a theatre student.
And it was that self-taught skill set that helped land him his first job as a video editor for the National Hockey League right out of school.
“While at the NHL, I transitioned from video editing to full-blown producing content for the different NHL different platforms,” he said.
“I was very fortunate for 10 years to be working for the league, and also at the same time have the ability on my weekends, evenings, and over the summer to have a lot of extra time to continue writing and producing my own independent content.”
More than a decade later, Hoffner’s resume now boasts a range of scripted, documentary, and branded content for networks including HBO, NBC, and CBC. Several of his projects – including original series such as NHL Life, Off-Season Workouts, and Draft Profiles – have registered millions of views, as well as garnered web awards.
His first half-hour documentary Behind the Stripes: A Ref’s Life, debuted on the NHL Network to critical acclaim and helped pioneer the HBO 24/7 series that soon followed.
Four years ago, he also founded 383 Pictures – a Toronto-based development and video production firm that specializes in creating shareable branded social content, documentary, and scripted digital video.
He’s since turned his focus to developing feature films and television series – including the documentary feature film The Cannons, set in Washington DC and scheduled to be released in 2020, the urban drama Keep 6ix, a scripted drama series set in Toronto, and Live the Dream, a docuseries set in Los Angeles, California.
“It’s an exciting time for me,” Hoffner said, noting his especially high expectations for Keep 6ix.
“I’ve always wanted to make a television show and I have a few studios interested already. It’s gonna be epic and hopefully propel my career onto another level if it goes to where I anticipate.”
That said, Hoffner is equally excited by his program coordination position with TFS – an opportunity that was precipitated by a chance run-in with fellow Hart House Film Board alum, Hart Massey, the co-program director for TFS’s Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre program.
“He actually mentioned this position when it opened up, and I thought ‘Hey, that sounds really cool…’ I’ve always thought of myself as a teacher, so that’s something that drew me to it,” Hoffner said.
“It’s super exciting to be part of this – the whole organization has definitely welcomed me with open arms.”