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How Gillian Jacobs Moved From Marvel To Lucasfilm For Her Disney+ Documentary More Than Robots

Gillian Jacobs
(Image credit: Gravitas Ventures)

Don’t feel bad if you primarily know Gillian Jacobs from her work as an actress. Whether it’s the confrontational Britta Perry from Community, one half of the Netflix series Love or her role on the hit show Girls, Jacobs has been crafting memorable characters on screen for years. Gradually, though, Jacobs has been moving behind the camera for directorial efforts, mostly in the documentary series and film realm, which is where you can find her for the outstanding and inspirational Disney+ (opens in new tab) documentary More Than Robots

The film recently premiered at the South By Southwest film festival in Austin – a program characterized by its combination of film and technology (thereby making it the perfect spot for More Than Robots) – and it was during that pitstop that producer Jason Sterman walked us through his and Jacobs’ journey from Marvel to Lucasfilm and eventually to the close-knit community of competitors in the 2020 First Robotics Competition. Here’s the way that Sterman explained it to CinemaBlend during an exclusive conversation:

Gillian and I worked together in the past. We were doing a project that she directed, which we produced for Marvel, which was the series Marvel 616. We produced the entire series. Gillian directed the episode on the women of Marvel (titled Higher, Further, Faster). … That was our entry point into working with one of the brands at Disney. We have an overall deal with Disney+. We've worked with each of the brands. We’ve done the rounds and introduced ourselves, and tried to figure out what works for non-fiction for each of them.

This led both Gillian Jacobs and Jason Sterman to Lucasfilm. Jacobs has had a long history and strong interest with STEM, which represents science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She hosted the podcast If/Then which was dedicated to conversations with experts in the STEM field. She’d even hosted a luncheon for STEM at the Obama White House. As she sought her next project following the unscripted series Marvel 616, she wanted to explore stories in the STEM world and discovered that Lucasfilm was going to be a brand-name sponsor for the 2020 First Robotics Competition. The fates aligned, and Jacobs was off and running.

More Than Robots

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Jason Sterman told us:

Lucasfilm was great because they made the connection, obviously, to First, and First jumped at the opportunity to say, ‘Film whatever you want.’ Because no one's really made a film like this. So it's only going to help obviously share that kind of community and message.

The concept of supporting programs like STEM and competitions such as the one captured in More Than Robots is having an effect on audience members, as well as on the people who worked closely on bringing the documentary together. According to Sterman:

There's someone who is in the post-delivery side of Lucasfilm who was like, ‘I watched the film’... because he has to deliver it. And he was like, ‘I didn't realize I can start a team up here!’ And (now) they're going to start a team. It has this impact of people wanting to help in some way. Even if you just know (First Robotics) exists, you can share it with other people. If you have a kid who doesn't play a traditional sport, and a lot of parents do struggle with that, it gives you that kind of other alternative.

More Than Robots, directed by Gillian Jacobs, reminds me of the spectacular documentary Spellbound, in that it focuses on a handful of young students, as well as their teams and families, to explain what drives these sharp minds as they head into a global robotics competition. It’s heartwarming and inspiring, and continues to prove that Jacobs is a filmmaking talent on the rise. In my opinion, More Than Robots is one of the best Disney+ movies available on the streaming service at the moment, so make sure your Disney+ subscription is up to date and watch it with your family tonight. Also, keep track of all of the upcoming Disney movies coming to theaters and streaming from now until the end of the year.

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.