From the L.A. Screenwriter collection.
Nick Hamm began his directing career on the stages of London. Since then, he has found success in directing television and feature films. His project, Driven, is a fast-paced, comedic crime thriller of a bromance gone wrong between John DeLorean, played by Lee Pace (Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Jim Hoffman, played by Jason Sudeikis (Colossal, Booksmart).
Set in the early 1980s, the story follows the meteoric rise of DeLorean and his iconic DeLorean Motor Company through the eyes of his friendship with an ex-con turned FBI informant.
LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher spoke to Hamm about how he approached the story and the unusual challenges he encountered making the film.
John Bucher: Tell me about how this story came to your attention. Were you someone who followed the stories about John DeLorean when they were occurring or was this a new story to you?
Nick Hamm: I was born in Belfast and my screenwriter also lived in Belfast, so we knew about DeLorean from the eighties. We were aware of this crazy guy who built this factory in the middle of a war zone which got destroyed before the company went down.
So, I’ve kind of known about the story for nearly 30 years. I also was aware that it was an incredibly interesting story. I started to read about him and I also realized that nobody had ever really done the story. Not for lack of trying. People had tried all the time, but I think what they’d done, which was a huge mistake, is they’d try and do a biopic. And for a biopic, he’s just not that interesting of a character. You run out of road with a biopic very quickly unless the biopic main character is fascinating and fantastic. Unless it’s Gandhi, unless it’s someone who has an epic quality to them. We knew that DeLorean didn’t have that quality. He wasn’t Steve Jobs. He didn’t change the world. He didn’t do any of that.
He was a showman who tried to invent a car that was pretty awful and failed miserably. He just happened to be connected to a zeitgeist at that particular moment in the late seventies and early eighties which was partying, girls, smart cars, and the California lifestyle.
The thing that made us more interested was the character of Jim Hoffman, who was the FBI informant in the story and who is responsible for getting DeLorean to be involved in a drug deal. Hoffman’s character was fascinating to us because he was a total scumbag, absolute lowlife and one of life’s absolutely ghastly individuals. When we discovered that he’d actually had some sort of weird friendship with DeLorean, because they happened to live in the same area in southern California and their kids happened to play together, that was the kind of genesis for us saying this is a really interesting guy. Let’s follow his journey. Let’s tell his story and how he collides with DeLorean.
John Bucher: How do you take something that is based on real events and bring those into a two-hour film, where you have to compress time and combine things?
Nick Hamm: Well, first of all, you do lots of research. You read as much as you can. And then you say, okay, what’s the way into this story? How do you tell it? A biopic can be very boring, because then you can’t lie. As a filmmaker, you can’t say, “This guy climbed the mountain” when actually he didn’t climb a mountain, and he fell off the mountain. You can’t do that in a biopic, which is why we didn’t go the biopic route with this story. We took a tiny slice of this moment in time.
John Bucher: You are someone who has the enjoyed success directing in a variety of different mediums, from theater to television to feature films. Can you talk about how you approach directing a film like this and how that’s different from what you’ve directed on the stage or even in television?
Nick Hamm: I spent the first 10 years of my professional life on the stage in the theater. I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and I was directing plays pretty much week in, week out. I was in my mid-twenties and there was an incredibly brilliant cauldron of creative people and a very, very intense working atmosphere with brilliant actors that made you, as a young director, learn your craft. You had to really learn how actors talked to each other. How actors think. How to dramatize a scene. How to take a new scene from a new writer, work with that writer and dramatize it. And that skill set has never really left me.
That skill set is something I apply to every film or TV show that I do. I’ve just been filming a wonderful show in Spain for Netflix called White Nines, which comes out next year. And for the last three months we’ve been shooting that. And it’s the same thing. I’ve been working with great actors and dramatizing moments and telling emotional truths and making people laugh.
I don’t really separate it. What I learned in the theater I brought into filmmaking, and that ability to stage and to create was something that has given me such strength as a filmmaker.
When I was a young filmmaker, I was learning about the lenses and the cutting process and all of the technical details—I couldn’t get enough of it. So I could apply myself with both the craft I’ve learned in the theater and the craft I’ve learned in film.
In the end, there are very few artists as directors. Most of us are craftsmen. Every now and again a real artist emerges and they’re amazing as directors. But most of us practice the craft of directing. We try to get better at what we do. The more and the more we practice, sometimes we get better and sometimes we get worse. There are no real rules.
John Bucher: I was fortunate enough to see some of the behind the scenes footage that was shot around the making of the film in Puerto Rico. There was a very compelling story behind the story while making the film. Can you talk about the challenges you ran into?
Nick Hamm: We were down in Puerto Rico shooting primarily because it’s a lovely place to try and recreate 1970s California. The architecture down there, some of the houses down there, have not changed since the late seventies and early eighties and you can’t find that in southern California, so it’s a great place to shoot.
We’d shot about a week or so of the movie. We were very pleased with what we are getting. And then we were basically told we had to evacuate and get off the island because a hurricane was coming. So, the crew and producers were sent away and we had to wait out the storm in New York. It was really a terrible experience to see the total devastation that Maria brought upon that island.
There was no power, so no credit cards could be accepted. There was no gasoline. There’s also no water. That pretty much takes out the infrastructure. So how the hell do you go make a Hollywood picture in the middle of all of that? We also didn’t want to take resources from the island to make our movie. We didn’t want to be using stuff that should be going to people that live there.
It was our Puerto Rican crew who said, “Look, you’ve got to come back.” There wasn’t a single doubt amongst anybody about going back after that because in the end we had three or four hundred people relying on the paycheck we were providing, plus all the people they were paying. So if we had left that island at that moment, those people would have had no money. The people that they relied on would have had no money. And essentially the film business in Puerto Rico would have shut down for a further six months.
All of that Hollywood nonsense about the size of your trailer and your private car and can I get my toasted sandwich for lunch? All of that goes out the window because guess what? There is no lunch and there is no private car. Here’s your bottle of water. Suddenly it’s a beautiful thing because everyone’s equal. And guess what? Everyone behaves and everyone gets along. It’s an example of Hollywood and the movie business putting back into a community and repaying a community for that community’s loyalty in helping us make the movie.
*Feature Photo: Jason Sudeikis and Lee Pace in Driven / Universal/Vertigo (2018)