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Spike Jonze Talks About ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze and Max Records on the set of ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’

© Warner Bros PicturesFilmmaker Spike Jonze brings Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are to life on the big screen, complete with giant monsters who could have stepped right off the book’s pages. First published in 1963, Sendak’s award-winning book has been enjoyed by generations of kids, and Jonze says Sendak’s work has stuck with him since he was a child. “I think it’s just when you connect to something at that age, then you grow around it and it’s sort of always in there,” offered Jonze. “Those things like the music or the books or whatever that I really loved, I feel like you kind of have to carry them with you in a really deep way because you’ve sort of grown up around them now.”

Jonze (director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and Dave Eggers (writer of Away We Go) co-wrote the screenplay for Where the Wild Things Are and at the LA press day for the Warner Bros Pictures film, Jonze explained how they went about taking a 48 page hardcover book and making it into feature-length film.

“We wrote it from the point of view of trying to make a movie that feels like what it’s like to be nine years old, so we didn’t really over think it,” explained Jonze. “We sort of wrote our first couple drafts very intuitively, tried to sort of write it from the stream of conscious place that kids make stuff from. That’s how we did it.”

Capturing the spirit of Sendak’s book was foremost in their minds as they adapted it into a screenplay. “We were trying to be true to Maurice’s work and I think Maurice’s work, his book actually when it came out was attacked by librarians and child psychologists and Better Homes and Gardens-type magazines because it wasn’t like a traditional children’s book,” said Jonze. “It showed this boy being wild, acting out, yelling at his mom and his mom, instead of calming him down and helping him through his emotions and teaching him a lesson, his mom reacted too and yelled at him and sent him to his room. That was something that they said, ‘This book is dangerous for kids,’ because it wasn’t teaching the kids a lesson. But it was truthful and kids recognized that. Kids started taking it out of the library and it became popular because kids loved it. Now, 40 years later, it’s a classic. It’s something that everybody gets their… You know, if your friend has a baby, you get them Where the Wild Things Are. I think the movie is coming from the same intention, just to be truthful and not condescend to kids.”

For those not familiar with Sendak’s book, the simple story follows a young boy named Max who’s sent to bed without his dinner after causing trouble while wearing a wolf suit. In Sendak’s book, Max’s room transforms into a forest and a sea which Max then sails to the land of Wild Things. Max is the central character in the book and, of course, finding the right young actor to play the part in the film was the key to making Where the Wild Things.

Jonze confirmed that finding Max was very difficult, and the fact the actor who ultimately wound up winning the role is named Max is just a weird coincidence. “I mean, [it took] probably a year. It came down to crunch time. We were already living in Australia and I’d fly back here to audition with kids. We were prepping the movie and we still didn’t have our hero,” revealed Jonze. “Our friend Lance Bangs found Max [Records] in Portland, Oregon. It was a huge relief. We got the first tape from Lance, and then [Catherine] Keener was working in Oregon on Into the Wild so I asked Keener to go audition with him. Then they sent me a tape and each tape was more exciting. Then we flew Max to Los Angeles and I came in from Melbourne and we auditioned, and basically just beat each other up with blow up boxing gloves and shot nerf guns at each other. I thought, ‘Wow, he’s got a good shot.’ He has good aim, so I cast him.”

Equally important was getting the creatures to look like the Wild Things we’ve come to know from Sendak’s book. Jonze said the process took quite a while and the costume designs went through many changes. “Basically, we’d been working with creature shops and creature designers in Los Angeles. They kind of ended up making the Wild Things looking very movie-like, like creatures you’d seen in other movies, like trollish things or ghoulish things. They were really kind of disturbing. I love what Maurice created. There’s a strangeness and a sweetness and a cuddliness and a dancer all in one, and a charm to them. There’s a real charm to Maurice’s initial designs. We were just not getting it,” explained Jonze.

“Actually, the day I realized we needed to hire somebody from outside the movie world, I went out to dinner with Karen [Orzolek] who did the score and a friend of ours, Julian, and asked them, ‘Do you guys know any illustrators or painters or any artists that could draw a big, cuddly, sweet, soulful wild things with real depth?’ Julian’s first thing is like, ‘Oh, my friend from high school, Sonny, you’ve got to meet him.'”

“Sonny emailed me his drawings and they were just these sketches of like these big, sad bears. One of them was a big, sad, drunk bear leaning against a tree. He had like a bottle of booze, but they had such feeling. They were so simple. They were these pencil sketches and instantly I was like, ‘Okay, his aesthetic is perfect. There’s something funny and something deep and touching and not precious.’ They weren’t like these overwrought drawings. They were just these pencil sketches. So we brought him in to do this, and we brought him in basically just for a month to do just sketches. Now five years later, he’s still working on the movie. He became Alexander. He did everything.”

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October 20, 2009 - Posted by | 1

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