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Tom Hooper Biography

Thomas George "Tom" Hooper born in 1972 is an English film and television director. Hooper began making short films at the age of 13, and had his first professional short, Painted Faces, broadcast on Channel 4 in 1992. At Oxford University Hooper directed plays and television commercials. After graduating, he directed episodes of Quayside, Byker Grove, EastEnders and Cold Feet.

Into the 2000s, Hooper directed the major BBC costume dramas Love in a Cold Climate (2001) and Daniel Deronda (2002), and was selected to helm the 2003 revival of ITV's Prime Suspect series, starring Helen Mirren. Hooper made his feature film debut with Red Dust (2004), a South African drama starring Hilary Swank and Chiwetel Ejiofor, before directing Helen Mirren again in the Company Pictures/HBO Films historical drama Elizabeth I (2005). This began an association between Hooper and HBO; in 2006 he directed the Granada Television/HBO television film Longford and in 2007 the epic miniseries John Adams. Hooper returned to features with The Damned United (2009), a fact-based film about the English football manager Brian Clough (played by Michael Sheen). The following year saw the release of the historical drama The King's Speech (2010), starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, which was met with critical acclaim after film festival screenings.

Hooper's work was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for Prime Suspect and Elizabeth I, won one for John Adams, and was nominated for the British Academy (BAFTA) TV Craft Award for Best Director for Longford. The King's Speech was nominated for multiple awards, including Best Director nominations for Hooper from the Directors Guild of America (which he won), BAFTA, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Early life

Tom Hooper was born in London, England in 1972 to Meredith and Richard Hooper. Meredith was an Australian author and academic and Richard was an English media businessman. Hooper was educated at Highgate School and Westminster School. At the age of 12, he read a book entitled How to Make Film and Television and decided he wanted to become a filmmaker. Aged 13, he made his first film, entitled Runaway Dog, using a clockwork 16mm Bolex camera his uncle had given to him. Hooper said: "[T]he clockwork would run out after thirty seconds, so the maximum shot length was thirty seconds. I could only afford a hundred feet of Kodachrome reversal film, which cost about twenty-five [pounds], and you had to send off for two weeks to be processed. I could only make silent movies, because sound was too expensive and complicated." Hooper classified the short, about a dog which kept running away from its owner, as a comedy, and filmed it on location in Oxfordshire.

At the age of 14, Hooper's next film, Bomber Jacket, came runner-up in a BBC younger filmmakers' competition. The short starred Hooper's brother as a boy who learns his grandfather died in the second world war after discovering a bomber jacket and a photograph hidden in a cupboard. Hooper's next film was entitled Countryside, and depicted a nuclear holocaust.

After completing school, Hooper took a gap year to write, produce and direct a 15-minute short film entitled Painted Faces. It was broadcast on Channel 4's First Frame strand in 1992 and had a screening at the 35th London Film Festival. The production was part-funded by Paul Weiland. Hooper read English at University College, Oxford, where he joined the Oxford University Dramatic Society. There he directed Kate Beckinsale in A View From the Bridge and Emily Mortimer in The Trial, both at the Oxford Playhouse. He also directed television advertisements, including one for Sega featuring Right Said Fred.


BBC and ITV productions

After graduating from Oxford, Hooper directed television commercials, intending to break into the film industry the same way Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Hugh Hudson did. After a few years, he decided to change direction to television. He was introduced by his father to the television producer Matthew Robinson. For Robinson, Hooper directed episodes of the short-lived Tyne Tees Television soap opera Quayside in 1997, four episodes of the Children's BBC television series Byker Grove in the same year, and his first episodes of the BBC One soap opera EastEnders in 1998.

Hooper directed seven EastEnders episodes between 1998 and 2000, two of which were hour-long specials that represented the soap when it won the British Academy Television Award for Best Soap Opera in 2000 and 2001; the first was the episode in which Carol Jackson (Lindsey Coulson) learns her daughter Bianca (Patsy Palmer) had an affair with her fiancé Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass). The Jackson episode marked the beginning of a week of episodes that lead to Palmer's departure from the soap, and Robinson had hired Hooper to direct the key episodes of that storyline. Hooper worked 10-hour days on EastEnders, and learned to direct with speed. He was influenced in his early career by the cinematic style of American TV series such as ER, NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street and tried to work that style into his EastEnders episodes; one scene featuring Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp) involved a crane shot, which Hooper believes he became infamous among the EastEnders production crew for using.

In 1999, Hooper directed two episodes of Granada Television's comedy-drama television series Cold Feet, which marked his move to bigger-budget productions. There was initially concern at Granada that Hooper might be an unsuitable director for the series given his background in drama.

In 2000, Hooper directed his first of two costume dramas for the BBC; Love in a Cold Climate was based on Nancy Mitford's novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Hooper, the writer Deborah Moggach, and the producer Kate Harwood researched the period details of the production by interviewing Nancy's sister Deborah. In 2002, Hooper directed Daniel Deronda, adapted from George Eliot's novel. Filming ran for 11 weeks from May to August on locations in England, Scotland and Malta. Hooper said of the production, "The thing I like about this tale is that it's not at all your conventional costume drama; it's far more complex and looks at aspects of love, loss and religion." The Guardian's Mark Lawson said of Hooper's two costume dramas, "he brought verve and intelligence to television's most conservative form".

Hooper returned to Granada the next year to direct the revival of Prime Suspect, entitled The Last Witness. The two-part serial was the first Prime Suspect installment to be made since 1995, when star Helen Mirren quit. He initially declined the offer to direct the production, believing that the series was tired. Granada's head of drama Andy Harries introduced Hooper to Mirren, who persuaded him to take the job by promising that he could make the serial his own way. The two-part serial was broadcast on the ITV network in November 2003. Hooper's direction received praise from Andrew Billen in the New Statesman: "Tom Hooper proved an outstanding director, imposing a bleak, overlit hyper-realism on the search for a killer in a hospital, isolating Mirren in rows of empty chairs and playing on the eyewitness/optical visual metaphors." The serial was also broadcast on PBS in the United States. Hooper received nominations for the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Serial and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special for his work on Prime Suspect.

Film debut and HBO works

Hooper made his debut as a feature film director with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission drama Red Dust (2004), which stars Hilary Swank, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jamie Bartlett. The film was not widely seen, which Hooper attributed to media coverage of torture during the Iraq War: "When I started making it you could watch the movie with a wonderful sense of "we'd never do it in our own country…they're the horrible people but it's not us." By the time the film came out (there were) these revelations that the Americans were torturing, the British were torturing. The film became a lot more uncomfortable for the very audiences it was designed to target. I have learned that sadly the theatrical audience does not run to see films that are openly issue bled." The premiere of the film in the United Kingdom came on BBC Two in 2005, making it eligible for the BAFTA Television Awards; it was nominated in the Best Single Drama category at the 2006 ceremony.

In 2005, Hooper was asked by Helen Mirren to direct the Company Pictures/HBO Films two-part serial Elizabeth I. The serial won Hooper his first Emmy Award, for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special. In January 2006, Hooper commenced filming the Granada/HBO television film Longford. The film dramatises the failed efforts of Lord Longford (played by Jim Broadbent) to secure the release from prison of Moors murderer Myra Hindley (played by Samantha Morton). Hooper first met with the writer Peter Morgan about the production in 2005 and the film was broadcast on Channel 4 in October 2006. Seb Morton-Clark for the Financial Times called Longford one of the most accomplished television dramas of 2006, and praised the writer and director: "Morgan and director Tom Hooper wove a seamless narrative about obsession — and not just that of the misguided philanthropist for the incarcerated Hindley or even that that existed between the sadistic lovers themselves. More significantly, by using chunks of original television footage, they painted a stark picture of the zealotry of a vengeful nation and its press over the supposed embodiment of evil." Hooper's continued successes led him to be ranked at number four in the Directors category of Broadcast magazine's annual Hot 100. The following year he was nominated for the British Academy Television Craft Award for Best Director for Longford.

Elizabeth I and Longford led directly to Hooper being selected by Tom Hanks to direct the epic miniseries John Adams for Playtone and HBO. Hooper had been working on a biographical film with Joan Didion about Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, since 2006 when he was asked by Hanks to helm the programme. The miniseries, starring Paul Giamatti as John Adams, was based on David McCullough's Adams biography and was Hooper's first wholly-American production. He was surprised to learn that the American Revolutionary War was not a well-documented period in film and television; Abigail Adams actress Laura Linney told him that, for her generation, the musical 1776 was the most well-known depiction of the era. He worked on the miniseries for a total of 16 months; principal photography lasted 110 days on locations in the United States, France, England and Hungary and he controlled a $100 million budget. The Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert complimented Hooper's style of direction in the first two episodes "Join or Die" and "Independence":

Director Tom Hooper lets his actors shine, as he did so marvelously in Helen Mirren's "Elizabeth I" and the child-killer drama "Longford," but he complements them, too, with this kind of immediate point of view. And when he does give us panoramic shots from afar — of the Adams farm in Braintree, for example — they're askew, to keep us out of the classroom mode. At the end of episode 2  Hooper showcases all his directorial strength with one bold choice. When the long-fretting Congress finally decides to break with Britain, he refrains from using any visual or aural tweaks. Upon the announcement, "The resolution carries," the scene remains perfectly silent for one long moment. The terror of responsibility hangs heavily in the room, while a victorious soundtrack surely would have chased it away.

John Adams received 23 Emmy Award nominations, including another Outstanding Direction nomination for Hooper, and won 13, the highest number for any nominee in a single year. He was also nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement. At the beginning of 2009, he was profiled for The Observer's film Hotlist.

Major feature films

In November 2007, Hooper signed on to direct The Damned United, reuniting him with Peter Morgan and Andy Harries. The film was an adaptation of David Peace's novel The Damned Utd, a fictional version of the 44 turbulent days English football manager Brian Clough spent as manager of Leeds United. It was originally developed by Stephen Frears for Michael Sheen to play Clough. Frears quit the project after he was unable to translate the book to film. Hooper received a copy of the script while shooting John Adams in Hungary and noticed a similarity between the "egotistical, flawed, brilliant" Adams and the "egotistical, flawed, brilliant" Clough. He was not put off by joining the project later, as Morgan's script was in only its first draft. During pre-production, Hooper engaged in meticulous research, particularly on the locations and the football grounds of the era. He cast Timothy Spall as Clough's assistant Peter Taylor, Colm Meaney as Don Revie and Jim Broadbent as Derby County chairman Sam Longson. During editing, it was decided to make the tone of the film lighter in order to attract audiences and to appease the real-life people who are fictionalised in the film. The film was released in 2009.

Work on Hooper's next film, The King's Speech, began in the same year. Hooper explained: "It was a stage play, and my mother who's Australian was invited to a fringe theater reading in London because she’s part of the Australian community. The play’s about the relationship between King George the Sixth and his Australian speech therapist. She came back and said "you've got to read this play," and I read it and it was brilliant...". Hooper cast Colin Firth as George and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue and spent three weeks with the two actors going through the script and rehearsing. Filming ran on location around the UK from November 2009 to January 2010. During editing, Hooper continued to consult with Firth and Rush by sending them cuts of the film and taking in their feedback. He completed the final cut of the film at the end of August 2010 and premiered it a few days later at the Telluride Film Festival. The film won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and Hooper won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. He has also been nominated for Best Director awards from BAFTA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Variety's Adam Dawtrey wrote, "Hooper's 2009 film "The Damned United" didn't register among awards selectors, but "King's Speech" is a much more personal project. His Anglo-Australian parentage reflects the culture clash at the heart of the movie, and it pays off with beautifully crafted, crowd-pleasing drama."

The film was initially giving a 15 rating by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for its release in the United Kingdom, due to a scene in which George tries to subdue his stammer by saying "fuck" repeatedly. At the press conference for the film's London Film Festival screening, Hooper criticised the BBFC's decision, questioning how the body could certify the film 15 for bad language but allow films such as Salt and Casino Royale to have 12A ratings despite their graphic torture scenes. Following Hooper's criticism, the BBFC lowered the rating to 12A, allowing children under 12 years of age to see the film if they are accompanied by an adult.Hooper levied the same criticism at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which gave the film an R rating, preventing anyone under the age of 17 from seeing the film without an adult.

In January 2009, Hooper signed to direct a new film version of East of Eden, adapted by Christopher Hampton. Hooper was attracted to the film, having read the novel as a teenager, because he wanted to tell the intergenerational story that was missing from the truncated 1955 film adaptation. However, principal financier Universal Pictures pulled out of the film in 2010. In March 2009, he met with Nelson Mandela in preparation for directing a film adaptation of Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. Producer Anant Singh had been impressed with his direction of Red Dust. Hooper does not expect to begin work on the film until 2012 due to the availability of his intended cast. He has also expressed an interest in directing the next feature for Bedlam Productions, the studio of The King's Speech; The Lady Who Went Too Far will be written by David Seidler and produced by Gareth Unwin, and based on the Lady Hester Stanhope biography Star of the Morning
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