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Spike Jonze: The Director

VO: Rebecca Brayton
With the release of 2009's, Where The Wild Things Are, director Spike Jonze once again showed his creative might adapting a 10 sentence story from a picture book into a 111 page screenplay. Arguably one of the most versatile directors in the business, Spike Jonze jumps regularly from music videos to commercials to Oscar-nominated films. He even had a main role acting alongside George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg in 1999's "Three Kings." In this video, WatchMojo.com takes a look at the highlights of Spike Jonze's still young career.
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Profile: Spike Jonze's and the creative challenges that attract him

He was a shy skateboarder that become an Oscar nominated filmmaker. Welcome to Watchmojo.com and today we will be taking a look at Spike Jonze and the creative challenges that attract him.

Born Adam Spiegel in 1969 Maryland, he eventually adopted the name “Spike Jonze” to show his admiration for the beloved comic bandleader of the 1940s. In his youth, Jonze spent much time skateboarding, freestyle biking and producing photography. He also gave up college in exchange for a position at one of his favorite magazines called “Freestyle”.

Jonze’s photography was noticed by several bands in the 1990’s and he started directing music videos. Despite the limitations placed on him in the 3-minute music video format, Jonze made his videos stand-out by saturating them in pop culture references. A famous example of this was his Beastie Boys Video “Sabotage”, which took visual cues from 70s cop shows. Perhaps his most famous music video is Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” which featured actor Christopher Walken dancing around an empty hotel room. The video was named in 2002 as the top video of all-time according to VH1. Other notable works among the dozens of classic music videos directed by Jonze include Daft Punk’s, “Da Funk”, Weezer’s, “Buddy Holly,” and Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You, which also featured Jonze as the leader of a dance troupe.

In 1997, Jonze made his film debut with the classic dark comedy “Being John Malkovich”. He received overwhelming praise for his use of deadpan realism and the incorporation of elements from training videos. The film was nominated for best picture and Jonze was given a nomination for Best Director. In 2002, Jonze’s film, “Adaptation” would also receive numerous Oscar nominations, and receive praise for managing a wide range of performance styles from his actors.

Even with his success directing, Jonze has taken on different acting roles though his career. In 1999’s “Three Kings,” he was cast as Private Conrad Vig, a dimwitted and somewhat racist, yet well-intentioned soldier. Critics noted Jonze's dedication and ability to bring depth to the stereotypical role of a soldier from the backwoods.

A big era of Spike Jonze’s life began with the premiere of MTV’s “Jackass” in 2000, a show he created alongside his longtime friend Johnny Knoxville. The show features Knoxville and his friends performing a variety of pranks and stunts, usually with the intention of injury or humiliation.

In 2002, Jackass made its big screen debut with Jonze signed on as both producer and writer. Despite becoming an overwhelming financial success, the film stirred the debate surrounding the death of traditional cinema and the limits of “reality” programming. For perhaps the first time, something Jonze had his name attached to was receiving bad press.

2009 saw Jonze back on the big screen with the highly anticipated film “Where the Wild Things Are” based on the children’s book. The film project had been in limbo for years due to the difficulty for others to imagine a way to adapt the children’s tale to the silver screen. Jonze was handpicked to lead the project by its author Maurice Sendak’s, due to his appreciation and confidence of Jonze’s style and ingenuity. Jonze transformed a 10 sentence story from a picture book into a 111 page screenplay.

Maurice Sendek, after seeing the completed film, praised Jonze’s creative ability saying, quote: “I’ve never seen a movie that looked or felt like this. And it’s [Spike Jonze's] personal ‘this.’ He’s a real artist that lets it come through in the work.”

Despite his success with major motion pictures, Spike Jonze has went back numerous times to directing music videos with some of the biggest and most creative names in the industry. Jonze also, even after his Oscar nominations, has gone back to his roots to direct skateboard films.
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