Greg Jacobs is a very busy man.
He has spent much of the last two decades working closely with Steven Soderbergh as the Oscar-winner’s first assistant director, but he’s done plenty of writing and first string directing of his own. In fact, he will soon go into production as the top guy on the sequel to a little movie called “Magic Mike,” but more on that later.
Jacobs, who won an Emmy Award for producing “Behind the Candelabra,” is also the writer of the Amazon comedy pilot “Red Oaks,” which stars “Submarine” and “Neighbors” actor Craig Roberts as David, a teenager who works as an assistant tennis pro at a posh country club during the mid-80’s. Directed by David Gordon Green and executive produced by Soderbergh, the very funny show also features Richard Kind and Jennifer Grey (as David’s parents) and Paul Reiser (as an irritating club member), among other notable names.
It’s a throwback, coming-of-age story with modern sensibilities — kind of like John Hughes filtered through
TheWrap: You’re from New Jersey and grew up in the ’80s, so how much is this your experience?
Jacobs: To some degree, I’m in my 40s, so I definitely came of age in the ’80s, and I did teach tennis, I was an assistant pro at a couple of posh country clubs over the summers. So it’s definitely a collection of experiences for sure. In fact, while I was going to NYU.
So you start out writing it and then it becomes less and less autobiographical?
Yeah, and I had a buddy of mine, Joe Gangemi, who wrote it with me, he’s a friend of mine, and we’re a similar age, and so when you sit around and you take the kernels of these real life experiences and fictionalize them … to sort of make it a little bit more fun and interesting.
And the idea that Soderbergh and I and Joe had was, we’re going to set it in this time period and let’s see if we can give a little bit of an homage to those films that we all grew up on.
What were the movies that you would cite as influences on this?
Well, obviously there were some “Caddyshack” influences, but everything, I mean Harold Ramis was such a good filmmaker, John Hughes, there was this guy Steve Holland, he did “One Crazy Summer,” a couple of those John Cusack movies … and a little bit of “The Graduate.” We sort of wanted David to be somewhat of a Dustin Hoffman character, in the first half hour of that movie, when he comes home and he’s wandering through the party and everyone’s talking at him. And it’s a lot of him just sort of wide-eyed reacting to what’s going on around him.
There are obviously no cell phones or anything like that in this show; do you think it’s harder to be a kid now, or back then?
Somehow, I think it was simpler then. That was the other thing we tried not to do, was to get too gimmicky with the whole ’80s of it all.
How is it working with Steven as a producer versus being his first assistant director?
He’s a great producer. On this one, it was David Gordon Green directing, so I was just the writer/EP, but Soderbergh is sort of giving script notes and being another set of eyes on casting. With Craig, for example, he was somebody that we had in mind, but it’s great to have somebody sort of validate it, to say “that’s a great choice.” In the editing room, he’s a great set of eyes. He’s sort of the perfect kind of producer for the director in that he lets people make the movie they want to make, and is helpful when needed.
So let’s say “Red Oaks” gets picked up by Amazon for a season, are you signed up to write all the episodes?
Yeah, myself and Joe and Soderbergh’s producing with us. We’ve got our fingers crossed.
They give you a production budget and then show the world this episode, and then you wait and see. Do you have a story for the season cracked? Do you know where it’s going to go?
Yeah, we have a whole bible written for the remainder of the season, and the next couple of seasons written out. Hopefully once we get the — fingers crossed it gets picked up — we’re in pretty good shape to get going. Truthfully we had such a blast making the thing, the cast was all so much fun, so I know everybody’s hopeful, because who doesn’t want to hang out at the country club and make more episodes?
In the interest of enticing people to vote for it, can you give any teases for the rest of the season?
I think it gets more fun and deeper into the family dynamics, with him and his parents, and goes to some pretty unexpected places. Even the relationships, David’s love life goes to some pretty unexpected places as well. It’s tricky in a pilot, you just have to kind of set up that world. That was the first pilot I’ve ever written, so it’s hard, trying to get as many characters in as you can in 28 minutes and balance how to do that. I have to say, it was harder than I thought.
Were you surprised at how big the first big of a hit
Yeah, well I knew when Channing first started talking to us about it, I thought, wow, this could be amazing. And then, yeah, I was surprised as to how big it became, but I felt like it was something unique and a really interesting movie.
So how do you top something like that?
A lot of sequels repeat the same thing over and over again, but I imagine you’re too smart for that.
I hope so, I feel really good about it. It is a very different story.
A road trip movie?
Yeah, it really is, so it’s very different. I think it’ll be fun.