LA Film Festival Wed 7.17.2013

Spike Jonze Gives LA Film Fest a Sneak Peek at Her, Talks Shop with David O. Russell

It was a big enough treat to see Spike Jonze and his good friend/sometime collaborator David O. Russell bantering, laughing, whispering and talking shop on the stage together during the “Spike Jonze: A Rubber Band and His Comb” conversation at the recent Los Angeles Film Festival. But Spike made it even more special by revealing two scenes from his current work-in-progress, Her, about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who develops a romantic relationship with an artificial intelligence operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. “This was shot at 9th and Flower,” said Jonze, who was careful throughout the night to note nearby locations from all his work as a nod to the local audience. “It’s set in the slight future of L.A. It’s all rough, no color correction. “It’s the first time it’s being shown in public.”

“This is a movie we’re still finishing,” he said, admitting that he’s already a year into the editing process. “There are some scenes we still want to do, a couple scenes we’re writing that we want to shoot.”

Jonze wrote and directed Her, making it his first solo feature screenplay.

In the first scene he screened, Theodore installs/meets Samantha, the OS1 personality custom-built for him. In the second, Theodore takes Samantha to the beach.

The evening began with scenes from Fully Flared, the skateboard movie Jonze co-directed and shot close by, just off the 5 freeway. “I think of that as your flag,” said Russell.

Russell asked Jonze which of his own music videos were favorites. “It’s hard to say, but when I felt close to the artist, I liked it, like with The Pharcyde, which was also filmed a few blocks from here.” Jonze told how he made the group “look like superheroes,” by filming them backwards then running the film forward. (

“I first got to know you when you were trying to make the film Harold and the Purple Crayon,” said Russell. “You tried to make that movie for a year and a half,” Russell said. “The passion of that film–it’s just brilliant.”

But these are not just filmmakers who admire each other’s work, they read each other’s scripts and spend time together in the editing room. “David gives me notes and some of them push me,” Jonze told the audience. About Three Kings in particular, Russell said Jonze asked him “many difficult questions about that script.”

For Jonze, the biggest thing he learned from Russell was to respond to what’s happening on set rather than what’s on the page. “Directing-wise, David isn’t married to the page–he wants to find the moment.”

“I’ve learned,” said Russell, “this man is relentless in his curiosity. He makes me try harder. He’s inspiring as an artist.”

Talk of Where The Wild Things Are brought up memories of author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, whom Jonze called “incredibly funny, and deep, and a huge mentor to me,” and James Gandolfini, who passed away just days before and voiced the monster, Carol, in the film. “We were on a soundstage, and from day one, he took it to a new level. He brought this electricity to the shoot. He kept coming back, for two years in post. He’d say, ‘This shit again!’ But he would give it to us every time–crying, sobbing, honest. He was an amazing man who wanted to be true.”

One audience member observed that all of Jonze’s work seems to embody the themes of “honesty and childhood.” Jonze seemed to be stumped. Russell leaned over and whispered to Jonze, who then recited his friend’s suggested response:  “Children are brutally honest and I aspire to that truth.”

By Pamela Ezell / LA Film Fest Guest Blogger