On Friday afternoon I participated in a roundtable interview with director Spike Jonze and Max Records for “Where the Wild Things Are”. As I said when I posted the clips, I’ve thought the movie was an honest look at what it’s like being a kid and not being able to express how you feel. The film isn’t a fantasy, and it isn’t trying to sugar coat what you do when you’re upset at the world. While some are clearly going to have issues with the way Spike chose to make “Where the Wild Things Are”, I was spellbound and loving his universe. Also, I loved the way he had characters not say things when other movies would have tons of exposition. Many of his choices are unorthodox, and as an avid moviegoer and a fan of his work, I think he made a great film. Anyway, after the jump you can read what the star of the film and his director had to say about the movie. Also, I did video interviews with the cast, and those will be online the week of release.
Spike: I didn’t have any thoughts about it. I don’t know what you should take away from it. I think anybody can take away whatever they feel connected to or not connected to in the movie. The one thing I hope is that there would be some conversations, and that a parent might actually be able to talk to their kid in a different way and ask their kid what they think, and not worry about how they’re going to turn out, but be curious as to who they are.
Q: Do you think kids should not see a film that’s this dark?
Max: No, not at all. Of course, they should see it. It depends on the kid, and it depends on the age. When I was 7 or 8, I could not have seen this movie. But, my brother, who is 7 or 8, totally could have.
Spike: We were just trying to make a movie that feels true to what it feels like, at times, to be 9 years old. I think, as you’re growing up, your emotions are just as deep as they are when you’re an adult. You’re ability to feel lonely, longing, confused or angry are just as deep. We don’t feel things more as we get older. We just have a better understanding of how to navigate those feelings, and a better sense of how to navigate our relationships and separate our emotions from them. I also don’t think of this as a dark movie. It has moments that are intense, for sure.
Q: How did you go about expanding the basic story of this book? Did any of this come from personal experiences?
Max: The movie and the book are just pretty much the visual way to show anger and sweetness together.
Q: Did you feel like it was a movie about childhood?
Max: Yes. The kid gets pissed off, the mom gets pissed off, he runs away, and then there’s a lot more pissed off and a lot more happiness.
Q: Spike, as a writer/director, how much did you struggle with constructing the beginning of the film and getting all that information in, prior to the trip to the Land of the Wild Things?
Spike: I wrote with Dave Eggers, who is a writer I love and a person that I got to know. We basically approached it, at the beginning, not over-thinking it too much. We tried to write it really intuitively, at the beginning, and just write scenes, and we overwrote. We just wrote from our gut. Later, it became a little more laborious, in terms of editing and shaping it more. But, we tried to just approach it the way a kid’s intuition approaches things. We tried to do a lot of things like that. The music was written in that sense, of not analytically, but just intuitively. We just tried to keep that spirit of not over-thinking it too much. My other movies are much more analytical or cerebral films. With this one, because the main character was 9, I wanted to turn that part of my brain off and not approach it so cerebrally.
Q: Why did you decide not to make the world of the Wild Things as wondrous as people might expect it to be?
Spike: It stemmed a little bit from taking Max seriously. We wanted to take this 9-year-old seriously, so if he’s going to imagine that he’s going to a place, it’s not going to be some fantasy version of it. For me, it just connected more to really being there with these wild animals, in this forest and on these beaches, with sand and dirt and leaves in their hair, and have that level of reality to it. It makes it more dangerous and, in a way, more exciting because you’re really there. The whole movie is shot from Max’s point of view, where you’re discovering it with him. Every scene in the movie is from Max’s point of view. We also tried to give it its wonder, where it was relevant to the story, like when Max wakes up in Carol’s arms, and he’s carrying him through this beautiful forest with leaves falling everywhere. Those moments have their place, where it’s hopefully more wondrous or spectacular.
Q: Did you intentionally want to make it so intimate?
Spike: The idea is mixing intimate with epic, at the same time, and being able to have those dynamics. The best songs are the ones that have that kind of dynamic. Arcade Fire has such intimacy and epic-ness, as the same time, and that’s really inspiring.
Q: Did you decide to approach this completely like a child, and follow that all the way through?
Spike: Yeah. We just approached it intuitively. It wasn’t necessarily an easy shoot. It was very complicated. We made a series of decisions, early on, by shooting the creatures real live-action on location, with a boy in the middle of it all. That was a very challenging way to shoot it. Once we made those decisions, we just agreed to take whatever weather, lightening and wildness of that way of shooting that came with it. We tried to keep the whole film in the spirit of a kid, and tried not to put our adult stuff into that. That being said, we had some tantrums, along the way, because the shoot was so stressful and difficult. I’ve worked with (cinematographer) Lance [Acord] and (production designer) K.K. [Barrett] for so long, and we did this whole movie as an adventure. The whole group of us moved to Australia and all lived in neighborhoods near each other. It was just a very group experience, where we went off into these woods and deserts, and made this film. We lived the movie, in a lot of ways.
Spike: I don’t know. I do, definitely, think of artists, like The Beatles, Maurice Sendak, who wrote this book in the ’60’s, Shel Silverstein or David Bowie. I think of artists, that were of that period, that are really inspiring and exciting. There is probably a similar sensibility when I think about artists now, like Arcade Fire or Karen O. (from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). There is something similar, in terms of the singularity of those voices, and not living and working in the mainstream. Their motivation is coming from within them, as opposed to from outside in the marketplace. It’s always coming from, “What am I going to make that is going to inspire and excite me?” Maybe that’s something I’m inspired by.
Q: Max, how gross was it for you to do that scene where you come out of KW?
Max: You don’t want to know. They put some sort of gross gel stuff on me.
Spike: He was covered and goopy. He hated it. We shot it once, and then we had to shoot another piece of it again, and he just did not want to get in it. He said, “I will only do it if, afterwards, you let me cover you in it.” And so, afterwards, we went back to his room and he just covered me in it. He was so happy and I was miserable, so it was a good retribution.
Q: Spike, can you talk about the Maurice Sendak documentary you did?
Spike: We did it to give good context. It’s basically a video portrait of him. It’s about 40 minutes long, and it comes out on HBO, a couple days before the movie is released.
Q: Do you know what you’re doing next?
Spike: No, not yet.
Q: Are you going down the indie path?
Spike: I don’t know. I’m just going to make whatever. I don’t look at it with a label. That’s weird. I just want to make whatever is exciting.