Spike Jonze is well-known for directing films like Where The Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but he made his name making short films, specifically music videos. And unlike many directors who go on to direct full-length feature films, Jonze has continued making short films in a variety of different media and genres. In 2010, he directed the wonderful I’m Here, a story of self-sacrificial love between, uh, robots. And for the recent release of the Arcade Fire album The Suburbs, he created a 28-minute short film to complement the music.
I first heard about To Die By Your Side from the guys over at Short of the Week, who pointed me to the Nowness site to watch it. By way of background, Jonze first contacted handbag designer Olympia Le-Tan because he wanted her to make him a Catcher in the Rye-themed embroidery to hang on his wall. She shot back that she wanted a film in return. They enlisted French director Simon Cahn and spent six months working on the script and then set to work animating the 3,000 pieces of felt that Le-Tan had painstakingly cut by hand. Not wishing to re-invent the wheel, I’m going to post two short interviews that writer Maryam L’Ange conducted for Nowness:
Co-director Spike Jonze
How did the film come about?
I met Olympia in Paris through friends of mine. She was just starting to make the bags for her friends. She had a bunch of the scraps in her bag, all of the cut-out pieces of felt. I just loved it. I loved all the artwork she picked, the texture of it, the stitching of the felt. We joked about making a film and just went for it. It was this thing with no schedule, no pressure and no real reason to be—other than just that we thought it would be fun.
Did you write the story together?
Yeah we did. We would look at all the artwork over lunch whenever we would be in the same city, noting any ideas that would just make us smile. It was done like that, with no real plans.
What’s your creative process?
You just start with what the feeling is. For this one the feeling definitely started with the handmade aesthetic and charm of Olympia’s work. Instantly I had the idea of doing it in a bookstore after-hours, imagining the lights coming down and these guys off their books. Me and Olympia both wanted to make a love story, and it was fun to do it with these characters. It evolved naturally and it all just started with the feeling. From there you entertain yourself with ideas that excite you.
Do you go with your gut instinct?
If it cracks me up. We were talking about the skeleton coming off his book and the girl in the Dracula book waving at him. Olympia is someone who is just absurd, she’s used to just saying anything. She just started making the blowjob gesture as a joke to make us laugh but I was like, “We’ve got to do that.” It’s about taking things that could just be a joke while brainstorming and actually going for it and using it.
What inspires you?
People inspire me. Humberto Leon and Carol Lim [from Opening Ceremony, a Manhattan retail store] and the confidence and creativity in how they run their business. Pixar’s really inspiring, they make films in the best possible way. They’re always focused on story. I could list a million people that inspire me all the time. David Bowie’s music, Charlie Kaufman, David Russell. A lot of people that I work with too, just conversations I have with them about what we want to do.
Designer Olympia Le-Tan
How long did the film take to make?
We worked on it as a side project for about a year and a half, on and off. Cutting up all the little felt pieces was really intense and took about three months non-stop. I think there were over 3,000 pieces. Then our animators turned it all into a movie. They worked night and day for two months.
Did you write the story together?
The three of us [Le-Tan, Jonze and Simon Cahn] wrote the story together. Spike wanted it to be a love story between two characters from different books. We looked at all the books I had made and the story came together from there.
Are you a star-crossed lover?
I am definitely a star-crossed lover and a hopeless romantic. Which probably explains why I am still single.
What’s your favourite first edition cover?
I’ve grown very attached to the first edition cover of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Do you make bespoke clutches and what would you choose for Spike Jonze?
I have to like the book and its cover to agree to a bespoke design. I don’t just make any request. Spike asked for Catcher in the Rye but if I had to choose one for him it would probably be something by Maurice Sendak, maybe In the Night Kitchen.
Which book-clutch first edition best describes you?
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.