Terry Zwigoff

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Terry Zwigoff
2012-09-27 Portrait Terry Zwigoff with Lilypads (melanieTZ3) UNC 715x861.jpg
Zwigoff in 2012
Born (1949-05-18) May 18, 1949 (age 73)
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison[1]
OccupationDirector, producer
Years active1979–present
SpouseMelissa Axelrod[2]

Terry Zwigoff (born May 18, 1949)[citation needed] is an American filmmaker whose work often deals with misfits, antiheroes, and themes of alienation. He first garnered attention for his work in documentary filmmaking with Louie Bluie (1985) and Crumb (1995). After Crumb, Zwigoff moved on to write and direct fiction feature films, including the Academy Award-nominated Ghost World (2001) and Bad Santa (2003).

Life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Zwigoff was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, to a Jewish family of dairy farmers.[3] He was raised in Chicago.

Move to San Francisco[edit]

Zwigoff moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and met cartoonist Robert Crumb, who shared his interest in pre-war American roots music. Zwigoff, who plays cello and mandolin (as well as the saw, and the Stroh violin), joined Crumb’s string band R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, with whom he recorded several records.

Zwigoff's friendship with Crumb led to his involvement in the underground comix scene. He initially edited the one-shot Funny Aminals [sic] #1 (Apex Novelties, 1972), the groundbreaking comic in which Art Spiegelman first introduced the characters and themes that would become Maus. In 1972–1973, Zwigoff operated Golden Gate, a small retailer and underground comix publisher[4][5] (located at 429 Brazil Street in San Francisco).[6] Golden Gate Publishing released three comics during this period, all of which heavily featured Crumb's work:

  • The People's Comics (Sept. 1972) – all Crumb; features the story in which Fritz the Cat is killed
  • Turned On Cuties (1972) – 28 pages of "pin-up" illustrations by Jay Lynch and a host of other San Francisco-based underground comix creators
  • Artistic Comics (Mar. 1973) – 68 pp. of reproductions from Crumb's sketchbooks

Zwigoff later sold Golden Gate's publishing rights to Kitchen Sink Press.[5]

Filmmaking career[edit]

Zwigoff began his film career making documentary films, starting with 1985's Louie Bluie, a one-hour documentary about the blues and string band musician Howard Armstrong. Zwigoff had been inspired to locate and interview him after listening to a 30s recording, "State Street Rag", on which Armstrong played the mandolin.

Zwigoff worked on a documentary about R. Crumb and his two brothers for nine years, during which Zwigoff said he was "averaging an income of about $200 a month and living with back pain so intense that I spent three years with a loaded gun on the pillow next to my bed, trying to get up the nerve to kill myself."[7] He completed Crumb in 1994; the critically acclaimed film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival,[8] the DGA award,[9] the NY Film Critics Circle Award,[10] the LA Film Critics Award,[11] and the National Society of Film Critics Award.[12] Additionally, critic Gene Siskel named Crumb the best film of 1995[13] as did over ten other major film critics.[14] It appeared on over 150 Ten Best Lists of important critics.[15] When Crumb failed to receive an Oscar nomination, there was an outcry from the media which forced the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to revamp their documentary nomination process that previously had been dominated by the distributors of documentary films.[15][16][17]

Zwigoff’s first fiction feature film was the comedy-drama Ghost World, based on Daniel Clowes' graphic novel of the same name. For this, Zwigoff and co-writer Clowes were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay[18] and won the Independent Spirit Award.[19] Ghost World was also nominated for two Golden Globe Awards[20] and two AFI awards.[21] USA Today and The Washington Post called it the best film of the year.[22][23] Ghost World appeared on over 150 Ten Best Lists.[15]

Zwigoff’s next film was the 2003 black comedy Bad Santa whose star, Billy Bob Thornton, was nominated for a Golden Globe award.[24] The film cost $23 million to make and grossed over $76 million worldwide.[25]

His latest feature film was Art School Confidential, whose best-known stars are John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, and Anjelica Huston.[26] Art School Confidential was Zwigoff’s second collaboration with writer Daniel Clowes.

In 2009, Zwigoff signed a petition in support of film director Roman Polanski, calling for his release after Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in relation to his 1977 charge for drugging and raping a then 13-year-old girl.[27]

Unrealized projects[edit]

According to Vice, Zwigoff and Robert Crumb wrote an unproduced screenplay titled Sassy.[28]

Zwigoff turned down the offer to direct Elf (2003) in favor of directing Bad Santa.[29]

In July 2006, it was reported that Zwigoff was to write and direct a film adaptation of the French novel Happy Days by Laurent Graff. Jerry Stahl was to have co-written the script with Zwigoff and the film was to have been produced by Johnny Depp via Infinitum Nihil and Graham King via Initial Entertainment Group.[30][31]

In September 2007, it was reported that Zwigoff was to direct and co-write with Daniel Clowes a film titled The $40,000 Man for New Line Cinema.[32][33]

In a 2012 interview with IndieWire, Zwigoff claimed he attempted to write and direct a film adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel Maximum Bob.[34]

In June 2013, it was reported that Zwigoff was to direct Fred Armisen in a film he co-wrote with Melissa Axelrod titled Justice for Al.[35][36]

In July 2013, it was reported that Zwigoff was to direct a film he co-wrote with Melissa Axelrod titled Lost Melody with Edward R. Pressman producing and Nicolas Cage slated to star.[37][38][39]

Zwigoff confirmed in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair that he attempted to make Lem Dobbs’ unproduced script titled Edward Ford into a film with Michael Shannon slated to star. According to Zwigoff, the film was never made because “the money fell through.”[40]


Year Title Director Producer Writer Notes
1985 Louie Bluie Yes Yes No Documentary
1995 Crumb Yes Yes No
2001 Ghost World Yes No Yes Nominated- Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
2003 Bad Santa Yes No No
2006 Art School Confidential Yes No No
2017 Budding Prospects Yes Yes No Amazon pilot


  1. ^ von Busack, Richard. "Art School Interview: Richard von Busack talks to director Terry Zwigoff". Metroactive. Retrieved February 7, 2013.
  2. ^ Thomson, David (July 22, 2001). "FILM; A Director Who Likes To Sit Alone In the Dark". The New York Times. Retrieved February 7, 2013.
  3. ^ Udovitch, Mim (2003-11-30). "FILM - Terry Zwigoff's Santa - He's Making a List And Checking His Escape Routes Twice". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-08-09.
  4. ^ Levin, Bob. The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney's War Against The Underground (Fantagraphics Books, 2003), p. 40.
  5. ^ a b "ARTISTIC COMICS by R. CRUMB. 1973. (1st printing)," Steve Krupp's Curio Shoppe: a Division of DenisKitchen.com. Accessed May 31, 2018.
  6. ^ Indicia, Turned On Cuties (Golden Gate Publishing, 1972). Archived at the Grand Comics Database.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 20, 2005). Crumb review. Chicago Sun Times.
  8. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (1995-01-30). "A Sort of Cinderella Prevails at Sundance". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2008-01-26. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  9. ^ "Awards / History / 1995". Archived from the original on 2012-03-25. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  10. ^ "Awards – New York Film Critics Circle – NYFCC". Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  11. ^ "Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for 1995". Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  12. ^ "National Society of Film Critics Awards History List". Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  13. ^ Siskel, Gene (1995-12-24). "Best of Shows – Top 10 Movie List of 1995". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2012-08-12. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival". Archived from the original on 2011-08-29. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  15. ^ a b c "Biography for Terry Zwigoff". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on 2011-07-11. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  16. ^ "Terry Zwigoff Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on 2008-08-21. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  17. ^ Murray, Noel (2010-08-10). "Interview: Terry Zwigoff". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on 2011-10-13. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  18. ^ "The 74th Academy Awards (2002) Nominees and Winners". The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 2011-08-21. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  19. ^ "2011 Twenty-Six Years of Nominees & Winners" (PDF). Film Independent Spirit Awards. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  20. ^ "The Hollywood Foreign Press Association Award Search for Ghost World". Archived from the original on 2011-07-05. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  21. ^ "AFI Awards for Motion Pictures 2001". Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  22. ^ Clark, Mike (2001-12-28). "'Ghost World' charms, 'Freddy' fizzles". USA Today. Archived from the original on 2012-06-29. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  23. ^ Hunter, Stephen (2001-12-28). "'Ghost World' Leads a Very Different List". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2012-11-06. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  24. ^ "The 61st Annual Golden Globe Awards (2004)". The Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Archived from the original on 2011-07-05. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  25. ^ "Bad Santa (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  26. ^ "Art School Confidential (2006)". The Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on 2011-09-04. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
  27. ^ "Signataires de la pétition pour Roman Polanski / All signing parties to Roman Polanski's petition - SACD". October 2, 2009. Archived from the original on October 2, 2009. Retrieved June 4, 2022.
  28. ^ Koester, Megan (May 17, 2017). "Terry Zwigoff Doesn't Like Doing Interviews". Vice. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  29. ^ Sherlock, Ben (August 4, 2020). "You Sit On A Throne Of Lies: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Elf". Screen Rant. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  30. ^ Green, Willow (July 11, 2006). "Depp And Zwigoff Have Happy Days". Empire. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  31. ^ MW Staff (July 10, 2006). "Johnny Depp Hires Terry Zwigoff To Write and Direct Happy Days". MovieWeb. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  32. ^ THR Staff (September 14, 2007). "Zwigoff the 'Man' for New Line pic". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  33. ^ IGN Staff (September 14, 2007). "Zwigoff Making $40,000 Man". IGN. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  34. ^ Taylor, Drew (December 20, 2012). "Terry Zwigoff Talks Battling Over 'Bad Santa,' His Preferred Director's Cut & Much More In Candid Interview". IndieWire. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  35. ^ Sneider, Jeff (June 13, 2013). "'SNL's' Fred Armisen to Star in Comedy From 'Bad Santa' Director Terry Zwigoff (Exclusive)". TheWrap. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  36. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (June 14, 2013). "Fred Armisen Will Find 'Justice For Al' In Next Film From 'Bad Santa' & 'Ghost World' Director Terry Zwigoff". IndieWire. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  37. ^ Eames, Tom (July 4, 2013). "Nicolas Cage to fall for prostitute in new indie movie 'Lost Melody'". Digital Spy. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  38. ^ Nicholson, Max (July 2, 2013). "Nic Cage Goes Indie for Lost Melody". IGN. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  39. ^ Sneider, Jeff (July 1, 2013). "Nicolas Cage Teaming With Terry Zwigoff, Ed Pressman for 'Lost Melody' (Exclusive)". The Wrap. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  40. ^ Hoffman, Jordan (May 18, 2017). "Ghost World Director Terry Zwigoff Has Learned to Expect the Worst from Hollywood". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 19, 2022.

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