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On Location with Jake Hoffman

The Asthma director relives the lightning-fast shoot

Jake Hoffman spent five years preparing to make Asthma, his smart, stark look at a troubled young New Yorker (the impressive newcomer Benedict Samuel) who steals a car and attempts to heal himself with a trip out of town, but when it came time to make the film—which Hoffman also directed—he had less than three weeks.

“We shot it in 20 days, and on the one hand that’s a challenge,” he explains. “But, on the other hand, there were scenes where we were running out of time and that was a good thing. I remember one scene in particular that was at end of the day—to the point where I thought it was so rushed we were going to have to re-shoot—but we pulled it off in 20 minutes. My cinematographer looked at me afterwards like he was going to have a heart attack, and when the sun went down he was like, ‘Dude, please never do that to me again.’”

The film, which shot in and around New York City, features an all-star cast, including Krysten Ritter, Rosanna Arquette, Iggy Pop and the late artist Rene Ricard. And while Samuel’s Gus might feel familiar, Hoffman insists the movie is in no way confessional.  

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is very personal,” he says. “When I was 18, I went to school in New York and made a whole group of new friends. I was very naïve and didn’t really understand a lot of the dangers and consequences of reckless behavior, so I look very differently in hindsight at some of the behavior I witnessed than I did when I experienced it.”

Still, the film doesn’t feel preachy. “While it’s important to not celebrate recklessness because consequences are real,” Hoffman explains, “there is something beautiful about the innocence of living without fear.”

When it came to choosing where to film the scenes in Asthma, Hoffman says working in New York was just as important as leaving. “There’s definitely a theme in the movie that speak to escaping technology for nature or leaving the city for nature,” he says. Still, when he thinks about viewers coming to see the movie, he’s got a very specific venue in mind. 

“I went to NYU film school, so the IFC Film Center on Sixth Avenue, right by Joe’s Pizza—I’ve been seeing movies in that theater since I was in college,” Hoffman says. “Having it playing there is really a dream come true.”