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Sarah Jacobson

Virgin territory

"Everyone told me I would never be a filmmaker, and that's when I decided I would be, and they could go fuck off."

Sarah Jacobson's Mary Jane's Not A Virgin Anymore opens with a scene that serves as the climax of a lot of teen movies: the main character's loss of virginity. It's an unusual start, but it gives the writer/director (and editor, producer, and camera person) a chance to explore issues and situations that aren't examined in most films. Filmed on an ultra-low budget, Mary Jane is the second film for Jacobson (I Was A Teenage Serial Killer precedes it), who travels with and promotes the movie as if she were managing an indie-rock band or hawking a post-war exploitation film. (Information on Mary Jane can be found on Jacobson's website—www.sirius.com/~lenny/maryj2.html.) When not seeking out new audiences for Mary Jane, Jacobson is at work on Sleaze, the story of an all-girl rock 'n' roll band and its profound influence on one fan. Jacobson recently spoke to The Onion about how she got her start and how her film is different from Sixteen Candles.

The Onion: How did you get started making your own movies?

Sarah Jacobson: Well, when I was 16, I saw Stranger Than Paradise on TV, and I just was like, "I'm going to do this. This is what I'm going to do." So when I was in high school, I would do a lot of video projects and stuff. They were horrible. It was hard, because my dad had a video camera, which supposedly was a 16th-birthday present to me, but he wouldn't let me use it. I had to sneak it out of the house, and a lot of times, I would end up doing stuff like, "Oh, look, me and my friends smoking a bong." Really stupid stuff. But I tried to do projects where, instead of doing a journalism report, we did a TV show. I tried to do a lot of music videos—which were pretty horrible—instead of assignments. I chose Bard College because I wanted to do film, but I was also good at writing. But once I got there, everybody told me I would never be a filmmaker, and that's when I decided I would be, and they could go fuck off.

O: Why did they say you wouldn't be a filmmaker?

SJ: Because I was too obnoxious, and my first films were really bad. I was a hellraiser from the beginning. I was always asking questions and being really aggressive. And these are the avant-garde people, the non-Hollywood people, and they were just horrified. So I ended up deciding that that's what I was going to do, because there were all these people telling me I couldn't. I didn't see any real reason, you know what I mean? The people they liked, it's not like they were such geniuses.

O: Mary Jane certainly has that... I hate to bring out all the punk clichés, but sort of a D.I.Y. quality to it.

SJ: No, that's fine. At some point, I realized that people like a good story, and that's what I want to do. So if I don't have the money... Obviously, I'm not going to be able to fake a Hollywood movie. I knew that I didn't have dolly grips that were experienced. I didn't have people who had the knowledge to do all these fancy camera moves. I mean, I shot the film myself, and I knew what we had. We had one camera, one tape recorder, one mic, and like four lights. We had the bare minimum of what you needed to make a movie, and so I did. I see stuff that tries to be super-fancy, and it just comes off looking stiff. I thought if I did a film like I Was A Teenage Serial Killer—which has every mistake you could ever imagine in it—I could do something with Mary Jane's Not A Virgin Anymore, and it wouldn't have to be technically slick. I kind of figured out from Serial Killer that a lot of people just don't care.

O: One thing I liked about Mary Jane was the depiction of sexuality where you have all the heavy petting, which is generally not acknowledged in movies.

SJ: Yeah, I know. It's not at all.

O: And that's a very important part of sexual awakening.

SJ: Well, especially for girls. Maybe that's why you don't see it. God, it's so funny, because especially after making Mary Jane, I've really paid attention to sex scenes, and they're horrible. It's so weird to me how every movie that has a sex scene has slow-motion, soft-focus, lots of dissolves... It's so ridiculous. The only one I can think of that I sort of like is in Gas Food Lodging. I just wanted to show what it was like for real instead of... my whole thing. I got so fucked up. When I was 12, I saw this movie Paradise with Phoebe Cates and Willie Aames on HBO. It was this take-off on The Blue Lagoon, and that's what I thought sex was. It was the cheesiest... I actually have to find an uncut version. I saw it on TV a year ago, and I was like, "Oh my God, this movie is so bad." I'm really obsessed with those bad '80s teensploitation films.

O: I was actually going to ask you about that. Was that a big influence on Mary Jane?

SJ: Oh, God, yeah. I secretly love Molly Ringwald movies, but I also kind of hate them, too. I kind of wanted to make one where Molly gets to have sex.

O: I was watching Sixteen Candles not that long ago, and that movie hasn't aged well at all. It's sort of hateful, and full of all these stereotypes I didn't see the first time.

SJ: You don't realize that stuff. But what really surprised me was how much of the story is about the geek, and not about Molly at all. There's so much time spent with the geek, and he gets laid. Why doesn't Molly? It's like, girls don't do that.

O: You get the impression that maybe, at some point in the future, after the credits roll, she'll be having sex with the guy.

SJ: That's what everybody says. They go, "Oh, he's older and he's not going to go out with her unless they fuck." Well, I want to see it. I want to see how that works. You know? Not to say that everyone has to have sex, or whatever, but people do, and girls do, and I'd rather see sex scenes that... For me, I really could give a shit that the geek got laid. I don't get off on that.