This morning we spoke to Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs, co-authors of the documentary on Maurice Sendak, "Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak," which is out today via Oscilloscope Laboratories (the new DVD and highly recommended Blu-ray edition of Jonze's "Where the Wild Things" feature is also complete with that bizarre new short film produced by Jonze and also based on another Sendak work). As we noted last year, when the documentary aired on HBO, "Tell Them Anything You Want" is a perfect companion piece to "Where The Wild Things Are" and much like the author himself, it is an intimate, melancholy and very candid look at his life. Jonze and Bangs didn't try and dress up or sugar coat the film at all and left it naked and honest. It's a little heartbreaking in spots, but it's also completely touching and compelling. It was short listed for the Academy Short Documentary category this year, but unfortunately didn't make the final five (their loss).
We spoke with the duo this morning who were particularly interested by the fact that this writer was calling from Connecticut, not far from Sendak's home.
So how long did "Tell Them Anything You Want" take to make?
Spike Jonze: Well me and Lance debated when we started filming, I don't think we started shooting until 2005, Lance thinks we started in 2004…
Lance Bangs: Yeah, we shot a little bit in 2004.
Jonze: But anyways… around then. So, like four years, I think, because we were still shooting until May of 2009.
What made you decide to do the documentary? When did the documentary take shape?
Jonze: I think the initial idea was, I had known him for fifteen years, I was just having these kind of conversations and wanted to try and capture him and I felt like he was such a special person and I don't know, it sort of came out of wanting to capture these conversations I was having with him and sharing how I saw him with people. And we just started going up there and Lance started taping these conversations.
Was there anything that surprised you while you were taping or any stories that you hadn't heard before?
Jonze: Yeah, for sure, quite a bit, actually. Because, sometimes you meet a good storyteller and you realize they're a good storyteller because they tell the same story over and over again. Maurice isn't like that. Stories just come out of the conversations you're having with him and the feelings he's having at that moment. And there's certainly stories, like the story about the Lindbergh baby, that I know he's told before and are major parts of his life, but most of the conversations are very fluid and his mind is so… Why he's such a great artist is he's so insightful about life and so honest about life and his feelings and yet so able to boil down those thoughts into concise, absurd, funny, poignant razor-sharp nuggets.
Why didn't the documentary go on the "Where the Wild Things Are" disc? Was it just too emotionally raw?
Jonze: Well, we talked about doing a separate thing, on an unrated disc or something, but I think it is kind of a separate piece too, like something we did separately outside of Warner Bros. And there's a bunch of other stuff on the ['Tell Them Anything You Want'] disc and we wanted to give a flavor of Maurice and who he is.
Bangs: We never approached it like something that was going to end up as a Warner Bros. films thing or promotional thing. It was a separate film from the very beginning.
You're putting this out on Adam Yauch's Oscilloscope and Spike, you have a long history with the Beastie Boys. Wasn't your first film supposed to be with the Beastie Boys?
Jonze: We talked about doing a movie, worked on the script for a while, in the mid-'90's, but nothing ever happened with that.
Would you want to do something else with Maurice, after having done the 'Wild Things' movie, produced the short film and shot the documentary?
Jonze: I don't know but I definitely want to work on stuff more. We've talked about working on a short film. Like do something on a Saturday afternoon. We are always drawing stuff together. I love his brain. I'd definitely want to work on something else with him.
With all the short films you've been making, between the Kanye short, the "I'm Here" short (trailer here), and the documentary, is this just a way of jumping back into things quickly after having spent so much time on "Wild Things?"
Jonze: I don't differentiate stuff, like it's shorter or longer. I just try to make things. While I was shooting the movie I was also making things. It was fun to complete something and make something so quickly, though.
Is there anything that either of you are dying to do or are working on now?
Jonze: Immediately, I don't have anything in my head.
Bangs: I'm finishing a new David Cross concert, a doc on Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation album and I'm shooting the "Jackass 3D" movie.
Jonze: Yeah, we were watching some of ["Jackass 3D"] and it's really, really good again. [The 3D] makes it all new again. It's like looking through a Viewfinder. It is really fun to watch shit in 3D. I'll probably [make a cameo again] at some point.
Here's the trailer for "Tell Them Anything You Want" if you've never seen it before. The DVD for the documentary is out today via Oscilloscope. On top of the documentary short itself if features:
- Maurice at the World's Fair: A humorous take on a story from Maurice's childhood, with Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener
- Q&A with Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak at the Museum of Modern Art
- Maurice's Birthday Tribute with Meryl Streep, James Gandolfini, and Catherine Keener
- An exclusive essay on Maurice Sendak by Tony Kushner.