Sundance Features

January 24, 2008

Azazel Jacobs, Momma's Man

"I wanted to figure out a way to hold on to some things that I knew I wouldn't be able to hold on to in the future."

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

THE REELER: What can you tell me about Momma's Man, both story-wise and where it came from?

AZAZEL JACOBS: I live in LA now, and when I come back here I stay with my parents in the place where I grew up. Really, it came from waking up one morning and my Mom saying, "Help yourself to whatever. There's coffee and there's cereal on the table." The first thing I thought was, "Why did I leave this place?" Really, that's how it started. What would it mean to stay here? If it were this kind of person, and he had a wife and a baby and a job back in LA? All these things started pushing me toward the story. At first it was more of a light-hearted, funnier thing, and then the more seriously I took it the more interesting it became for me. Also, the place I grew up in? My folks have been there for over 40 years. It’s a rental, and I really just knew that it was thing where Lower Manhattan has completely transformed from when I grew up, and I knew that would be someplace where, at some point, I wouldn't be able to go anymore. I wanted to figure out a way to hold on to some things that I knew I wouldn't be able to hold on to in the future.

R: To what degree did you find yourself overlapping documentary elements - casting your parents, shooting in your old home -- with narrative elements that subjectively addressed those themes?

I've always really, really been taken by films that have found ways to take these two different things and treat them respectfully and clearly and at the same time integrate them in some way -- seamlessly, or in some way that makes the piece feel vital. Even the film I did before this, I did it with my girlfriend and my best friend. It's always been important for me to find ways to bring in elements of things I'd like to hold on to. There's really no way for me to lose in that situation. Let's say things don't work out for the film, or whatever; no one sees it, or it doesn't turn out how I want. Regardless I end up with this home movie of the moment, and there are moments in there that I'm going to treasure regardless of whether or not anybody else does.

I wasn't writing this movie for my folks, but I was definitely writing it for the house. And the person's not playing me, because I know me, and it's not that interesting for me to write about. It became more revealing to write about people I didn't know; the relationship between the son and the parents is very different than mine. It takes a pretty special relationship and a lot of trust -- both ways, but especially from them. But here, my parents are both artists, and the son is someone who's opted for a life of normality: A job and a family situation that's more on track. That hasn't been the situation for me. I think that the film itself is proof of the amount of support and inspiration they've given me.

R: How did you and your parents come to terms with working together on -- and developing the requisite comfort level for -- this project?

AJ: It was toward the last couple of drafts that I started thinking I couldn't imagine anyone else in this house. It's filled with stuff -- I mean really filled with stuff, and it's their stuff. This is how they live. And I know actors can do incredible things, but there was no way I could picture this any other way. But not at first. I just realized I couldn't separate the two. And it's a big thing having a crew come into this world where they want to continue doing their stuff. They were absolutely supportive, and they became more and more interested as we were shooting, but I kept having to explain to them, "I can't imagine anyone else lying in your bed or being in your kitchen." And they didn't want anybody else in their bed or their kitchen.

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R: What was the impact of your parents -- particularly your father Ken, such an influential filmmaker himself -- on your actual craft throughout the project?

There's whole scenes in there that were suggested by either one of them when we were writing and shooting. One of the huge benefits of being able to shoot in order was that we stayed with the script. But I also wrote things like, "Conversation at the table," but not exactly the things that were going to be said. It was just a moment I need. We were able to investigate and develop those things. And his work plays prominently in the film, so that had a huge influence: How the scenes are going to revolve around or interact with or bounce off his actual physical work. There are moments of his films interspersed through my film. All of those things became building blocks, and it took me in directions I never would have gone by myself.

R: What are you looking forward to or apprehensive about as you screen at your first Sundance?

AJ: It's like the ultimate deadline. It's really a chance to say, "This film is going to be finished, and we're going to show it to the world at this place and at this time." For me, it's already given me all I could hope for. And after this, seeing it with an audience is going to allow me to feel the film again. I've been watching this thing over and over again, and it's really hard to know how to feel. Just to have this chance to see it with people and feel their reaction is going to make it come alive again for me.

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