What Spike Jonze Gave Me

I think it’s important and interesting to study the people we admire. It allows us to see what makes them tick. Who they are affects what they create and what we as creators and take and apply to ourselves.


After I watched Spike Jonze’s most recent ad for Kenzo World I began to recall his feature films and what I knew about him on a personal level. I then began to see the influence of him on my life and what I create.


As always, the best place to start the journey of discovery is at the beginning.


Spike Jonze was born Adam Spiegel in 1969 in Maryland, United States. His route to film began in high school as he pursued his interests of photographing BMX and Skateboarding, later directing skate videos. He attended the San Francisco Art Institute. He has since gone on to be a successful ad, music video and an Academy Award winning screenwriter/feature film director as well as actor, skateboarder company owner and the creative director of a television channel, Viceland.




Looking through all the different things he had done, I seemed to find a common thread. He enjoys and maintains a sense of fun in all he does.


I found an article in the New York Magazine that shows how his sense of fun even permeates his life outside of work.


What was most interesting to me about this article was to see how his own unique sense of fun permeates every area of his life, even to his wedding proposal. “When Jonze began to woo her, he did so in his own unique way. “He told me about this time he was going to pick up Sofia at the L.A. airport,” says Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, another friend of Jonze’s. “He stuck cotton balls in his jowls and put on a fat suit and rubbed Vaseline all over his face so he was really greasy. When she got off the plane, she sorta, like, half recognized him. He made her feel really uncomfortable, when most people would show up with flowers or something.””


Also he co-created the hit MTV show Jackass, and has participated in their show and films.


I think no matter how hard or serious creating gets, it’s always important to remember that I do this because I love it and it’s fun.


Spike Jonze’s example reminds me to have fun and to find fun in new ways. For me, it is so easy to take everything seriously and forget to find the fun no matter what I’m doing, even if i can’t see the connection at first.


Looking at Spike Jonze’s example again, I’ve discovered that you can pursue your interests no matter how varied they seem.


From being an Academy Award winning writer for Her, the Creative Director of a TV Channel, to co-founding a Skateboard Company, to acting in The Wolf of Wall Street; there is seemingly nothing Spike Jonze hasn’t done.




This encourages me that I can pursue all my different interests, and to find ways that I can incorporate all of them. I never knew how my love of food, music, fashion and film would intersect, but it’s interesting that I have had a chance to do all in film.


In doing all these different things, I have discovered that just as important as the idea of the art is, it is maybe more important to know what the feeling and emotion of the art is.


This is a bit harder to quantify, but I think something that connects all Spike Jonze’s feature film work and perhaps even his ads and music video, is a high concept idea, rooted in very real and powerful emotions. For this I thought I would break down each of his features:


Being John Malkovich: This film explores what it would feel like to be able to be someone else. I did not understand this movie when I first saw it, but the second time I watched it made me feel what it would be like to be a celebrity, where everyone watches you and longs to be you.


I think it remains as relevant today, as it did when it was released in 1999 with our social media and TMZ culture.


Adaptation is a meta-narrative which explores the feeling of writing a movie. Adaptation made me feel what it must it be like to be Charlie Kaufman, as well as what writer’s block feels like.


Where The Wild Things Are looks into what it feels like to be a child, growing up. It made me feel like a child and re-awakened my creativity.


Her explores the feelings of being in love, and what it is to feel. It challenged me to examine how I think about and form my own relationships. It made me feel the wonder and heartbreak of being in love.


I think this exploration of feelings within a high concept even applies to a movie he produced and helped create, Synecdoche, New York, and his short film I’m Here.


It is important to remember that as we create, it doesn’t matter how crazy the story/idea is, as long as there is some emotional reality there. Even if it’s about someone finding a portal into John Malkovich’s head.




Well there you have it; a few simple lessons on creating from Spike Jonze. To sum up, some important things I’ve learned from the life and career of Spike Jonze are 1. Have fun with everything I do and create, 2. Pursue your interests, no matter how varied they seem, and 3. In what I create explore ideas, but always remember the emotions behind them.


Don’t be afraid to study the work and career of those you admire and see what you can take away, and apply it to what you create. You never know, maybe you will be that person someone looks up to some day!



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