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Spike Jonze: Breaking Down His Visual & Storytelling Style


Born as Adam Spiegel, on the 22nd of October 1969 in Rockville, Maryland this talented screenwriter, producer, director and actor grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and Gulph Mills in Pennsylvania. His father, Arthur H. Speigel happened to be a distant relative of Speigel Catalogue family making Adam an heir to its catalog fortune.

By the time he was attending Walt Whitman High School, he spent quite a lot of time at the Bethesda community store and Mike Henderson, the former owner nicknamed him Spike Jonze in reference with Spike Jones. Jonze studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. He adjoined Club Homeboy, which was an international BMX Club with Mark Lewman and Andy Jenkins both of them were co-editors of Freestylin’, a biker’s magazine from the mid to the late 80s. And there was Jonze working as a photographer.

The youth culture magazines Homeboy and Dirt was created by these three. Jonze was the co-founder and lead editor of the Dirt Magazine. Dirt was a spin-off of the popular teen magazine aimed at the teenage male readers.

He also happened to be the editor for Grand Royal Magazine as well as the senior photographer for Transworld Skateboarding. Homeboy was named as Sassy Magazine for boys which happened to be published by the same publisher and company and that was distributed in cellophane bags for young ladies.

Right after his graduation from high school, Jonze, who was 17 year old, moved to Los Angeles and that is where he started working as an editorial assistant at Freestylin’.Spike’s first music break came in 1992 when he was employed to shoot a video footage of skateboarding for the Sonic Youth’s “100%”.

Jonze has numerous music videos, commercials, feature films, short films credited to his name. His big break was a video for the Beastie Boys song “Sabotage” which won 4 MTV Video Music Awards and one of them was for the best director. It was an inspired take off on the 1970s cop shows.

In the same year though, Jonze strengthened his repute and shone his creativity and innovation by a very interesting and attention grabbing video for the Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”. In the video, the alternative band performed their all-time hit single in the middle of what happened to be the episode of the 1970s sitcom Happy Days.

Throughout the 90’s he kept on directing several music videos and television commercials.

All through the era of the 1990s, Jonze kept his hands full by directing a number of music videos for many significant and prominent artists which included the Breeders, Puff Daddy, Chemical Brothers, R.E.M, and Bjork. Not only music videos, but Spike Jonze made a name for himself in the television commercial industry as well for brands like Nike, Sprite, Nissan and Coca Cola.

Jonze’s talent wasn’t limited and he showed his skill on the other side of the camera as well. For a TV spot for Levi’s 501, he was dragged behind a van and also did few parts in Mi Vida Loca (1993) and The Game (1997).

Having numerous alter egos, Jonze also one named Richard Koufey who is a raging leader of the Torrance Community Dance group, which happens to be an urban troupe that exhibits its dancing skills in public spaces.

The persona of “Koufey” made an appearance when Jonze, pulling a Daniel-Day Lewis and being completely in character, shot himself dancing to The Rockfellar Skank of Fatboy Slim as it was being played on a boom box. Jonze then showed the video to Slim who also appeared in the video briefly.

While directing the 1999 video for the hit single of the British DJ Fatboy Slim “Praise You”, Jonze arranged a group of dancers to perform to the song outside the Westwood California movie theatre and then filmed the performance.

The result? Again a huge success and “Koufey” and his troupe were then graciously called to New York City to perform the popular song for the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards. The video was so much praised and loved that it earned three awards in total which were all received by Jonze still in character. Jonze won Best Direction, Best Choreography, and Breakthrough for the video. This was an incredible feat.

Jonze also made a mockumentary kind of thing regarding the experience called Torrance Rises. This also was award winning and won the Best Short Form Music Video at the 2001 Grammy Awards for the Weapon of Choice.

In the former years, Spike used to shoot street skateboarding videos particularly Blind’s Videos Days in 1991 and also the Lakai Footwear’s Fully Flared in 2007. The co-direction of the Girl Skateboards film Yeah Right! as well as the Chocolate Skateboards music video, Hot Chocolate is also credited to Jonze. He also happens to be the co-owner of Girl Skateboards and he’s shown doing a crazy heel flip in loafers in the closing credits of Yeah Right!

Spike Jonze was nominated by the prestigious Directors Guild of America in the year 2006 for “Outstanding Achievement in TV Commercials in 2005”. Jonze was also nominated for a body of work which included Pardon Our Dust for The Gap. Hello Tomorrow for Adidas and Lamp for IKEA.

He produced as well as co-created MTV television series Jackass and Jackass; The Movie and also directed few of his segments. It doesn’t end here. Spike Jonze has a talent for almost everything. He has also acted in some films and videos too.

Shortly in 1997, when a deal fell through to direct a $25 million adaptation of the children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, Jonze got himself a production and development deal with the Propaganda Films.

The year 1999 brought with it Jonze’s most prominent and memorable work and performance. Spike completely proved that he was jack of all trades. A multi-talented Jonze made an incredible performance not only as a director but also as an actor by playing the role was of a sweet, casually racist and a dimwitted Conrad in the Three Kings co-starring George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg. Spike Jonze received critical praise for his performance as the Gulf War soldier Conrad Vig.

His first feature film and first full-length directorial effort, was Being John Malkovich in 1999 which got him an Academy Award nomination for the best director, also gained a lot of positive response. This marvel of eccentric, and extremely smart existential comedy starred the John Cusack, Catherine Keener and Cameron Diaz as New Yorkers who happen to gain access into the mind of a supposed thespian John Malkovich, who plays himself. Jonze earned various honors for his efforts in this film.

Later he directed Adaptation (2002) which starred Nicholas Cage, Tilda Swinton, and Meryl Streep. Both of these movies were penned by Charlie Kaufman. Then he began movies where he himself wrote the screenplays. He also produced a movie Human Nature in 2000. He wrote screenplays for Where the Wild Things Are (2009) and Her[ (2013). Where the Wild Things Are was his most wanted film to date, and it was the result of a decade long extreme efforts and collaboration with the author of the famed children’s book, Maurice Sendak. The film earned a lot of praise and quite favorable reviews generally and also made its way to the end of year top ten list of many critics.

Her can be called as the 21st-century romantic comedy and it starred Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Scarlett Johansson and Olivia Wilde. It was a science fiction romance film. The plot is about a man (Phoenix) who develops a relationship with a notably humanistic and intuitive female voice named Samantha (Johansson) which was produced by a very top technology and advanced computer operating system.

For his remarkable work and effort which he did on Her, Jonze was awarded the 2014 Golden Globe Award for the best screenplay as well as the 2014 Oscar for his originality and won best original screenplay which was Jonze’s first Oscar. Her also made it to the Oscar nomination for the best picture but couldn’t win and lost to 12 Years a Slave.

Jonze has been the creative director at VBS.tv since 2007 which is an online television network funded by MTV. He was also a part of the Detour-Moleskin project in the same year which invites authors to compile as well as illustrate Moleskin notebooks so as to offer an insight to the artists’ creative procedure.

Bjork contributed to the theme song for Being John Malkovich and is good friends with Jonze and he works with her often.

Jonze directed the music video for Otis in 2011 which was the second single from Jay-Z and Kanye West. Jonze also played a role in 2013 famous, The Wolf of Wall Street.

“If you compromise what you’re trying to do just a little bit, you’ll end up compromising a little more the next day or the next week, and when you lift your head you’re suddenly really far away from where you’re trying to go.”
— Spike Jonze

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