The Celebrated Filmmaker and Designer Olympia Le-Tan Co-create a Tale to Pierce the Heart
Designer Olympia Le-Tan's embroidered clutch-bags spring to life in director Spike Jonze’s tragicomic stop-motion animation Mourir Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side). On a shelf in famed Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company, the star-crossed love story of a klutzy skeleton and his flame-haired amour plays out amidst Le-Tan’s illustrations of iconic first-edition book covers. "It's such a beautiful and romantic place,” offers Le-Tan of the antiquarian bookstore. "The perfect setting for our story!” The project started after Jonze asked for a Catcher in the Rye embroidery to put on his wall and the plucky Le-Tan asked for a film in return. Enlisting French filmmaker Simon Cahn to co-direct, the team wrote the script between Los Angeles and Paris over a six month period, before working night and day animating the 3,000 pieces of felt Le-Tan had cut by hand. “I love getting performances from, telling stories about and humanizing things that aren’t human,” said Jonze of working with Le-Tan’s characters. After spending five years adapting Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, Jonze’s recent shorts include robot love story I’m Here and an inspired G.I. Joe-starring video for The Beastie Boys. “A short is like a sketch,” he says. “You can have an idea or a feeling and just go and do it.” Here the iconic director reveals his creative process to writer Maryam L'Ange.
How did the film come about?
I met Olympia in Paris through friends of mine. She was just starting to make the bags for her friends. She had a bunch of the scraps in her bag, all of the cut-out pieces of felt. I just loved it. I loved all the artwork she picked, the texture of it, the stitching of the felt. We joked about making a film and just went for it. It was this thing with no schedule, no pressure and no real reason to be—other than just that we thought it would be fun.
Did you write the story together?
Yeah we did. We would look at all the artwork over lunch whenever we would be in the same city, noting any ideas that would just make us smile. It was done like that, with no real plans.
What’s your creative process?
You just start with what the feeling is. For this one the feeling definitely started with the handmade aesthetic and charm of Olympia’s work. Instantly I had the idea of doing it in a bookstore after-hours, imagining the lights coming down and these guys off their books. Me and Olympia both wanted to make a love story, and it was fun to do it with these characters. It evolved naturally and it all just started with the feeling. From there you entertain yourself with ideas that excite you.
Do you go with your gut instinct?
If it cracks me up. We were talking about the skeleton coming off his book and the girl in the Dracula book waving at him. Olympia is someone who is just absurd, she’s used to just saying anything. She just started making the blowjob gesture as a joke to make us laugh but I was like, “We’ve got to do that.” It’s about taking things that could just be a joke while brainstorming and actually going for it and using it.
What inspires you?
People inspire me. Humberto Leon and Carol Lim [from Opening Ceremony] and the confidence and creativity in how they run their business. Pixar’s really inspiring, they make films in the best possible way. They’re always focused on story. I could list a million people that inspire me all the time. David Bowie’s music, Charlie Kauffman, David Russell. A lot of people that I work with too, just conversations I have with them about what we want to do.
To read an interview with Olympia Le-Tan about the making of the animation visit our Facebook page here.