"When I first started hearing about Spike Jonze, it was through these pictures in magazines that showed him jumping off of hotel roofs into swimming pools. Apparently he did a nationwide tour. Then I saw some of his films and I thought, maybe the same personality trait that makes you want to jump off of buildings somehow relates to the movies he's done," said filmmaker and DGA member Wes Anderson (Rushmore).
Anderson moderated a Q&A with DGA director member Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) after a screening of his newest film, Adaptation, at the DGA in Los Angeles.
Anderson asked Jonze about his very unique visual style, which was honed making dozens of skateboard videos in his late teens and music videos in his 20s, particularly his work with the Beastie Boys.
"With the two movies I've done, it's been about what's appropriate visually for the story and the ideas behind the story, whereas with music video, the idea is the visuals. We did a music video, for example, with an L.A. hip-hop group, and had them learn the song backward. They learned the lyrics phonetically backwards, then we filmed them walking backward and then we reversed the film, and had all these images sort of popping up off the ground."
Anderson also pointed out Jonze's signature of mixing comedy, irony and tragedy in his films. Jonze gave part of the credit to his two-time screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman. "Charlie's writing is so amazing and so complex that it's easy for me as a filmmaker to find all those different elements: the comedy, the tragedy, the irony. For example, the Chris Cooper character in Adaptation is sort of this goofy, comic character up until a tragic event, and then he becomes much deeper and much more real. So I can't really take credit for those elements being my signature, as much as a signature of my collaborations with Charlie."
Jonze also emphasized the importance of casting well. "It's tremendously helpful to have people like Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep and Nic Cage in your film. When we met Chris, we met this very thoughtful, kind, deep person whereas his character is this sort of swaggering, boisterous guy. We cast Chris because of his depth as a person, and that depth helped bring this wild man to life. And Meryl and Nic share those same qualities as well, and are nothing like their characters, but if you have intelligent actors who have lived life and gained a lot of wisdom, they're going to bring that to work with them every day, and one of the biggest parts of my job is to find those people."
Anderson concluded the questions by asking Jonze how his experience acting in David O. Russell's Three Kings in 1999 helped shape him as a filmmaker. "We shot that after John Malkovich and before Adaptation, and it really helped me as a director. If nothing else, it made me sympathetic to what an idiot an actor can feel like and being sensitive to that. I think it's very easy for a director who's never acted to take that for granted, because all you see is the actor going up there, saying his or her lines, talking with you about the part, or not and unless you've been on the other side, it's a lot more difficult to talk about those things. Almost every set I've been on, I've been able to learn something, but on that movie, I really had a front row seat to see what a director goes through."