For Azazel Jacobs, filmmaking is a bit of a private affair. Before asking his parents (his father is the experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, of Star Spangled to Death fame) to star in his most recent film Momma’s Man, Jacobs co-wrote and directed The GoodTimesKid, in which he, his best friend (co-writer Gerardo Naranjo) and his girlfriend (Sarah Diaz) play the lead roles.
The result, a whimsical and absurdist tale about mistaken identities, premieres this month at Berlin’s second annual American independent film festival, Unknown Pleasures (January 1 to 19). It will be screened alongside his earlier work Nobody Needs to Know and some other 20 American indies, many of which have never previously been shown in this city. Jacobs spoke to us from his home in L.A.
The GoodTimesKid ’s two main characters are both named Rodolfo. How did you come up with that idea?
Gerardo [Naranjo], who plays the other Rodolpho, and I went to film school together. For some reason, in acting class we both got assigned A View from a Bridge and our characters’ name was Rodolfo, so before we really knew each other, we both would say, “Hey, Rodolfo!” And I think that it just stayed.
So what’s it like acting and working with people you know so well?
Well, it was the only way we could have possibly made the film. It was like, “Okay, if we don’t have to get actors, it just makes our life so much easier.” It was a lot of fun, and as I get older with the film, I am so glad that I have this kind of home movie. I am so glad it was us. That’s my girlfriend in there – we’re still together – and I still see Gerardo, and it’s also really nice to have this whole movie on 35mm.
You and Gerardo also wrote the script together.
Yeah, we wrote that script in 10 days; we went on a road trip and ended up in New Mexico in a motel, writing, and we wrote things that made each other laugh. We’re best friends, so a lot of our relationship is making each other laugh.
What’s the story behind the 35mm film you used?
Gerardo knew somebody who worked on the set of Troy. I guess he felt mishandled because out of spite he took a bunch of film, about four and a half hours-worth, when he left. It sat in his apartment in Mexico for a year, then Gerardo found out about it and wound up picking it up, and that’s what we ended up using. It had been baking in the sun for over a year and we weren’t sure what it was going to be like. But it was great – it made making the film possible. We knew that we didn’t want to shoot on video. We wanted it to be an answer to a lot of the movies we loved that had been shot on film.
Even though it’s clear that the action takes place on the west coast, the characters in the film seem disoriented. Why is that?
Gerardo comes from Mexico and I’m from New York, so L.A. is such an odd place for us – and this is definitely the way that we saw and felt the world that our characters inhabit. We also tried to use sparsely populated areas, mostly because we were on a budget. We wanted to find a place for this film that exists between worlds, between what we know and what we imagine.
In one scene, a character in a soap opera that’s playing on TV poses a question and one of your characters answers it. And at the very end of the film, music takes over entirely. So even when the characters aren’t speaking, there is a sort of dialogue going on, isn’t there?
Well, you know when you are either falling in love or breaking up with somebody and even the corniest songs sound like they are saying something personal to you? In a lot of ways, I think that’s what happened. When Gerardo and I were writing the soap opera scene the idea was not that our story was better than what soap operas are talking about – they are basically talking about the same thing as us. Here was a chance for us to use characters to say everything that for different reasons we couldn’t or wouldn’t say directly. So we had somebody else say it for us. We would never be that direct – you know, we probably think we’re too cool for that.
Have you ever had a birthday as weird as Rodolfo’s?
The weirdest birthday I had was in college. We hired a horrible local college techno band so we could use their sound equipment. But the deal was that we had to let them play. So we had a party and this great sound system and we were DJing and tons of people were dancing. But then the band started to play and people literally dove out of the windows. In maybe one minute, I was standing there completely by myself on my birthday, with this horrible band playing and this empty room and I think I had just dropped some acid, too.