How Spike Jonze Shoots Movies About Loneliness

There are many movies about loneliness and even more lonely people who see them. As a filmmaker, working with a lonely character poses the unique challenge of how to stand out. With framing, editing and coloring techniques at your fingertips, what combination best helps your story land?

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Creating such sad flicks as Where the Wild Things Are and Her, Spike Jonze is familiar with loneliness. Whether you’re dealing with Spike Jonze music videos or Spike Jonze movies, we’ve compiled the tools he uses to make his alienated characters fresh.

Watch: Shooting Movies About Loneliness Like Spike Jonze 

Go really wide or really close

Your character is struggling to fit in. We feel it in the words, but not on screen.

By playing with the extremes of your frames, you can capture characters’ disconnection with the world around them. An extreme close up can make us feel overwhelming emotion…

How Spike Jonze Shoots Movies About Loneliness - Close-Up

…while an extreme wide shot can make us feel a character’s isolation in the frame itself.

How Spike Jonze Shoots Movies About Loneliness - Wide Shot

Exercise:

Find a monologue in your script. During blocking, frame your actor from a great distance, up close, and everywhere in-between. Notice how each frame affects the words being spoken and what new meaning it can add to your script.

Shoot a montage

People usually feel isolated over time. A montage gives us your viewers the passage of time without the hours of story.

Let Hitchcock explain.

While keeping your lonely characters the focus, we can watch as they grow detached from the world around them in their reactions.

How Spike Jonze Shoots Movies About Loneliness - Montage

While often covering time moving forward, a montage can also work in reverse, as a flashback, like the above scene from Her.

Exercise:

Dialogue is never as effective as a character’s reaction. Take some dialogue and turn it into action. If a character’s telling their husband to leave, have them throw a book instead. The reaction will tell us more then “Get out!” ever could.

Do less with your style

You want to put your director trademark on every shot, making every scene a masterclass in coloring, framing, suspense, you name it.

But more often than not, less can be more when it comes to loneliness. A simple camera set up on an actor can highlight a character’s raw emotion. By stripping your shots of tricks and gimmicks, we feel the vulnerability of you, the director.

How Spike Jonze Shoots Movies About Loneliness - Joaquin Phoenix Sad

Exercise:

Ask yourself:

How can I move the camera or frame the actor to express the emotional state of the character? If this was not a moving sequence and I didn’t have the benefit of sound and words what emotion would I want the picture to express?

In general, don’t be afraid to steal from the greats. Watch every movie, study every shot, notice every shadow and when you find something that works STEAL IT, break it down and make it your own.

Wrapping Up

As storytellers we have at our disposals many tools to further the plot and express the needs and desires of your character. We have words, actions, sounds, color, music and last but not least we have access to visual elements… when used properly an image speaks louder than 1000 words.

Movies about depression and loneliness don’t have to boring. Instead, they can be really, really sad.

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Leonardo Foti
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Leonardo Foti

Filmmaker and Producer at Leo Foti Directs
Born in Rome, Italy and currently residing in HollywoodLeo started his career as an actor later expanding his horizons as a Writer-Director as well as a Producer. His talent in creating Films, Theatre Shows, Episodic Series and Commercials took him around the world working on amazing projects. This Website is an overview of the stories Leo brought to life.
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