Posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
It was only a few weeks ago that I flew out to Los Angeles to talk with filmmaker Spike Jonze about his adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. I really wasn’t expecting to hear back from Spike until the next film, probably a couple years down the line. Last week, Jonze’s new short film We Were Once a Fairytale leaked online, and the filmmaker wanted to touch base again and talk about the new project. So I got on the phone with the man himself, on his birthday no less, to talk about the short film starring Kayne West, which is now officially online on iTunes in both standard and high definition video (download it now). I also snuck in a few unrelated questions from Twitter, including a joke question from Up in the Air director Jason Reitman.
Spike Jonze: Peter. Hey, how are you doing?
Peter Sciretta: Hey, Spike. Good. How are you doing?
Spike Jonze: Good, good.
Peter Sciretta: Happy birthday.
Spike Jonze: Thanks. Yeah, it’s– I’m just leaving on a vacation. So I had a great birthday, and then, I’m going to have a birthday trip. So it’s all good.
Peter Sciretta: I think it’s crazy that you’re doing promotion on your birthday. But I understand how it is. You’re probably going to be away on a trip for a couple of days or whatever.
Spike Jonze: Yeah, I’m going away for, like, three weeks. So I’m checking out.
Peter Sciretta: Oh, for a while. You must be really happy with how Wild Things has done?
Spike Jonze: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s awesome.
Peter Sciretta: It’s much better than people expected, which is good. When I talked to you a couple of weeks ago, we talked a little bit about your short films. And you have this new short film coming out. Could you talk a little bit about why you decided to go into the short film medium, over, you know, making another feature film?
Spike Jonze: Yeah, I mean, for lack of a better answer, you know, they’re shorter. We shot this about six months ago. And we were in the middle of doing all the visual effects for Where the Wild Things Are. And, you know, that movie was, like, five years and such a long laborious thing, so I’m excited about doing things that are shorter. That I can have an idea and just have an idea, have a feeling that I want to try and make something about. And then, just go and do it. And put it out in the world, you know, and make something else. So, you know, this was an idea I had that Kanye was up for. And we did the very low budget, sort of, experimental film that, you know, we just did it ourselves.
Peter Sciretta: And you just came up with the concept yourself?
Spike Jonze: Yeah, and we also paid for it ourselves, and we’re just putting it out ourselves.
Peter Sciretta: Where did the idea come from? Was Kanye always going to be the star of it?
Spike Jonze: Yeah, when I wrote it, it was part of an idea I’d had– I mean, it was, sort of, part of an idea I had before. But I was, sort of, working off of the feeling of his last record, 808 & Heartbreak. And I just started writing from there.
Peter Sciretta: The film leaked online for a bit, and the reaction has been good. But it feels like a lot of people are concentrating on the aspect that it’s kind of a– people see it as a reflection of Kanye West’s public persona. Do you think that’s unfair?
Spike Jonze: No. I mean, it wasn’t initially what I intended. But, you know, obviously, as soon as I cast Kanye, and he’s, kind of, playing himself in some way, then, you know, it’s going to take on that, too.
Peter Sciretta: Yeah. Could you tell me, what does the title mean? We Were Once a Fairytale…
Spike Jonze: You know, I think we’ve probably had this discussion before. You know, I guess my goal isn’t to make something that everybody has to have the same reaction to. And I think that you can– it’s a title or film that you can have your own interpretation of or your own reaction to or no reaction to.
Peter Sciretta: Yeah, definitely. I really loved how you played with the…
Spike Jonze: What was the title to you?
Peter Sciretta: To me it’s about a man who has become something that he didn’t want to be. And he wants something more. I’m not sure if that’s what you intended.
Spike Jonze: Cool. Well, I’m just curious. I’m always interested to know what somebody else thinks.
Peter Sciretta: It seems like a lot of people love the end of the short, with the creature and the projectile vomit. Let’s talk about the creature. That wasn’t designed by the Henson company, the people you worked with on Where the Wild Things Are, was it?
Spike Jonze: No.
Peter Sciretta: Okay. So that…
Spike Jonze: Sonny Gerasimowicz. Sonny designed it, who designed the Wild Things with us.
Peter Sciretta: I think creature work is so under done nowadays. And especially with, the overuse of CG, which definitely seems like something you’re trying to avoid. And it seems like you get it, or you get — the puppetry and making it look real. I’d love to see you work with puppets more in the future. Do you have any plans on doing anything like that?
Spike Jonze: I think we were talking about– you know, I mean, just I did this robot short film that we’re just posting right now with robots. But they’re not puppets. But I don’t know. I have no idea.
Peter Sciretta: When are we going to see the robot short film?
Spike Jonze: We’re trying to get it done, like, maybe, by, like, say, the end of January, I think.
Peter Sciretta: Very cool. I’m just wondering, were you, as a kid, a fan of, like, puppets? Do you like the Muppets? Or were you at all interested in that?
Spike Jonze: Yeah, I mean, I definitely liked the Muppets. I definitely liked Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and Chewbacca. I don’t know if I was a fan of puppets or those, like, specific characters. You know, I wasn’t, like, into, like, just puppets in general, but, like, specific characters.
Peter Sciretta: I was really surprised at the ability Kanye showed, his acting abilities in this. Because I didn’t expect that from him. Did you have any idea going in? How did you audition him?
Spike Jonze: I didn’t know what his acting ability would be. But I know just from knowing him for a long time what his commitment is. He read the script, and if he said he was going to go for it, then, I knew he would go for it. And whatever he tries to do, he goes for it. And we– and he knew– and I think I made it really clear that what’s going to make this work is if it’s raw and if he goes there. And if he goes to where the place is that the moment or the scene is about. And yeah, we rehearsed in my office before we shot. And I think that’s when he realized what it was, like, as we started working on it. What I meant by it being raw. And he just went for it wholeheartedly.
Peter Sciretta: Well, I think, by the end of the film, you definitely feel for him. And I think he did damn good job.
Spike Jonze: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Peter Sciretta: I think I noticed a couple of people I recognized in the background of some of those scenes. Can you talk a little…
Spike Jonze: Yeah, probably. Like, Eric Koston and Rick Howard and Mikey [Carrol] and those guys?
Peter Sciretta: Yes, yes. How did they end up in there?
Spike Jonze: They’ve always been in everything I’ve done. Like, whenever I’m shooting anything and those guys are around, whatever it is. Like, we did a puffy video one time at a high school, and I got all those guys to come. Whatever commercial I’m doing, or whatever video. You know, I’ve shot so many music videos with them and, sort of, invite them to come down and be a part of whatever I’m doing. And they’re all fans of Kanye. And Kanye knew who those guys were, so it was cool.
Peter Sciretta: How different it is making short films from doing the music videos?
Spike Jonze: I don’t think it’s that different. I mean, it’s different– the process of it’s not different. What you’re making is different. There’s no length to determine. But I don’t know, even with music videos, you don’t necessarily have to have a length. Artists often let you, like, put an introduction on or shorten the song or lengthen the song. But I’m always leery to do that, because I don’t want t. So I mean, in a way, it’s less limiting, I guess. I guess, you know, in a big way, it’s less limiting, now that I think about it. Because with a video, you’re still representing the artist. You’re trying to making something that’s, both, you and the artist. And a short film, you’re just trying to make something that’s just you. And even with this thing, even though Kanye’s playing himself, sort of, he’s an actor in my short film.
Peter Sciretta: Oh, definitely. So its a more personal creation.
Spike Jonze: Yeah.
Peter Sciretta: I actually have a few questions from some /Film readers. I was wondering if you’d be willing to take them? They’re from Twitter, so they’re pretty short. And you don’t have to, you know, have a long answer.
Spike Jonze: Sure.
Peter Sciretta: Andrew M. wants to know if you plan on collaborating with Charlie Kaufman again?
Spike Jonze: Yeah, definitely. I love Charlie and he’s, you know, my favorite writer. Not just screenwriter, he’s just my favorite writer. And I don’t know when we will, but I hope we do. And we always talk about it. I don’t know when it’ll be, but one day, for sure.
Peter Sciretta: That’s my biggest fear of him going into directing is, you know, I’d love to see you direct more of his scripts.
Spike Jonze: Oh, me, too.
Peter Sciretta: But his film list was great. So…
Spike Jonze: His film’s just incredible. It’s totally unlike anything ever.
Peter Sciretta: Kristen RAI wanted to know what your biggest fear is.
Spike Jonze: Let’s see. Shit, I don’t know.
Peter Sciretta: You don’t have to answer it, if you don’t want.
Spike Jonze: I’ll have to Twitter her back directly to tell her.
Peter Sciretta: Are you on Twitter?
Spike Jonze: No.
Peter Sciretta: Ha, okay.
Spike Jonze: I’m at the airport. And somebody at the airport’s bound to be on Twitter.
Peter Sciretta: Shawn Ludwig wants to know– this is a good one. “Spike, you’re regarded as a visually driven director. What do you make of the 3-D craze?”
Spike Jonze: I think– I don’t know. Actually, I’ve seen some of the IMAX films. I haven’t seen– I keep missing, like, I wanted to see Coraline. Or I missed, like, the clip on– I haven’t actually seen any narrative 3d movies. I’ve only seen IMAX, like, journey to– the one that James Cameron did where they go dig deep the ocean. What’s that called again?
Peter Sciretta: Oh, are you talking about the Titanic one or the other one he did?
Spike Jonze: The other one where it’s, like, they go down and you see all the sea life at the bottom of the ocean, which is all really great…
Peter Sciretta: Yeah, I forget the name of it.
Spike Jonze: Like, that was amazing and is amazing. The images were amazing, but seeing it in 3-D was incredible.
Peter Sciretta: What do you think about 3-D for narrative films?
Spike Jonze: I think if you have an idea that it serves the story and works for it, I think– I mean, I’m speaking without really being educated. But I would assume if you have a story that it serves then, it would be cool. I don’t know, because I’ve got to see it.
Peter Sciretta: I put the question out on Twitter asking if anybody had any questions for Spike Jonze. And Jason Reitman responded, the writer/director. He asked, “Where did he get the idea for Do The Right Thing?”
Spike Jonze: [laughs] Damn. I wish I could claim that I came up with that idea.
Peter Sciretta: Oh, it was another Spike. [laughs] Someone needs to tell Reitman that you’re not Spike Lee. [laughs]
Spike Jonze: [laughs]
Peter Sciretta: We’ll just do two more.
Spike Jonze: Okay.
Peter Sciretta: Do you have any other adaptations that you’d like to tackle?
Spike Jonze: Not off the top of my head, no.
Peter Sciretta: And what would you say is your biggest inspiration?
Spike Jonze: God, I have no idea. I don’t know. That’s, like, one of those, like, you know, what’s your favorite song ever? Like, what’s your favorite- it’s like how do you–
Peter Sciretta: Well, what are some of your inspirations? That’s probably just as hard; right?
Spike Jonze: Yeah. I can’t think of a good answer, as I’m walking through the airport.
Peter Sciretta: And last one, Sonic 43 wants to know, “Are there any chances of you ever doing just a fun B-movie?”
Spike Jonze: A fun B-movie?
Peter Sciretta: Yeah.
Spike Jonze: I don’t know. Yeah, I have no idea.
Peter Sciretta: It seems like you’re always attracted to stories that are, kind of, cerebral, that have a lot more depth…
Spike Jonze: I would imagine, like, even if I started going that direction, by the time I was done, I would’ve messed up that idea or something, taking it somewhere else. But I have no idea, really. Just until you have an idea for something, you don’t know.
Peter Sciretta: Well sir, I won’t waste any more of your time on your birthday.
Spike Jonze: That’s cool.
Peter Sciretta: And I want to thank you again for Where The Wild Things Are. The more I think about the film, the more I love it. And I’ve talked to many other people that really dugg it as well.
Spike Jonze: I appreciate it. And yeah, thanks for everything. And thanks for all the support along the way.
Peter Sciretta: I really appreciate it. And enjoy your birthday, and have a good vacation.
Spike Jonze: All right. Thanks.
Peter Sciretta: Bye.
Spike Jonze: Bye.