05:34
TED2008

David Hoffman: What happens when you lose everything

Filmed:

Nine days before TED2008, filmmaker David Hoffman lost almost everything he owned in a fire that destroyed his home, office and 30 years of passionate collecting. He looks back at a life that's been wiped clean in an instant -- and looks forward.

- Filmmaker
In David Hoffman's long film career, he's made documentaries on everything from Amelia Earhardt to B.B. King, from double-dutch jump-roping to F-15 fighter pilots. Lately he's been fascinated with the early space program and our mania for all things Sputnik. Full bio

I had a fire nine days ago.
00:19
My archive:
00:23
175 films, my 16-millimeter negative,
00:25
all my books, my dad's books, my photographs.
00:28
I'd collected --
00:31
I was a collector, major, big-time.
00:33
It's gone.
00:35
I just looked at it,
00:38
and I didn't know what to do.
00:40
I mean, this was --
00:43
was I my things?
00:45
I always live in the present -- I love the present.
00:48
I cherish the future.
00:51
And I was taught some strange thing as a kid,
00:54
like, you've got to make something good out of something bad.
00:57
You've got to make something good out of something bad.
00:59
This was bad! Man, I was --
01:01
I cough. I was sick.
01:03
That's my camera lens. The first one --
01:05
the one I shot my Bob Dylan film with 35 years ago.
01:07
That's my feature film. "King, Murray"
01:10
won Cannes Film Festival 1970 --
01:12
the only print I had.
01:14
That's my papers.
01:17
That was in minutes -- 20 minutes.
01:19
Epiphany hit me. Something hit me.
01:21
"You've got to make something good out of something bad,"
01:23
I started to say to my friends, neighbors, my sister.
01:27
By the way, that's "Sputnik." I ran it last year.
01:29
"Sputnik" was downtown, the negative. It wasn't touched.
01:31
These are some pieces of things I used in my Sputnik feature film,
01:35
which opens in New York in two weeks
01:38
downtown.
01:40
I called my sister. I called my neighbors. I said, "Come dig."
01:44
That's me at my desk.
01:46
That was a desk took 40-some years to build.
01:50
You know -- all the stuff.
01:52
That's my daughter, Jean.
01:54
She came. She's a nurse in San Francisco.
01:56
"Dig it up," I said. "Pieces.
01:58
I want pieces. Bits and pieces."
02:00
I came up with this idea: a life of bits and pieces,
02:02
which I'm just starting to work on -- my next project.
02:05
That's my sister. She took care of pictures,
02:07
because I was a big collector of snapshot photography
02:10
that I believed said a lot.
02:13
And those are some of the pictures that --
02:15
something was good about the burnt pictures.
02:17
I didn't know. I looked at that --
02:19
I said, "Wow, is that better than the --"
02:21
That's my proposal on Jimmy Doolittle. I made that movie for television.
02:23
It's the only copy I had. Pieces of it.
02:25
Idea about women.
02:29
So I started to say, "Hey, man, you are too much!
02:31
You could cry about this." I really didn't.
02:34
I just instead said,
02:37
"I'm going to make something out of it, and maybe next year ... "
02:39
And I appreciate this moment
02:41
to come up on this stage with so many people
02:43
who've already given me so much solace,
02:45
and just say to TEDsters:
02:48
I'm proud of me. That I take something bad,
02:50
I turn it, and I'm going to make something good out of this,
02:53
all these pieces.
02:55
That's Arthur Leipzig's original photograph I loved.
02:57
I was a big record collector --
03:00
the records didn't make it. Boy, I tell you,
03:02
film burns. Film burns.
03:04
I mean, this was 16-millimeter safety film.
03:07
The negatives are gone.
03:09
That's my father's letter to me, telling me to
03:12
marry the woman I first married when I was 20.
03:14
That's my daughter and me.
03:18
She's still there. She's there this morning, actually.
03:22
That's my house.
03:24
My family's living in the Hilton Hotel in Scotts Valley.
03:26
That's my wife, Heidi,
03:29
who didn't take it as well as I did.
03:31
My children, Davey and Henry.
03:34
My son, Davey, in the hotel two nights ago.
03:37
So, my message to you folks,
03:41
from my three minutes, is that I appreciate the chance
03:43
to share this with you. I will be back. I love being at TED.
03:46
I came to live it, and I am living it.
03:49
That's my view from my window outside of Santa Cruz, in Bonny Doon,
03:52
just 35 miles from here.
03:55
Thank you everybody.
03:58
(Applause)
04:00

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About the Speaker:

David Hoffman - Filmmaker
In David Hoffman's long film career, he's made documentaries on everything from Amelia Earhardt to B.B. King, from double-dutch jump-roping to F-15 fighter pilots. Lately he's been fascinated with the early space program and our mania for all things Sputnik.

Why you should listen

Documentary filmmaker David Hoffman has been capturing reality for almost 4 decades, following his wide-ranging interests and turning them into films for PBS, The Discovery Channel, A&E, National Geographic. Highlights from his career include the groundbreaking experimental doc King, Murray, which blurred boundaries between truth and fiction as it tracks its subject through a debauched weekend in Las Vegas; A Day With Filmmaker Timmy Page, about a 12-year-old auteur; and his series of films on American indigenous music.

Lately, he has become fascinated with the Atomic-era Space Race, turning out a feature-length documentary about the Sputnik era. Sputnik Mania was scored by Thomas Dolby and has played at festivals and theaters around the country.

Hoffman suffered a devastating setback in early 2008 when, nine days before TED2008, his home, containing a vast archive from his long and fascinating career, burnt to the ground. His next project: to reframe his life and rebuild.

More profile about the speaker
David Hoffman | Speaker | TED.com