Interview: Azazel Jacobs Discusses ‘Terri’, Film School Memories, and Hipster Snobs

By  · Published on July 8th, 2011

Azazel Jacobs’ film, Terri, is for and about the rejects of the world. It’s for the outsiders whose goodness ‐ and possible awesomeness ‐ goes unrecognized. Terri is a film about your average weirdo kids in High School that really aren’t that different.

Like everyone else, they’re just flawed.

Jacobs’ drama is more of a character driven film rather than a plot driven one. It moves at a deliberate place, and it isn’t afraid to show the oddball and less flattering aspects of these people. Jacobs never pokes fun at his characters as a director, but that may not have always been the case during his days of being a pretentious film school student immersed in a potentially snobby world.

Here’s what director Azazel Jacobs had to say about film school, pretension, and finding humility in filmmaking:

Are you enjoying your press day?

I am. This has been very interesting. I feel grownup. I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. Patrick Dewitt, the screenwriter, told me the other day that if I have trouble talking or standing up for my film afterwards then that could be a good testament of something being wrong with it. I know that’s not true in every case, but in this case, I feel really good about the movie. I enjoy talking about it.

Film School Rejects I could imagine people being… if it’s true you were rejected from film school, then you can get really bitter. I was a multiple film school person. I’m not only an undergrad, but I also went to graduate film school.

What film school did you go to?

I went to AFI to study directing. For me, it was definitely worth it. I don’t think I could ever recommend it to someone, but it was definitely good for me. I was someone who had trouble hitting deadlines. I kind of got caught up into reworking, reworking, and reworking stuff. I was always aiming for some type of brilliance that wasn’t coming. I needed someone to say, “You have to turn this in at this point.” Also, it wound up being very essential for the movies that I’ve ended up making. I’ve always, in someway or another, ended up using some element or some person from film school.

What element from film school did you use for Terri?

Tobias [Datum], my cinematographer, went to AFI with me. Seeing his work and getting, even though he was a year below me, a sense of who he was as a person. He was a person I ended up caring more and more for.

A lot of directors always say that making connections is one of the best parts of film school.

Yeah, it’s also never the person you ever think it will be. It’s usually the people you don’t expect to connect to within your first couple of days of film school.

Was it one of those pretentious film classes, where someone would say their favorite movie is a Cassavetes’ film instead of Star Wars?

[Laughs] I would be that pretentious person, and I can guarantee you that. A close friend of mine, who’s a filmmaker I went to college with, said that… In your first week at AFI you have to show some work you’ve done, and I showed my thesis film. My friend walked up to me afterwards and asked, “Was that 16-mm?” I just went, “Uh, yeah,” and then walked away like a complete dick [Laughs]. I don’t remember being that way, but I guess that was my first impression I’d given off. I’ve moved past that and hopefully I’m not that person anymore.

So you were the Mark Zuckerberg of film school?

Ah, man. I hope not. You know, it wasn’t so much I was avoiding those films. Star Wars, of course, had a huge influence on me, like any kid that grew up in the 70s. I just wound up being around different types of films. My father did experimental work, and that was the work I was first and foremost introduced to. When I saw Godard, Cassavetes, and Jarmusch, then a whole other world opened up. Only until a few years ago had I seen The Godfather films, and I was blown away. It was just so funny because I kept trying to talk to people about this revelation of seeing The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. I wasn’t able to get them out of my mind and everyone was just, like, “Where have you been?”

The thing is that I grew up in Little Italy. I remember seeing people imitate the film, and I just wanted to push away from being that. I didn’t want to become obsessive with something. I found my obsession early with The Clash, and that was enough for me. Seeing that obsession with movies and other things was a turnoff. I wound up watching The Godfather a few years ago with my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and I just got so involved with it. I couldn’t deal with the commercials, so we just ran out and got the DVD’s. It’s one of those movies that just plays in loops in your mind after you see it.

After film school, do a lot of those hipster snobs stay the same?

I don’t know. Those just aren’t the people that I meet. You know, to make films it’s such lessons of humility. Even when it comes to making small movies, you’re just getting defeated constantly. I don’t find myself meeting up with those snobs, but I feel like I’m meeting up with a lot of brave people who are trying to do things. Even if they’re failing, it’s courageous what they’re trying to do. My first full-length film, Nobody Needs To Know, which was this very experimental and black-and-white film, I remember reading from people about how pretentious it was.

My aims were just much, much higher then. Now I just aim lower to tell stories and things that I really care for. With my first film, I wanted to change the world, you know? I wanted to do something huge and have it have a big effect. I felt like even if I failed, it would be worthwhile to try.

Was it frustrating constantly hearing the word “pretentious”?

It was, but I do see work that I think is pretentious. When I think of pretentious, I think of someone at a party who wants all the attention and is constantly saying, “Look at me. I’m going to do this! Now I’m doing this!” Sometimes when I go to movies, I’ll see that type of stuff. That’s what I think is pretentious. I would rather see films from people who have ideas and have actually thought about things.

Terri is now in limited release.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.