Interview with HUMANITAS Winner Greg Jacobs


red-oaks-mainWhile he’s spent more than a decade both producing and working as First Assistant director on the films of Steven Soderbergh, filmmaker Greg Jacobs is much more than just second fiddle. A utility player who wears several hats in the creative process, Jacobs has produced over two dozen films, acted as a second-unit director or assistant director on two dozen more, directed two feature-length films (2004’s “Criminal” and 2007’s “Windchill”), and has one more in the works. It’s a little film called “Magic Mike XXL” which you may have heard of.

But Jacobs is more than a jack-of-all-trades shortstop. He’s a creator, and his latest endeavor is “Red Oaks," a TV series he conceived and co-wrote for Amazon. A coming-of-age comedy set in the "go-go" '80s, “Red Oaks” centers on a college student trying to enjoy a last hurrah before summer comes to an end and his uncertain future begins. But with neurotic parents who want him to be an accountant, a hot girlfriend who he’s unsure he loves, and a country-club tennis instructing job that’s nowhere as cushy as it should be, this young man is more confused and adrift than you might initially believe (you can watch it for free here).

"Red Oaks" feels autobiographical. Tell me how the idea of this show came together.

Yeah, some of it’s based on — I taught at a bunch of posh tennis clubs in the New York City area when I was going through college over summers and winters when I was going to classes. So I had four or five years of stories and experiences. I had forgotten about it, and when Soderbergh and I were doing “Behind the Candelabra” he and I started talking about it and he was sort of encouraging me, he said, “Dude I think it could be a good TV show.” And then when we started working pre-production on “The Knick,” that’s when it started coming together.

These country clubs must be such a fertile environment to send up and satirize.

Definitely. And Joe Gangemi, who is writing with me, we’re of a similar age and both were teenagers in the ‘80s, so between the two of us we could definitely have some stories to toss back and forth.

I love how it's very throwback, very '80s, but not in an overt way. It feels authentic.

I'm glad to hear you say that, we were trying to be pretty careful about that. We didn't want it to be kitschy. You look back at it and you're like, “My god that was like a simpler time” but none of us wanted it to be some pastiche or sport. Just make it about “Hey, here's a guy with a Rubik's cube and he's getting out of a Dolorian.”

They say directors are the bosses in film and writers are the bosses in TV. Is it fair to say “Red Oaks” is your show?

Yes and no. I think that even on something like “The Knick,” for example, it really is collaborative. I'm not even sure who you'd say the showrunner is. Steven and I and the writers Jack [Amiel] and Michael [Begler] were there every day, [it's] a super collaborative effort. I mean those guys wrote incredible material, but Steven was very involved in helping to develop stories, and to a lesser extent I was a sounding board. When one filmmaker is directing every hour of a show like “The Knick” – I think it's as much his as it is the writers'.

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UncategorizedJosh Neimark