Spring 2019 Director's Profile: Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze backstage at the DGA Awards ceremony, holding the DGA Award for commercials (photo by Shane Karns/courtesy of DGA)
"Welcome Home"

A couple of months ago, Spike Jonze of production house MJZ won his first career DGA Award. 
     
He topped the field of commercialmakers on the strength of Apple Homepod’s “Welcome Home” out of TBWA\Media Arts Lab. 
  
The piece stars musician and dancer FKA twigs who is situated in her rather modest, borderline drab apartment--but that all changes when her Homepod speaker blares out an Anderson.Paak track titled “‘Til It’s Over.” FKA twigs breaks out into an expansive dance--while her apartment in turn expands. Her roost is transformed as the music positively impacts where her head is at. We see both her and her abode entertainingly  grow and evolve before our eyes.

The invigorating premise dovetails with Jonze’s brand of filmmaking which expands what’s inside viewers’ heads through taking us on  imaginative journeys--whether it be “Welcome Home” or Her, a feature he directed and for which he won a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, or Being John Malkovich, which earned Jonze a Best Director Oscar nomination.  

Being John Malkovich also garnered Jonze his first career DGA Award nomination in 1999. 

Seven years later, he picked up his second Guild nod on the basis of spots for adidas, Gap and Miller Beer.

Jonze’s third Guild nomination--and second in commercials--proved to be the charm this year as he won the DGA Award over fellow nominees Steve Ayson and Fredrik Bond, who are also with MJZ, Martin de Thurah of Epoch Films, and David Shane of O Positive.

In brief acceptance remarks, Jonze said, “This is humbling to be with this group of (nominated) filmmakers.” He went on to acknowledge his support team, including most notably his long-time first assistant director Thomas Smith. 

Jonze noted that Smith has been in his corner for some 24-plus years, describing him as a compatriot “who’s in my head, who knows what I need before I need it.” Jonze affirmed that Smith has been “a mentor to him,” quipping that he can even “control weather with his mind.”

Jonze’s DGA Award came a couple of days after he appeared at the Guild’s Meet the Commercial Nominees event. There, further underscoring his steadfast belief in teamwork and collaboration as being integral to successful storytelling, Jonze also extolled Smith’s virtues, noting that he and the 1st A.D. have “a mind meld....I love Thomas because he’s a filmmaker who knows what’s important.”

Additionally during that DGA discussion, Jonze shared that the original idea from TBWA\Media Arts Lab for “Welcome Home” entailed an ambitiously choreographed story about “a guy in his apartment and the apartment grows.” Jonze then tweaked that premise, advocating that a female protagonist be cast instead which he thought would be more interesting and “cooler.” 

He credited the contributions of such prime colleagues as twig--whose acting and dancing talent made all the difference--choreographer Ryan Heffington, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, and production designer Christopher Glass. 

Jonze noted that he and Glass bounced ideas off of one another, drawing diagrams of sets that eventually were built at Warner Bros. Studios. 

Glass’ work on the Apple Homepod ad earned him an Art Directors Guild (ADG) Excellence in Production Design Award on the same night that Jonze received the DGA Award. 

And just a few days after the DGA Awards ceremony, a VES Award for Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial was bestowed upon Michael Ralla, Steve Drew, Alejandro Villabon and Peter Timberlake of Framestore for “Welcome Home.” Jonze noted that it took about three months to bring the Apple Homepod ad to fruition.

The DGA, VES and ADG awards are the latest bestowed upon “Welcome Home.” 

Prior accolades include the Entertainment Lions Grand Prix for Music at Cannes in 2018, and the AICP Show’s Advertising Excellence/Single Commercial honor, equivalent to “Best in Show.”

Dance fever
“Welcome Home” continues a track record in dance for Jonze and choreographer Heffington. 

The duo teamed on the famed nearly four-minute perfume ad for Kenzo starring actress Margaret Qualley (the star of HBO’s The Leftovers). Qualley lets loose all inhibitions, dancing, kicking, flailing about, even shooting laser beams out of her fingertips in the tour de force piece of filmmaking and choreography that broke onto the scene in 2016, winning AICP Show honors the next year in Visual Style, Performance and Music.

Later in 2017, Jonze and Heffington again came together for a live dance film on NBC’s The Tonight Show. Titled Changers: A Dance Story, the performance spotlighted fashion label Opening Ceremony’s pre-spring 2018 collection, starring Lakeith Stanfield (from the film Get Out and the television series Atlanta) and actress Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland). 

The wordless Changers performance piece follows the peaks and valleys of a young couple’s relationship.

Of course, Jonze’s commercialmaking encompasses far more than dance-themed fare. 

He has to his credit work beyond “Welcome Home” and “Kenzo World” which are also regarded as classics such as Nike’s “The Morning After”--which won the primetime Emmy Award in 2000--IKEA’s “Lamp” and Absolut’s robot love story I’m Here, to name just a few.

As for what’s next, Jonze figures to continue to direct a mix of short and long-form fare. Writing has also played a part in some of his most notable work, including “Kenzo World” and Her.

Jonze quipped at the recent DGA Meet The Commercial Nominees panel discussion that he loves “having written” but is not in love with having to write.”

His conceputal, creative and developmental chops have also been recruited to give shape and substance to Viceland, a multinational brand of television channel owned by Vice Media.

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