Five Days of ‘Her’: The Samantha Morton and Adam Yauch effect

If you’re putting together a movie as finely tuned as Spike Jonze’s “Her,” it helps to have talented people working in perfect sync. You also could use a big weekend retreat in Malibu.

Our ongoing “Five Days of ‘Her’” series has been looking at the highly specific and counterintuitive ways the futuristic film was put together. (You can also read Installments 1, 2 and 3.) Today, assistant director and longtime Jonze collaborator Thomas Patrick Smith.

We’ve talked to a number of people on this movie about their vision but we haven’t delved into how they came together in the first place. You help Spike assemble his teams. How does it work?

It’s a very painstaking process. Spike pretty much selects every single person who’s going to be involved in his movies, and no one is there arbitrarily. It starts as a circle of six or eight people — the people you’ve been talking to, who go back with him almost 20 years — and then the next meeting it grows, maybe 10 to 14. And then the room keeps filling with chairs, and at these meetings Spike just goes around the room and takes everyone’s temperature.

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But not everyone is handpicked by Spike, are they?

Actually they are. Before we begin shooting everyone gets interviewed. And I mean everyone. Including the person holding the cable. “What do you like? What are you going to bring to the table?” We’re trying to figure out the important things. Are you the person who works with the resonance? Or are you working against the flow?

How do they react to that?

At first some of these folks are like, “What, I have to meet Spike?” They’re not prepared for the level of intimacy they’re expected to bring. And sometimes there’s resistance. I’ll hear, “That’s not the way we do it on the big pictures.” And my immediate response is, “We don’t want to do it like they do it on the big pictures.”

I know Spike was toying with this idea for years. Had he been talking about it with you for a while?

Spike works like many great artists. He’s sketching first, sketching through his other work, short films, commercials, things of that nature. After “Robot Love” (a short about virtual romance with Andrew Garfield that premiered at Sundance in 2010) I knew he was working on something else that dealt with the same ideas. But he doesn’t really talk about it.

So when does he go more public with it?

He starts realizing it on paper, writing down more. Then he gets together a core group of us for a long weekend, sometimes in Palm Springs or a spa or a hotel. And then we’ll talk about tone and texture. This time it was up in Malibu. He got a big house and had a nice chef come in, and we just went to work.

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Of course, the big task lay ahead — perhaps the biggest of which was having Samantha Morton play a big part but never seen in the frame. How did that work on set?

Samantha was a perfect choice for this process because she has this very ethereal quality. We wouldn’t completely clear the set but we would try to move people out and have it be as quiet as possible before she came in. We had aromatherapy for her. She wanted to be in the ether.

How close was she to the rest of the action?


Not close. She was in an isolated area, mainly. She was on the set technically but most people never saw her. You could just hear here through this earpiece system.

Like in the movie! So was that the biggest challenge, logistically speaking?

I think the biggest challenge came when we picked up and move to Shanghai. It was cultural. We were open for business, and the business was highly resonant art work. But that didn’t always connect with the locals. For example, we needed women [as extras]. And the Chinese folks said, “Well, there are not too many women here.” And I said, “There are like 4 billion people in this country and you can’t find a woman?”

You also had a more tragic event occur as this movie was coming together — the death of Adam Yauch. He and Spike were very close. How did that affect things?

It was really hard. The news hit while we were on preproduction [in Los Angeles]. He hopped right on a plane [to New York, where Yauch lived] and said he’d be back as soon as possible. You felt Adam’s spirit was with Spike when he was making this movie. Adam would have liked being at the premiere. And he probably was, in his way. And in the film. This is a movie that deals with human loneliness, with how we cope and move forward.



Five days of ‘Her:’ How to shoot the future

Five days of ‘Her:’ How Spike Jonze created the future

Five days of ‘Her: ‘Building a future to feel like the present

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