Terry Zwigof
Birth Date:
May 18, 1949
Birth Place:
Appleton, Wisconsin, USA
Famous for:
Director of Ghost World (2000)
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Ghost World


“Sometimes films made outside the studio system are just as generic and uninteresting in their own way as the worst big budget dreck. I appreciate any film with a strong personal point of view that makes it through to the screen.” Terry Zwigoff

Academy Award nominated American director, writer and producer Terry Zwigoff first gained notice for directing the 1985 documentary “Louie Bluie,” from which he took home a Grand Jury Prize nomination at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival. However, it was his next documentary, “Crumb,” (1994) about underground comic artist Robert Crumb and his family, which eventually brought the director the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The film also earned him a DGA Award, an IDA award, a LAFCA Award and a Seattle International Film Festival Award. Zwigoff picked up his Oscar nomination for his writing effort on the critically acclaimed movie version of Daniel Clowes' “Ghost World” (2001), which he also directed. He also nabbed an Independent Spirit Award, a DGA Award, a San Diego Film Critics Society Awards, a Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Award, a Deauville Film Festival Award, a PEN Center USA West Literary Award and a WGA nomination, among other honors, for his work on the film. Zwigoff also directed “Bad Santa” (2003) and “Art School Confidential” (2006).

Prior to his breakthrough with “Crumb” (1994), Zwigoff had worked as a musician, printer, shipping clerk and welfare office worker. A former cello and mandolin player on Crumb's string band, R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, Zwigoff is presently a member of the San Francisco instrumental trio The Excitement Boys.

Comic Book Fan

Childhood and Family:

Terry Zwigoff was born on May 18, 1949, in Appleton, Wisconsin. The son of a Jewish farmer, he relocated to Chicago, Illinois, with his family when he was five years old.

Terry is of Caucasian lineage and is married to Missy Axelrod. He currently lives in San Francisco, California.

Terry is an avid comic book fan. He also collects old 78 records (primarily country, jazz and the blues). He plays the cello and mandolin, instruments he began to learn at age 22.



Terry Zwigoff began his association with comics in 1970s when he moved to San Francisco and met Robert Crumb, a founder of the underground comic movement. He published several of Crumb's work during the decade. Their relationship continued when Zwigoff joined Crumb's string band, R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, in 1976. He played mandolin and cello for the band.

Zwigoff branched out to filmmaking in 1985 when he directed and produced “Louie Bluie,” a documentary about African American blues and string musician Louie Armstrong. He was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival for his work in the film.

Terry gain even more attention with his next documentary film, “Crumb,” which he directed and produced with Lynn O'Donnell and David Lynch. Revolving around underground comic artist Robert Crumb and his family, the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 10, 1994, and was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1995, where it won the Grand Jury Prize before receiving a theatrical release in U.S. on April 28, 1995. For his effort, Zwigoff was handed a Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, a Los Angeles Film Critics Association for Best Documentary, a Golden Space Needle Award for Best Documentary at the 1995 Seattle International Film Festival and an International Documentary Association for Feature Documentaries.

Zwigoff stayed away from filmmaking for several years and did not make his return until 2001 when he directed the big screen adaptation of Daniel Clowes' graphic novel “Ghost World,” which he scripted with Clowes. Starring Tora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, the film earned kudos from critics and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, which Zwigoff shared with Clowes. Adding to his Oscar nomination, Zwigoff picked up an Independent Spirit for Best First Screenplay, a San Diego Film Critics Society for Best Screenplay, Adapted, the Literary Award for Screenplay from the 2002 PEN Center USA West Literary, a Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, an AFI Film nomination for AFI Screenwriter of the Year, a Chicago Film Critics Association nomination for Best Screenplay, a Chlotrudis nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, an Online Film Critics Society nomination for Best Screenplay, Adapted, and a Phoenix Film Critics Society nomination for Best Screenplay - Adaptation. He also netted the Jury Special Prize and a nomination for Grand Special Prize at the 2001Deauville Film Festival, an Award of the Ecumenical Jury - Special Mention at the 2001 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, a San Diego Film Critics Society for Best Director, the Best International Film Award (3rd place) at the 2001 Fant-Asia Film Festival, and an Independent Spirit nomination for Best First Feature, among others. Despite its victory with critics, “Ghost World” was not a major success at the box office when it grossed over $8 million worldwide against its $7 million budget. The film, however, has since collected a cult following.

In 2003, Zwigoff directed Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Lauren Tom, John Ritter and Bernie Mac in the dark comedy “Bad Santa,” which was written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and produced by the Coen Brothers. It was screened out of competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. The film was a box office success where it grossed over $60 million in the domestic market and over $76 million worldwide from its budget of $18 million. Under his direction, Thornton received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.

Three years later, Zwigoff directed “Art School Confidential” (2006), based on Clowes' comic of the same name. Written by Clowes, the film version earned mixed reviews from critics and was a flop at the box office. The cast included Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar and Ethan Suplee.

“I've stopped going to see art films because every critic gives them four stars and say things like masterpiece, spellbinding and mesmerizing. I mean, they're doing that with my film but I don't want to use those blurbs. Critical reviews aren't worth too much anymore because just about every film can get one or two of them.”


  • Independent Spirit: Best First Screenplay, “Ghost World,” 2002

  • PEN Center USA West Literary: Literary Award, Screenplay, “Ghost World,” 2002

  • Fant-Asia Film Festival: 3rd place, Best International Film, “Ghost World,” 2001

  • Deauville Film Festival: Jury Special Prize, “Ghost World,” 2001

  • Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Award of Ecumenical Jury - Special Mention, “Ghost World,” 2001

  • San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS): Best Director, “Ghost World,” 2001

  • San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS): Best Screenplay, Adapted, “Ghost World,” 2001

  • Directors Guild of America (DGA): Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, “Crumb,” 1996

  • International Documentary Association (IDA): Feature Documentaries, “Crumb,” 1995

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA): Best Documentary, “Crumb,” 1995

  • Seattle International Film Festival: Golden Space Needle Award, Best Documentary, “Crumb,” 1995

  • Sundance Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize, Documentary, “Crumb,” 1995

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