Yesterday, we brought you our first installment of the Spike Jonze and David O. Russell chat at L.A. Film Fest, where the filmmaker presented clips from his upcoming oddball romantic comedy “Her.” But now we’ve got a recap of the previous hour of the chat, a friendly and lively discussion between the two longtime friends and unofficial collaborators. Opening with with the 2007 skate video “Fully Flared,” Russell guided Jonze through a talk starting with his early days writing for the magazines Freestylin’ and Dirt, through his music videos, “Being John Malkovich,” “Where the Wild Things Are” and finally to his new project, “Her.”
Jonze spent a year working on a unproduced film with the Beastie Boys.
Jonze felt right at home in the L.A. Live Regal Cinemas in Downtown L.A., as he pointed out that he had shot “Fully Flared” and “Being John Malkovich” just blocks away, as well as the video "Drop" for The Pharcyde (watch below). “I was really into their first record, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, I was always a fan of theirs and when they came out with their second record I wanted to do a video for them for the song ‘Drop,’ and since it had the reverse loop in it, I got a cassette made and I played it for them, it was of the song played backwards and all the lyrics sounded like gibberish, like [backwards rapping] and I asked if they could lip synch to that," Jonze said about the concept. "And they were like ‘Yeah, yeah we can do that.’ I don’t think any of us realized how hard that was going to be, but they learned to lip synch to the song backwards, and they’d be like on tour, practicing, it was awesome to see these rappers doing their homework and practicing with their headphones on and lyric sheets— we got a linguist from UCLA to transcribe this gibberish phonetically, so you could say 'eight car bar to to far' and when you reversed it it would look like the lips were saying the real rhymes.”
“We filmed them going [backwards rapping] and then forward would be like [regular rapping]," he added. "And they walked in a sort of strange way, they’d pop off the ground into the van. When we finished they kinda looked like superheroes in some way, because they looked larger than life.”
Meeting David O. Russell & The Arduous Edit Of "Being John Malkovich"
Jonze and Russell also discussed how they met, on a feature project that unfortunately never got made. “You hired me to help you work on a movie called ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon,’ which is from a very famous children’s book by Crockett Johnson — his estate was managed by a writer named Maurice Sendak," Russell reflected. “Harold and the Purple Crayon” may have never materialized, but the failed feature ultimately proved to have a profound impact on Jonze’s life and career as he developed relationships with Sendak and Russell, who would prove to be important collaborators. Sendak obviously, is the author of the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” that Jonze adapted into a film, and the pair have traded notes and read over each other's scripts over the years.
After “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” Jonze spent a year working on a film with the Beastie Boys, living in an unfurnished apartment with Mike D, sleeping on an air mattress in the living room, and writing everyday, which he described as “this amazing time to get to hang out with them and they’re probably three of the funniest people in the world.” While that project never got off the ground, Jonze did read the screenplay for “Being John Malkovich” at this time and started to work with Charlie Kaufman. Russell described visiting the downtown L.A. set with Jonze pushing the limits of his budget and his schedule, saying, “There was a very intense day where you and your amazing cinematographer Lance Acord were running and shooting, and I remember Vince [Landay, producer] was shouting, ‘I don’t know what movie you think you’re making but it isn’t this movie, we don’t have the budget or the schedule to do what you’re doing right now. I don’t know what you think you’re doing.’ Those kind of moments happen all the time, and your best of friends are like ‘You’re fucked.’”
Even during the edit of “Being John Malkovich,” where Jonze was splitting his time between editing in L.A. and acting on set in Arizona for Russell’s “Three Kings,” there were moments of doubt that Jonze would prove himself as a feature director, including at the screening at the first cut of the film. Russell recalled to Jonze that after the screening, star John Cusack “comes up to you in the lobby, and I was right nearby, and he goes, he takes you by the shoulders and he goes [perfect Cusack voice] 'You. Have. Got. A. Lot. Of. Work. To. Do.' " Jonze was frank in his response to this memory, saying, “I probably did have a lot of work to do. We were very… I was going to say slow, but yeah, meticulous editors. That one took a long time. And some of it had to do with me being in Arizona on ‘Three Kings,’ I’d go be in Arizona for 3 or 4 days and the come back to L.A. for 3 days and edit with Eric (Zumbrunnen, editor), and then go back, it did slow editing down, but it also gave us time to find the movie.”