Azazel Jacobs‘ “Momma’s Man” took a rare approach to filmmaking. Jacobs cast his real parents, Ken and Flo Jacobs, as the parents of Mikey (Matt Boren), a thirtysomething husband and father who takes an extended vacation in his parent’s apartment. Shot in actual the New York City loft of his parents, Jacobs’ “Momma’s Man” was well-received when it premiered earlier this year at Sundance. The film begins a limited release this Friday, August 22 at the Angelika Film Center in New York City.
Please tell us about yourself… What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
My name is Azazel Jacobs I am 35 years old and made my first film about seventeen years ago. It was a super 8 film documenting the place I was raised, an old best friend and my parents. Very much like Momma’s Man. In fact, exactly like it. Anyways, at the time, even though I liked film, it wasn’t what I planned on spending my life doing. I really liked drawing, especially cartooning, but when Cooper Union rejected me, I wound up going to SUNY Purchase to study film. I figured I would do it for one year, then reapply to Cooper. Little did I know that Purchase would demand every waking hour and every bit of blood be devoted to film, and the more it asked the more I fell in love with it.
I began by doing more experimental work like my father, Ken Jacobs, who has been making films since the 50’s, and I got pretty good with the optical printer. But then I spent a summer working as a projectionist at a theater on Vandam street in New York City, “Le Cinematographe”, started by one of Godard’s editors – Jackie Raynal, and that’s where I first saw Cassavetes and working with actors suddenly seemed like a great idea. In some ways, ever since I have been trying to find my place between these two influences. My films have all been some sort of an exploration (at least for me)- I have a good plan on how I want it to be ultimately, but how it will get there I am not so sure. My hopes would be that I continue to explore, that I never get lazy and do something that I know exactly.
Please discuss how the idea for “Momma’s Man” came about.
“Momma’s Man” came from a few different places. For one, I missed New York City, the place is too expensive and I don’t know what is going on. Almost everyone I grew up with has left, so I wanted to document the city that I knew, that I could control and contain and just put things I wanted to into frame. I missed my folks, I live in LA and I go back and forth a lot, but unless youre there for a real amount of time, not just visiting, you feel like a ghost just walking through memories, always re-connecting with people rather than just meeting up. So, “Momma’s Man” brought me home for almost a half year and when you’re actually doing something in NYC, it’s the tops. Trying to get something together there is when it sucks. There’s always something better going on than being at home working.. that’s why LA is great, there is nothing going on here and when you’re at home you know that’s the best place to be.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film..
This was the first time I didn’t storyboard a thing, and that’s how its gonna be from now on. Also, I went without a monitor as much as possible and trying to piece the film together while making, truly looking at things, it was a real blessing. I remember before the shoot, being panicked about some stupid thing, and my dad reminded me to actually go through the experience, not just think about how to get to the end. It slowed me down and made me remember that the process is so much of what its all about. It’s the few weeks in my life where I wake up and know what I’m doing. In terms of influences, impossible question but lets say me and the dp Tobias Datum talked a bunch about “Grey Gardens” and there’s an idea in the film I took directly from Bunuel’s “Exterminating Angel.”
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project?
“Momma’s Man” takes place in the loft I was raised in, with my parents playing the parents. So, the biggest challenges were mostly in my head, working up the nerve to ask my parents to be in it… ugh… coming up with a battery of reasons but really once I said that there was no other way, that place was theirs through and through and you couldn’t separate them with it, they said ok, they’d do their best.
Also, when I realized that the only way to make this film was with them – I had been developing the script with the producer Alex Orlovsky, and we had been talking about something on a much bigger scale, and I was scared he would bail when I told him, instead he took a few moments to think about it, then got really excited by the idea. Alex brought it to a not for profit called Artist Public Domain that he is part of along with Hunter Gray, Tyler Brodie and Paul Mezey and they all turned out to be the producers that every director dreams of, it was a situation that you don’t believe could exist until you meet up with it.
Who are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?
The kind of kings, lord of lords, the honorable Joseph Strummer.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker? What is your next project?
I am getting ready to tell a gangster story – it’s a story about a guy that would do anything for his girl, and I mean ANYTHING.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Umm… Make the film for the world you want to live in – try to think of who is going to flake out on you before shooting, and if you are really honest with yourself you will see, then get rid of them, they’ll just slow you down and do their best to cripple you later. Keep the drama on screen. See “Mistress” by Barry Primus. Don’t rush, no one needs the competition. You’ll need your friends, so hold the boom for them.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
I really like my films.