If you’d grown up an aspiring filmmaker with parents like experimental director Ken Jacobs and his longtime collaborator-wife Florence, it’s only natural that we'd see their influence on your work. Their son Azazel Jacobs took things a bit further, though, when he cast his folks in his first feature, Momma's Man, and shot the whole thing in the rent-controlled Tribeca apartment where he grew up. Jacobs took a break from the festivities at Sundance — where the movie’s generating substantial buzz — to talk to Vulture about the film, which tells the story of an office drone who abandons his new wife and child to move back in with mom.
So how’d do you come up with this idea?
Well, I live in L.A., but I grew up in lower Manhattan with my folks, and whenever I visit them, I stay in the bedroom I was raised in. One of those mornings I woke up and there was coffee and cereal waiting for me, and I thought to myself, Why did I leave this place? I laughed about it then, but the more I wrote and tried to picture what kind of person would stay, I started taking it more and more seriously. The other inspiration was the house itself. My parents have been renting it for 40 years, and every time I go back, Tribeca has changed so much. I really wanted to figure out a story that would allow me to preserve that memory.
And their apartment is rent-controlled, right? Is it obscenely cheap?
For New York reality, it is. My parents moved there from Ferry Street. [When they got there] their new rent was 50 bucks a month, and that was a big leap because they’d been paying 30 bucks a month for an apartment that was bigger but had no windows.
Was it wild growing up in such an artsy environment?
It was the best place. If you had a book report and asked for help, you wound up getting easily a dozen books on the subject. When I got really into comic books, my dad must have pulled out fifteen or sixteen boxes! And the same thing happened when I started getting into film — suddenly there was super-8 and tons of cameras for me to use.
Your parents star in the movie. Is the main character, Mikey (played by How I Met Your Mother's Matt Boren), a stand-in for you?
One of the easiest and least interesting things would have been for me to write about myself, because I’d already know what I’d want to show and what I’d want to hide. If there’s any similarity between Mikey and I, it’d be that he’s embarrassed of his home life. When I was 13 or 14, I was definitely really embarrassed of my folks and how crazy the place was — if it'd only had a carpet I’d have been so happy! I’m pretty sure it was the first time a girl came home with me and said, "Wow, your parents are cool! Your house is cool!" that I was completely convinced.
It sounds like the movie must have been pretty surreal to shoot.
Oh yeah. I was staying in the bedroom with my folks the whole time so I was actually living the story. The craziest thing happened when I started editing the film though: Literally in the next day or two, I woke up and my face was half-paralyzed. It was this type of facial paralysis called Bell’s palsy, which no one seems to know much about. So the next thing you know I’m actually physically stuck in New York — a whole different kind of being stuck than I could have conceived of while making the film.
Yes! And nobody can tell you if it’s going to last forever or not. Some people were saying three to four weeks, some were saying three to four months, and, meanwhile, I’m taping my eye shut every night to go to sleep. Everything was just nuts. And then suddenly we finished the edit and I could blink again. The paralysis lasted the whole time I was cutting, but then my face basically popped back into place as soon as I was finished. I guess you could say I was living my life in multiple dimensions at the time.