Director Azazel Jacobs’ (“Momma’s Man”) perceptive coming-of-age dramedy, “Terri,” charmed the pants off of audiences at Sundance earlier this year, where the film world premiered. It opens this Friday, July 1, in limited release. Jacobs provided indieWIRE with an exclusive scene from his film along with his thoughts on the shoot. Check it out below.
The screenplay for “Terri” was written by Patrick deWitt, and one of the many reasons I wanted to make it into a film, was that it gave me space to find my way in as a director. Though each action and word on the page was precise and important, the opportunity to direct the material granted me the freedom and ability to say more with the image and sound.
I am tempted to bring up the many directors who have influenced me in wanting to say more with less, but I would hate for anyone to think that I was trying to equate myself with them. Let’s just say that with some (or all) of the work by Kaurismäki, Tati, Chaplin, Jarmusch, to name a few, I have been constantly excited and amazed, and it’s made me want to get better at exploring things visually rather rushing from line to line.
Pat’s script read really well; it was one you could enjoyably read through in one sitting; so, the pressure was on to create a need to turn it into a film. In this clip [see below], Terri (Jacob Wysocki) has just come from a transformative experience on his way to school, causing him to be late.
He has already been warned about lateness, hence the homeroom teacher’s look. Tara Karsian plays the homeroom teacher, and I think what she does here is perfect. An hour and a half is enough to tell this story on screen, but, to push it in the directions I was hoping, I needed actors who could convey a history quickly.
It is the same in the following scene, in the waiting room. The secretary Ms. Hamish (Mary Anne McGarry) and fellow in trouble student, Chad (Bridger Zadina), both of whom will have an increasing effect on Terri’s life, needed to let us know enough about them without shifting attention away from Terri.
One of the things that is simultaneously great and worrisome about making a coming of age film is the many examples of it being done right. It’s a history that I wanted this movie to live alongside, and at the same time, add something new and different. There was no way I was going to talk about the horrors of high school better than Solondz in “Welcome To The Dollhouse,” but, because of that, I didn’t have to go that far since it exists as part of the language. The same with the Hughes films, Keith Gordon’s “The Chocolate War,” Heckerling’s “Clueless,” Campos’s “Afterschool;” these films gave me both courage and a shorthand to use to hopefully steer towards clear waters.
Being that this is still early in the film, I am also doing my best to make it clear in what kind of world this story will exist. The way I described it best to my cinematographer Tobias Datum going into the film, is that I wanted to exist in this world, but about a foot off the ground. These scenes in particular may be more than a few feet, but it’s granting me the license to go where I want in the future, to handle people’s actions in a way that’s true, but with latitude.
If there has been one obsession for me, it has been about the process of making films. I am a sucker for any movie about movie making, from “Hellzapoppin’” to “Mistress,” and in previous work, have more directly dealt with this obsession. But, I am hoping that it exists in “Terri,” especially in a clip like this, that there is an aspect of having fun with the work, and giving some importance to playing.