Spike Jonze on the mak­ing of Where The Wild Things Are,

By stand­ing up to the stu­dio big­wigs and stay­ing true to his sub­ject, Spike Jonze con­sis­tently makes the film he wants to make, writes Fiona McCann

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

SPIKE JONZE is slim and sprightly, with a shot of blond hair that seems to fizz from his head against an enor­mous ho­tel room sofa that threat­ens to swal­low him whole. He looks young, younger than you’d ex­pect for some­one who’s 40 with three ac­claimed films be­hind them. He’s also en­thu­si­as­tic and en­gag­ing and full of en­ergy and ideas that are im­pos­si­ble to tran­scribe. Not be­cause their con­tents are too com­plex to con­tain within one small ar­ti­cle, but be­cause the au­dio file con­tain­ing our in­ter­view is mys­te­ri­ously dis­torted on play­back.

Per­haps the “Wild Things”, the big, lum­ber­ing mon­ster-like char­ac­ters that pop­u­late his lat­est film, got at it. Ei­ther way, the sound is au­di­ble only in snatches, like right at the start where he be­gins the in­ter­view by in­ter­view­ing me. “How did you get the job?” he asks. Thank­fully, my re­ply is lost for­ever to white noise.

But Jonze is clearly in­ter­ested in sto­ries other than his own, the one he has to tell over and over to ev­ery jour­nal­ist that opens the door of this room at Lon­don’s Clar­idge’s Ho­tel. They’re all here to in­ter­view him about Where the Wild Things Are, his new film based on the Mau­rice Sen­dak book of the same name, which may ex­plain why the di­rec­tor of Be­ing John Malkovich and Adap­ta­tion is turn­ing the ta­bles. If he’s go­ing to talk about what he does for a liv­ing and why, it’s un­der­stand­able that he might want a lit­tle of the same back. I mut­ter some­thing about dogged­ness, and when I fire the same ques­tion back about how he got where he is to­day, his re­ply is ini­tially sim­ple. “Same,” he tells me, then gives it some thought and ad­mits that he never re­ally set out specif­i­cally to be­come a movie-maker. “I never had that vi­sion.”

Yet it’s Jonze’s vi­sion – and his dogged­ness in turn­ing it into re­al­ity – that has pro­duced some of the best mu­sic videos of all time, like his homage to 1970s crime shows in the Beastie Boys’ Sab­o­tage, or his dance troupe per­for­mance in Fat­boy Slim’s Praise You. He also di­rected the video for Fat­boy Slim’s Weapon of Choice, with its As­taire-like turn from Christo­pher Walken.

Then there are the films: his 1998 de­but about be­ing in­side John Malkovich’s head for which Jonze, a rel­a­tive un­known, re­cruited Malkovich him­self, and then Adap­ta­tion, his film about the adap­ta­tion of a book into a film, which fol­lowed in 2002. Af­ter that, for the gen­eral movie-go­ing pub­lic at least, things seemed to go si­lent for a while. Un­til the ap­pear­ance of the ex­traor­di­nary, vivid Where the Wild Things Are, the film that al­most didn’t make it.

It started a long time ago. The idea for adapt­ing the Sen­dak book came, Jonze tells me, from Sen­dak him­self. The oc­to­ge­nar­ian chil­dren’s writer ap­proached Jonze and said that if any­one were to make a film of his book and avoid the sac­cha­rine kid­flick in­ter­pre­ta­tion, he was the man.

Yet there were ob­vi­ous ob­sta­cles to over­come. The book is only nine sen­tences long, and is one of the most beloved child­hood tomes of all time, hav­ing sold some 19 mil­lion copies world­wide since it first came out in 1963. No won­der Jonze was a lit­tle leery even to touch it, let alone at­tempt to ex­pand on such a clas­sic. But Sen­dak was per­sua­sive, and his en­dorse­ment got Jonze past his own reser­va­tions, and through his long bat­tles with movie stu­dios about his in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the book.

“Mau­rice was ev­ery­thing,” says Jonze cat­e­gor­i­cally of Sen­dak, who is cred­ited as pro­ducer on the film. “He’s the rea­son I did it.”

With Sen­dak on board, Jonze kept ru­mi­nat­ing on the book’s cin­e­matic po­ten­tial, un­til he hit on the key that made the whole thing pos­si­ble. He had, he says, “this idea that the Wild Things would be wild emo­tions”.

“I like mak­ing movies when I have an idea for a movie that I have to make” – Spike Jonze

The re­sult is a film that re­mains faith­ful to the spirit of Sen­dak’s book, while tak­ing its own flights of fancy into the land of the Wild Things, gi­ant live action fig­ures voiced by James Gan­dolfini, For­est Whi­taker and Lau

ren Am­brose (Claire, from Six Feet Un­der) among oth­ers. To help him script it, he en­listed prob­a­bly the only writer who matches him for hip: San Fran­cisco-based Dave Eg­gers.

Eg­gers had ap­proached Jonze years back

to make a film of Eg­gers’ own work, A Heart

break­ing Work of Stag­ger­ing Ge­nius. “I’d al­ready read his book and loved it,” re­calls Jonze with no trace of the kind of smug­ness you might ex­pect from some­one sought out by ac­claimed au­thors to bring their work to the big screen. Per­haps it’s be­cause Jonze didn’t au­to­mat­i­cally agree to do so, and in Eg­gers’ case, he ad­mits he was stumped. “It’s so self-con­tained. It’s such a com­plete work.” So in­stead of mak­ing the film of Eg­gers’ book, he got Eg­gers to work on the film of Sen­dak’s book. Add in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, a for­mer girl­friend of Jonze, for the sound­track, and some Ar­cade Fire for the trailer, and the whole project be­gins to feel al­most im­pos­si­bly hip and, well, adult. But isn’t it sup­posed to be a movie for kids?

“We didn’t set out and say ‘Oh we’re go­ing to make this for a de­mo­graphic’.” The in­ten­tion, he ex­plains, was to make a film that was not nec­es­sar­ily aimed at kids so much as faith­ful to the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a kid. And Where the Wild Things

Are is as joy­ful and lonely and fear­ful as be­ing a kid can be, some­thing which re­port­edly up­set the stu­dio big­wigs who

stalled the project ask­ing for changes to tone down the ter­ror so that they could release it with a kiddy cert. Jonze was adamant. “They’re not a de­mo­graphic!” he says of this no­tion of a ho­moge­nous tar­get mar­ket of mi­nors. “They’re peo­ple!”

Jonze made the film he wanted to make, cast­ing the con­ve­niently named Max Records as Max. Adamant that he didn’t want his lead to exhibit any child ac­tor twee or self-aware­ness, Jonze de­vised a num­ber of tech­niques to elicit nat­u­ral re­ac­tions from Records, in­clud­ing hir­ing fire swal­low­ers to pe­form be­hind the cam­era. He also fit­ted a small ear­piece in Records’ ear, and would speak to him dur­ing shoot­ing, or play mu­sic to spark the re­ac­tions he was looking for.

Records is some­where in the Clar­idge’s Ho­tel too, and Jonze en­quires as to whether we have met. We have not, though for all I know he could be in the next room. Film pub­lic­ity events are too man­aged and ar­ti­fi­cial to al­low the pos­si­bil­ity of bump­ing into the film’s young star in the corridor. It’s a sub­ject – the ar­ti­fi­cial­ity of the in­ter­view set-up – that Jonze warms to as he ac­knowl­edges the con­straints of the 20-minute ho­tel-room in­ter­view.

While he’s been sit­ting there go­ing through his ros­ter of pro­mo­tional in­ter­views, I re­mind him, the jour­nal­ists in ques­tion may well have been do­ing the same. And to make that point, as well as to name-drop a lit­tle – be­cause who doesn’t want to im­press Spike Jonze? – I tell him that I’ve just come from in­ter­view­ing Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s grat­i­fy­ing to see the man who’s friends with Dave Eg­gers, has dated Karen O and has been mar­ried to Sofia Cop­pola, look im­pressed.

“Wow. He’s so cool,” he says in that child­like way he re­tains, his eyes wide. “I’d like to in­ter­view Daniel Day-Lewis.” Next thing you know, we’re talk­ing about the ac­tor and not Spike Jonze, and our time is quickly swal­lowed up. Jonze does me, then, a kind­ness, re­quest­ing an ex­ten­sion of our time from the stu­dio rep­re­sen­ta­tive hov­er­ing at the door with her next in­ter­viewer. “We’ve been ram­bling,” he ex­plains gen­tly. So I get to ask him what the next project is, which he tells me is “a robot love story” to be screened at Sun­dance, and called I’m Here.

It all sounds promis­ing and very Spike Jonze, though the ques­tion of whether it will make it to a wider cin­ema au­di­ence re­mains. In the mean­time, those Jonz­ing for some more from the mae­stro may have to wait for a man who clearly takes his time. Af­ter all, three films in 11 years would hardly be de­scribed as pro­lific.

“You’re say­ing I’m not pro­lific?” he in­ter­rupts, and then gives it some thought. “I guess I’m not pro­lific in terms of movies, but I feel like I’m al­ways mak­ing stuff and do­ing things.”

Like his work as creative di­rec­tor with VBS. tv, the on­line tele­vi­sion net­work, not to men­tion record­ing with Beck and pro­duc­ing a rock­u­men­tary. He’s just care­ful about choos­ing his projects. “I like mak­ing movies when I have an idea for a movie that I have to make.”

Where the Wild Things Are opens to­day

and is re­viewed on

This movie is about a young boy called Max who longs for some­one to play with, as his mother and sis­ter are too busy with their own prob­lems.

One night Max falls out with his mother and ends up bit­ing her, caus­ing her to shout in­sults at Max and he storms out of the house. An­gry, frus­trated and dressed in a ridicu­lous cos­tume, Max finds an aban­doned boat and sets sail, not know­ing where it will take him. Max even­tu­ally comes across an is­land, which he sets off to ex­plore and dis­cov­ers a tribe of mon­sters whose re­la­tion­ships are fall­ing apart.

Max be­friends a mon­ster called Carol, who is con­fused and has some anger is­sues. Max presents him­self as a king with mys­ti­cal pow­ers. The movie goes on and shows the ad­ven­tures they en­counter. I par­tic­u­larly dis­liked Where

the Wild Things Are be­cause it made no sense, and some scenes were so com­pletely ran­dom that they made you lose track of what was go­ing on. Di­rec­tor Spike Jonze spent too much time work­ing on the vi­su­als and sound ef­fects rather than cre­at­ing a good di­a­logue and a story that kept you in­ter­ested and ex­cited. I found it un­in­ter­est­ing to watch be­cause it lacked di­rec­tion and the story didn’t flow.

I doubt that young chil­dren will find the mon­sters ap­peal­ing as they would have done in other mon­ster movies.

How­ever, the movie wasn’t all bad, as there were one or two funny scenes that made the au­di­ence laugh. Also, the an­i­ma­tion of the mon­sters was quite good.

I would not rec­om­mend this movie to older kids or teenagers be­cause i was bored through­out most of it. I would say that only chil­dren from ages 5-10 would find it partly en­joy­able.

On the ba­sis that the vis­ual ef­fects were good, I’m giv­ing

Where the Wild Things Are a

kind

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