Interview with Azazel Jacobs (Director) and Creed Bratton (Actor) of “Terri”

Earlier this month the film Terri was released on DVD.  The film was this year’s Centerpiece at the San Francisco International Film Festival.  Filmbalaya’s Tom Ellis had the chance to catch up with both the Director, Azazel Jacobs and one of the film’s star, Creed Bratton during the festival.  Here’s how it all went down.

After much mumbling about magnetism and the novelty of me having an older tape recorder, we began:

Tom Ellis: Alright! Well, I’m glad to have you guys here…

Creed Bratton: Did you see the movie last night?

Tom Ellis: I did!

CB: I think I saw you there, right?

TE: Possibly, I was in the back, but greatly enjoyed it. I’ll give you compliments when this [pointing to the tape recorder] is off.

CB: We want them now.

TE: Um.. oh.. I.. it was good…

CB: Alright. Alright.

TE: So, Aza. You’re a relatively new up-and-coming director…

Azazel Jacobs: It’s been a long time that I’ve been an up-and-comer; well, I’ve been hearing it for a long time.

TE: Where are you from originally?

AJ: I grew up in New York City and moved to Los Angeles about eleven years ago.

TE: And you studied film in New York City?

AJ: I studied film first at City Purchase, in Upstate New York, and then moved to Los Angeles to study at AFI.

TE: And by then were you working on your bachelors or?

AJ: Masters at AFI, but it was a BFA at City Purchase. It’s a great film program there as well, it’s much more focused on experimental, while AFI is much more traditional. I’m sort of looking for something between the two.

TE: After you got your MFA, what was your next step?

AJ: I worked on a feature length experimental type called “Nobody Needs to Know” while I was going to school; I finished shortly after school was over. It wasn’t a very well-liked movie. I love the movie; I’m really proud of it.

I learned a lot, and it wasn’t something that carried me onto the next project, but it definitely inspired what my next project was, which was a project called “The GoodTimes Kid”, an even smaller feature that I did with my closest friends – Diaz and another director at AFI named Gerardo Naranjo. We made a feature for $10,000 and about six of us made it. And that really led to “Momma’s Man”, and that really led to Terri. In terms of supporting myself I did all sorts of different things, a lot of times like editing work for other people, or writing work for other people. Whatever I could do.

TE: Were those also shot on film?

AJ: “Nobody Needs to Know” was shot on video, “GoodTimes” on 35, “Momma’s Man” on Super16, and “Terri” on 35.

TE: Interesting. Creed, would you consider yourself a musician first and foremost, or?

CB: I was a drama major in college. I went to College of the Sequoias, Sacramento State. I was from a very musical family, so I was always playing music. I came back from Europe – after college I spent some years in a folk trio, traveling around. I met this guy in Israel, and I worked on this movie called “Cast a Giant Shadow”. This guy Warren gave me his number, and so I called him when I got back. I started acting again, because that’s what I was pursuing, and we started doing this band to make money.

It became the Grass Roots. So that was a nice little tangent. As soon as the Grass Roots ran its course with me, I went back to studying to studying for about 2, 2.5 years, the Meisner method. I struggled for a long time getting little bits and pieces. Then finally Aza came around…

AJ: Ahh… n-

CB: You have to sell yourself. But yeah, so that’s how that works. So I’ve always thought that I’d want to act.

TE: Films specifically?

CB: Yes, I mean just being a character actor has given me a weird niche. It took me 30 years in the grass roots…

AJ: So you’re an up-and-comer too.

CB: I’m an up-and-comer! I’m pushing 80 now, so…

AJ: You look 70…

CB: I look it, I look 70 but I’m pushing 80. But yeah, I’m an up-and-comer too. I am! It’s like a second shot at it.

TE: Have you secured many theatrical circuits with Terri?

AJ: You mean when the film comes out in July? The distributer is ATO and they came on the project very early on and are real believers in the film. Ultimately this film will only go as far as people come out to see it, but they have the ability and desire to take it as far as possible, so I’m hoping everybody will get to see it.

TE: How was working with John C. Reilly?

AJ: John, for me, is one of the best living actors. Getting a chance to get to work with him… it was great. And also, you know, I just didn’t want to mess it up with him. It was a challenge. I did my best to make sure that I was using him to make something he’d be proud of.

TE: And how did you do that?

AJ: You know, it wound up very quickly… the amount of respect he was giving me as a director became apparent very early on. He responded to the material, he responded to a film that I had done previously… My job was just to create an environment for him where he could be comfortable and do good work, and that’s what I tried to do.

CB: I should say that this is exactly what he did for me too. We were totally at ease and comfortable in there, and he never let me down. So thank you for that.

TE: That’s something that came across when watching the film too. The actors were all able to achieve this general depth of character which seemed to be apparent from the script.

AJ: Cool. Yeah, that’s definitely what brought me to this script as well. Whatever you felt is what I felt as well, reading this material. It lends itself to it.

TE: And so what did you do as a director to try to realize this?

AJ: I think the most important thing is pulling together a team that wants a similar thing. I think the fact that this is not my first film, that people knew what they were getting into to some degree in terms of producers and people around you. Now I have a team of people, like a cinematographer… People know what they’re getting into and want to make what I’m trying to make. I think that’s a real key. And ultimately it had to do with how everybody was going to get along with each other, in terms of casting the three main kids. It had to do with putting them together, different combinations, and bringing John in, and seeing how they worked together.

TE: You mentioned the cinematographer. I definitely felt a sort of symbiosis, especially with some of the comedy. Most of the funny parts are out of focus, outside of the depth of field…

AJ: Well, Toby’s a very close friend at this point. It’s the second film… I was able to show him the very first draft of the script, so by the time we started shooting we had been talking about it for a year straight, he was reading each draft when it came out. By the time we shot there was very little discussion that needed to happen. It really was a matter of trust, that what he was showing was going to be better than what I could even picture. And I like his humor. He’s a big German guy…

CB: And he’s funny too.

AJ: And he’s funny! Great sense of humor. And a lot of our relationship is about humor.

CB: A great scene, which just came across my mind out of the blue was when the two skateboard guys come by and say, “Nice pajamas.” And he [Terri] smiles. It’s a little scene but it’s so good. It just takes the film and you go, “aww, you know? Somebody sees Terri!”

TE: Without question.

CB: Without question! And it’s fine. Redeems the sort of skateboard character. It’s great.

TE: So, Creed, how did you get into character?

CB: In my two marriages, both mothers have had Alzheimers. And, all actors always observe. I wasn’t consciously taking notes but I do watch. So, I went there, I went to those places. In this case I just sort of had a general dementia. So Az would go, “You’re a little bit out;” “You’re going into it;” “You’re fully into it;” “You’re lucid”. And I couldn’t remember where I was sometimes in the script, so he’d give me the context. But he’d always tell me where I was and I’d put it back together.

TE: That was one of the more… well, all the scenes were really interesting. But it really struck me, the one scene where suddenly he [Creed’s character] is completely normal and is reading, and doesn’t want to be disturbed.

CB: Yeah, a lot of people comment on that. I didn’t notice it at the time.

TE: It’s the only time where he…

AJ: Where he’s 100% there.

CB: 100% there. Other times he’s still had a couple pills, or is a little woozy…

AJ: I think Terri’s life would have been a lot different if he had an uncle who was that lucid all the time.

CB: He would, first of all, have went out and bought him some new clothes, he wouldn’t have wanted him to be laughed at.

AJ: And you also sense it’s not out of meanness that he doesn’t ask Terri how his day was at school, he’s just not there.

TE: And Terri could probably socialize much easier if he had somebody to speak to at home.

CB: One time he says “do you have plans for the weekend,” and he’s kind of lucid there, but… We had one scene where I got really almost… militant towards him. A little too hard…

AJ: It had to do with what you were saying, that moment. I wanted that moment, and it to build up to that moment. It made you see that he goes in and out of that randomly.

CB: And you did pick the right one.

AJ: Now! Thank you.

CB: I waited a long time to say that.

AJ: It was a fantastic scene, it was really something special and really hard to lose. You wind up having to make these choices.

TE: For the whole instead of the part. Well, that is a good thing about DVD releases.

AJ: I love them. Commentaries with directors you’d never get to talk to… hearing them say how they do things…

TE: Yeah. So, another question. How do you feel the state of the film industry is?

AJ: I’m really encouraged. I see great movies all the time. I travel to festivals and I’m constantly seeing movies that are just impressive, you know? And all different budgets.

TE: What’s a recent one?

AJ: I just saw a documentary which also played here called “Better This World”, about two kids that got arrested for being quote-unquote “terrorists” at the Republican convention. I try to catch documentaries at festivals… I saw a film called “The Oregonian” recently, that I really thought was great. Both small independent movies, but courageous and distinctive, and exciting to me. It’s weird. At one time you think that the world is so fucked, but then you go into a festival and see so many people trying to do good things, trying to give something good. And it makes you hopeful.

CB: Indie films… what I was thinking is let’s not see anymore sequals. Let’s not see “Iron Man 4“ or… There’s so much original material out there. Please people.

AJ: I want to do “Chad’s Dad”.

CB: [laughing] Can I be Chad’s dad?

AJ: That might be a little weird…

TE: Just put on a wig. And a moustache… [all laugh]

CB: Jason wrote it…

TE: Ah. Any ideas for upcoming projects for either of you?

AJ: He has a bunch of projects.

CB: I’m doing one or two days on a Barbara Streisand film next week; I’ve got a movie called “Melvin Smarty”, a movie “I Am Ben”, and a movie coming out in a few months at the Egyptian Theatre and at Telluride Film Festival, premiers at Telluride, “The Ghastly Love of Johnny X”, where I play an alien who comes in to be a rock star, dies, and is ressurected for one last concert.

AJ: I have a few different films that I’m hoping to make soon, by hopefully this winter, one of which is a detective film.

TE: Interesting. What sort?

AJ: What sort…

CB: Perk it up right now!

TE: Not necessarily like genre, but…

AJ: I really love detective films, you know? I love old film noirs, I love Chinatown… and I’d like to create one which could be part of that library.

TE: Cool! I wish you luck.

AJ: Thank you.

TE: Well, thank you guys very much!

CB: Thank you!

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