EXCLUSIVE: Amblin Partners may have found the next major female directing voice, and she was right under everyone’s noses the whole time. Courtney Hoffman has been set to direct Ruthless, the John Swetnam-scripted action film that sold in a competitive spec auction for good money back in February. Brad Peyton came attached to direct back then but dropped off. That created an opening for Hoffman, best known as a costume designer on films that include Baby Driver, Hateful Eight, and Captain Fantastic.

The spec made a lot of noise when it sold, hitting the market just as John Wick: Chapter 2 was scoring big at the box office. Buyers found it a close cousin, with a female protagonist, and even back then there was talk of interest from major actresses. Here’s the logline: When a legendary retired assassin is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she must return to the life she left behind and complete one final job in order to secure a future for her young daughter.

What has sown a career-changing opportunity for this costume designer was The Good Time Girls, a feminist Western short film Hoffman wrote and directed. It takes place in the Old West, and stars Laura Dern as the leader of a brothel populated by damaged women who, it turns out, hold grudges. She shot it on 35mm, and made it as part of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and Refinery 29’s Shatterbox Anthology. Alia Shawkat and Garret Dillahunt also star. Hoffman has additional collaborations planned with Dern, and is developing The Good Time Girls into a feature.

After working with Terrence Malick, Tim Burton, Stephen Soderbergh, Christoph Waltz, Bob Richardson and Emmanual Lubezki, she was the costume designer for Quentin Tarantino’s last films and Waltz’s personal costumer on Django Unchained. Judging by the dialogue and the violence of the short, his influence wasn’t lost on her. Here is the short, and it’s worth watching:

Ruthless is being produced by Vinson Films and Weimaraner Republic Pictures. Matti Leshem and Lynn Harris, who partner in the latter, are producing with Tripp Vinson. Leshem, who with Harris has been making female protagonist-driven films like The Shallows, said that Hoffman made a most persuasive case that she was ready to step up and take the helm of an ambitious thriller that will involve intricate action scenes, shot in numerous locations.
“I saw the short and immediately felt like I’d seen something I hadn’t before, with a clear perspective, and beautifully and confidently shot,” Leshem told Deadline. “When the studio asked if we should consider her, we all said, absolutely. We met with her and heard her pitch for how to make the film. In 25 years of listening to pitches from filmmakers, I cannot remember being that excited by a complete view of the film she intends to make. She has worked on all those big films, and it was clear she understands the collaborative nature, and that she has all the necessary confidence to direct a big movie.”

Peyton and Jeff Fierson are the exec producers. Hoffman is repped by WME, Haven Entertainment and Logan Claire at Ziffren Brittenham.