Everything You Wanted to Know About Spike Jonze’s Her

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Ever since Spike Jonze’s Her premiered at last fall’s New York Film Festival, one of the things that critics have praised the most is the film’s subtle portrayal of the future. Now that Her has opened wide (and will, presumably, be nominated for at least a few Oscars tomorrow morning), we knew audiences would be interested in all the production intricacies, so we gathered the best articles detailing how Jonze and his crew went about putting together the movie. Read on and learn about that immersive video game, those high-waisted pants, why the color blue was banned, and much more. It’s a nice way to pass time until someone invents an AI girlfriend/boyfriend for you. (Fingers crossed.)

The Video Game
Director Spike Jonze talking to Fast Company:
“I always end up overwriting because I get so excited about an idea, so that video game had a way, way more complicated story. Like an entire story about going inside the psyche of aliens that had invaded the Earth. I actually want to make that video game because I have a whole premise for it.” 

Production designer KK Barrett talking to the L.A. Times:
“Spike had this drawing of an alien child, and then we had this idea of a dough boy with these minimal features, and then we found an animator to do it. And then he used a voice — it’s Spike’s voice, actually — and we put it together that way.  It’s probably more design than we have in anything else. But it’s comedic so we thought it’s OK. I mean, it’s a sassy, foul-mouthed creature. We could give ourselves a little more license.” 

The Clothes
Costume designer Casey Storm talking to Vulture:
“We really don’t need to show it’s the future by putting people in crazy-shaped hats or epaulets,” explains Casey Storm, Jonze’s longtime costume designer, who huddled with artists like Jonze, production designer K.K. Barrett, and Opening Ceremony co-founder Humberto Leon when designing the look of Her. “When we were making rules for this world we created, we decided that it would be better to take things away rather than add them. When you add things that aren’t of this era, you wind up noticing them and it becomes really distracting, so our rules were more like, there won’t be any denim in this film, there won’t be any baseball hats, there won’t be any ties or belts. Even lapels and collars will almost disappear. I think the absence of those things creates a unique world, but you can’t quite put your finger on why that is.”

Storm talking to Opening Ceremony:
“I don’t know exactly how we arrived at the high-waisted pants, but I think when Spike wrote the character, he had Theodore Roosevelt in mind.” 

Storm talking to the L.A. Times:
“I think with a lot of other movies the logic is that with technology taking over our lives that it creates distance. And when there’s distance you lose warmth and end up with coldness. And the way you depict coldness is you use clothes and colors that suggest coldness—blacks and silvers and whites and blues. Or I guess that’s the thought progression. We thought what really made more sense, what could very likely be happening, is access. You can choose from everything in the world, so clothes become more individual. The word ‘bespoke’ kept coming up. If you had all the things in the world, what would you gravitate to? For a lot of people it would be something warm and comfortable.” 

On channeling the thirties: “The 1930s — I don’t know why this happened — but it’s a lost decade as a reference point. In all my years of costuming, no one ever says, ‘We want to have a 1930s feel.’ “People will say the ‘20s, or the ‘40s, or ‘50s or ‘60s or ‘70s or ‘80s. But never the ‘30s. It’s almost like, because it’s coming out of the Depression but before the war, that no one understands it. It’s become identity-less. And that makes it a really interesting time to draw from for the future. There’s a lot of that in the movie: I mean, the main character is named Theodore, which gives you a feel of an early America.”

Design of Future L.A.
Barrett talking to Curbed:
“We collaged buildings together — we found buildings we liked — Pudong had the best visuals we could find — and it didn’t matter that it was China. We selectively edited our collection of buildings into our film to make our new world — and we took out things we didn’t want to show. And it becomes a new whole.” 

Blue-less Color Palette
Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema talking to HitFix:
“Van Hoytema says he was very meticulous about eliminating the color blue. It’s not that he has anything against blue, of course, but he felt that if they restricted a primary color like that, it would elevate the richness of the film’s look and give it a unity. ‘It’s very easy to say we want everything to be warm, but what is warm,’ he asks rhetorically. ‘It was not only that we wanted to colors to be warm but we wanted colors to have a specific identity.’” 

Jamba Juice’s Influence
Jonze talking to The Wall Street Journal:
“I always knew I wanted it to be very warm and colorful. Even before I sat down to write the script, I had these notes, and one of the notes said ‘Jamba Juice. I think our movie is much more beautiful than Jamba Juice, but the colorfulness and the cleanness of Jamba Juice was one starting point.” 

Barrett talking to Curbed:
“It’s convenient, comfortable, healthy, and available. That’s the world we wanted to make.” 

Hoytema talking to the LA Times:
“As much as I’d like to say that’s an artistic choice, in some ways it was really us forced into a corner. Samantha is just a voice, and Joaquin is alone, so we had to rely on Joaquin and his expressions. For the movie to work you have to access Theodore’s feelings, and when we tried to give a little distance it didn’t work. We lost the intimacy when we drifted away from him.” 

Lack of Cars
Barrett talking to the L.A. Times:
“Part of the reason we avoided cars is because we wanted to avoid street scenes in general. It’s just too recognizably of an era, and then it would place it in a time, even a future time, which we didn’t want. When you have cars then half the audience starts thinking about the great cars they might have. We wanted trains and elevated walkways, which allowed us to avoid that, and seemed right anyway. Plus in your car you already have another barrier from human contact that you don’t have in public transit. And this movie is about human contact and connection.” 

Keyboard-less Computer
Barrett talking to the L.A. Times:
“I’m always amused at how in science-fiction, shows like’Star Trek,’ there are all these buttons and flashing lights. That never made sense to me. It seems to me like if you could you would just have direct communication with the computer. Also, a keyboard would have dated us. 

The Physical Version of Samantha
Editor Eric Zumbrunnen talking to the L.A. Times:
LA: I’d heard reports that there was actually a woman hired on the set to play Samantha as Theodore saw or imagined her — not Samantha Morton, whose voice  of course was on set, but someone just to appear physically.

EZ: Yes. There was someone like that. There would be shots of the back of this woman’s head, or you’d see this woman receding into the background, or the camera following her. You’d never see her face. The idea was that this was Samantha as Theodore imagined her, a person who you can’t quite see their face, can’t quite reach.

LA: Why was it never used?

EZ: In the edit room we played with all of these things for months, and it was very interesting. But in the end it felt like people didn’t want to see a physical representation of Samantha. What we took away from some of the reactions from people we showed the footage to is that it makes the movie smaller. It’s much better if everyone imagines Samantha for themselves. So we took them all out.” 

Arcade Fire’s Score
Jonze talking to IndieWire:
“I was initially thinking it would be a composer. Who was the right composer for it and what should my direction be? I had a few ideas. One was that I didn’t want it to be electronic but I wanted it to have electricity to it. Not representing technology but more the speed of our live

It’s this quiet, simmering electricity. I knew it was a love story and I wanted the emotions to be very simple and strong. Very base and not intellectual. The score is loneliness, it’s excitement, it’s romance, the score is pain, her pain and her love and her disappointments and all—it was a love story and maybe even more so a relationship story.

As I was talking to Win about all of this and his knowledge of film score is way deeper than mine. I’d send him a song, and he’d play me a song; this back and forth. And the more I’d talk to him I’d say, ‘Wait a second, this guy is one of my favorite song writers, our sensibility is so in synch and he’s so unafraid to write from his heart.’ And his music is so emotionally direct and cinematic. I was like, Oh, you should just do this.’”

Samantha’s Song
Spike Jonze talking to Vulture:
“There were two things I was trying to do in this scene: I had to show their connection, but I also wanted to plant the tension of her aspirations and intellectual growth, which makes her pull away. Ultimately, we decided to split those ideas in half and put the second part in the next scene, which became the double date to Catalina where she talks about not having a body, about the freedom of not having a physical form. I realized I had been trying to do too many things in one scene, to show their connection and their disconnection all at once. After I figured that out, it became really simple, and I had this idea that the song was about a photograph of them together, which is now what the scene is. And then we wrote a new piece of music, because each time we changed our minds, Arcade Fire would have to write a new song that was about dark matter or an objective view of reality or, ultimately, this much more emotional piece of music about a photograph of their life together. Boiling it down to its most simple form was the breakthrough.” 

Shooting on Digital
Hoytema talking to ICG:
“I love everything about film, and I know exactly what I can achieve, texture- and feeling-wise,” the cinematographer reveals. But we chose digital specifically for those night sequences in his apartment, where the city outside the windows is so vibrant and bright. We didn’t want to do a lot of augmenting in post, and with the Alexa we could use extremely low-level light sources [for the interior] that were still controllable.” 

The Phone
From the New York profile of Jonze:
“The look of which was inspired by a vintage Deco cigarette lighter that Jonze and production designer K. K. Barrett found in an L.A. antiques store.”
Jonze talking to The Wall Street Journal:
“A lot of times you have an idea and all the things you are thinking about might fuel it. But that’s not where the idea came from. It was only after I started to dissect the idea and write it when I realized that in some ways Theodore was also kind of an operating system in his own way, for these people’s lives, in the way he’s helping them. The idea obviously is also funny, just that people are outsourcing something so intimate.” 

Steven Soderbergh’s Help
Jonze talking to New York:
 “He got the movie on a Thursday, and in 24 hours, he took it from two and a half hours to 90 minutes. We basically said, ‘Be radical, shock us,’ and it was awesome. He said, ‘I’m not saying this should be the cut of the movie, but these are things to think about.’ It was amazingly generous of him, and it gave us the confidence to lose some big things that I wasn’t ready to lose [before]. Even though we didn’t use that exact cut, we were able to make connections between scenes out of connections he made. And making many of the cuts he suggested was a really good kind of pain.”

The Improvised flashback scenes
Jonze talking to Interview:
“Well, Joaquin’s character is going through a divorce, so there are a number of flashbacks to his relationship with his ex-wife, Catherine, who is played by Rooney. So I wrote about 20 scenes that sort of depicted very different and very specific small moments in a relationship. I wrote out what the scenes were about, what the characters were talking about. I didn’t write specific dialogue, though. It kind of was inspired by the way Terrence Malick works, or at least the stories we’ve heard about how he works. So it was sort of about showing up on set and giving a scene—an intention of what a moment is about—and letting the actors go and find it.”  

The last scene
Zumbrunnen talking to the LA Times:
“Actually that wasn’t originally the ending. Originally the letter was written before. But it felt like the film had two endings. So the other editor, Jeff [Buchanan] and I, said ‘Let’s intercut them.’ And Spike came in and we said ‘You’re not ready for this.’ And he looked at it and said ‘You’re ruining the movie,’ kidding but also serious. But we kept it in our back pocket, and then later on the process we said let’s explore the idea, and that’s when we settled on doing it this way.”

Everything You Wanted to Know About Jonze’s Her