You’re lucky it’s a three-day weekend! This Sunday’s Times Magazine features an enormous, 7,600-word cover feature on Spike Jonze that’s been online since Wednesday and has taken us since then to finish. It’s a little short on breaking news (you already knew about Warner Bros.’ reluctance to let him make Where the Wild Things Are a dark, plotless tone poem instead of a more traditional kids’ movie); but it’s an interesting, wide-angle look at Jonze’s film career, unending battles with studios, and six-year quest to bring Wild Things to the screen. Also, it reminded us of something we read once but totally forgot about — did you know Warner Bros. once allegedly wanted Jonze to direct Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls?
We say “allegedly” because Jonze famously used to lie in all his interviews and when EW asked him about the Ace Ventura rumor in 1995, he gave them a silly, made-up answer (“My stepdad sells juicers to a lot of people in Hollywood and he knew Jim Carrey through his juicing connection. In Hollywood all the big deals are made through juicing”). But, according to the Times, it definitely happened (and presumably the Times is still fact-checked).
So Jonze, then better known just for music videos, purportedly turned down AV along with a slew of other big-studio comedies to make Being John Malkovich in 1997. And, of course, PolyGram, the studio paying for BJM, had different ideas than the director about the film’s direction. So, as would later become standard, Jonze only got to finish it owing to a stroke of luck. Reports the Times’ Saki Knafo:
To capture the appropriate sense of gloom, Jonze and Acord lit the set mainly with ordinary household bulbs and completely dispensed with the Hollywood custom of using fill-lights on the actors’ faces. “The footage couldn’t have been more depressing,” Vince Landay, a producer on the film, told me. ‘And here PolyGram had been sold on this wacky comedy. So by the time they started reacting to the dailies — it’s handheld, there’s low light — they were freaking out.” After a few more disagreements, PolyGram threatened to shut down the production. Then, in the spring of 1998, the company merged with Universal. New executives came in. By the time anyone got around to checking on Jonze and his team, they’d already been editing for almost a year. Jonze had made the movie he wanted to make.
Obviously, it’s probably better that Jonze took his first big stand over a movie for which he’d later be vindicated by universal critical acclaim — but isn’t it sort of a bummer we didn’t get to hear about Jonze squabbling with a studio over the direction of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, the movie in which Jim Carrey memorably emerges from a rhinoceros’s butt? We wonder how Jonze would’ve lit that scene! What would Warner Bros. have thought of Charlie Kaufman’s rewrite of the screenplay? We suppose we’re not sorry we missed out on Jonze’s version of AV, but the funny anecdotes certainly would’ve made this Times Magazine profile a quicker read.