Rad photographers were in no short supply behind the scenes of Where the Wild Things Are, but only one of them had the unique privilege of approaching the experience as both a wide-eyed documentarian and the father of the film’s nine-year-old star. Shawn Records is an artist who brilliance lies in capturing near-weightless moments of ephemeral beauty, casually illuminating banal absurdities, and unveiling the clandestine grace of seemingly ordinary juxtapositions. His gentle approach is especially refreshing when pitted against the coarse cacophony of an epic film production.
Spike summed up Shawn’s attitude perfectly– “Patient and observed”– when we posted a small set of Shawn’s photos in July. The amazing images from that post are included alongside dozens more from the set of Where the Wild Things Are in his brand new book, Owner of This World. Go order yourself a copy from inspiringly autonomous DIY publishing house Publication Studio, and then read on for an enlightening interview with Shawn Records!
Using a list of adjectives, how would you describe the experience of working on Where The Wild Things Are?
Confusing, chaotic, humbling, fun, educational, inspirational, exhausting…
Were you a fan of the book growing up?
Not only was I a fan of the book, but when Max was born, we still had a copy of the book from my childhood, my own name scribbled in orange crayon inside. After Max started working on the film and we had that copy of the book out a lot, Sam, my younger son, ripped it apart and added some additional scribbles to it. It was perfect. We ended up using some of those pages to create a birthday scrapbook for Maurice Sendak with some photos of what he was missing on set.
Last weekend’s press junket for Where the Wild Things Are was like an extended debutante ball– a strangely rigid and somewhat superfluous ceremony by which a crowd of adult strangers decide when a girl has become a woman. To help shepherd their baby into the world, Spike and his band of cohorts fielded questions from a deluge of revolving journalists for three days in a dimly lit nook of the Beverly Hilton.
With many of these interviews lasting no longer than 3-4 minutes, it’s unsurprising that variation was scarce. “What was it like working with Spike?” became a nauseating refrain in the endless hours of Max Records’ interrogations. Sometimes there’d be curveballs, like when a bald Scotsman posed pseudo-esoteric questions dancing around the periphery of awkwardness, like this one: “Where does Spike end and Adam begin?” On the other end of the odd question spectrum, we scratched our heads as a spaced out Japanese lady muttered almost (but not quite) poetic non sequiturs about Spike being a 39-year-old man in a 9-year-old boy’s wolf suit. Spike, I have to say– you handled it all with admirable charm.
At least the set-up was comfortable– Warner Brothers hired the fantastic crew behind Space 1520’s pop-up shop to construct a fantasy haven of barren branches and dry leaves for the occasion. Led by Stephen Hill (seen above, sticking his face in a Wild Things comic foreground), the pop-up boys whipped together a glorious woodsy environment that magically obscured the sterile conference rooms playing host to this unique set of alien interactions.
When I swung by on the press event’s final afternoon, lunch was a fancy buffet (a contradiction that Shawn Records reveled in) where Spike’s dad, Arthur, told us how he’d posed as a studio executive during several interviews, until his cover was blown by an intrepid journalist who recognized him as the elder Jonze. Max loaded up on exotic desserts before heading over to Catherine Keener’s place for a sleepover with her son, Clyde, and everyone parted ways as the ceremony finally came to an end. Where the Wild Things Are had undergone the media’s rigorous rite of passage and was finally on her way to the world at large.
It’s been two and a half years since principal shooting wrapped on Where the Wild Things Are. While Max Records and his father Shawn haven’t drifted into complete Hollywood radio silence– they flew to Serbia, for instance, so Max could shoot The Brothers Bloom– they’ve remained for the most part sheltered from the PR machine in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. On the morning of the big Warner Brothers presentation at Comic Con, Max was sent on his first whirlwind publicity tour. Shuffling through a series of hotel junkets and convention center green rooms for photo shoots and interviews, the younger Record found himself at the mercy of media outlets instructing him to lounge on piles of pillows bearing the cadaverous visage of Robert Pattinson, hordes of preemptive megafans clamoring for autographs, and busty entertainment journalists leaning in closer than most tween boys are comfortable with.
Overwhelmed by the frenzy, the Records escaped to their hotel room to recover after the panel. Max and his younger brother Sam ate room service grilled cheese sandwiches while they filled me in on the details of the Portland Trailblazers’ dramatic showdown with the Houston Rockets. Since he’d been through the standard behind-the-scenes questions all day, I wanted to give Max a chance to relax and talk a little about himself and his interests outside the movie. Check out our interview below, where Max fills me in on the work of Osamu Tezuka, his favorite Portland bands, and local legends of Matt Groening’s mischievous childhood.
The frenzy over Where the Wild Things Are went into full swing Friday at Comic Con, prompted by the premiere of Lance Bangs’ behind the scenes featurette and an exclusive sneak peek at 10 minutes of the film. Max Records courageously braved the hoardes of fanboys hungry for autographs amidst a signing in the model fortress and also introduced the clips at WB’s big presentation, relaying a message straight from Maurice Sendak: “You know I really love this movie and I hope people like it, because if not they can all go straight to hell.”
Throughout Comic Con, fans, nerds and cinephiles from all walks of life were spotted sporting lovely cardboard Wild Things crowns akin to those nostalgic fast food hats of childhood yore, emphatically displaying their breathless anticipation for this fine film. Yet others went full out, rocking homemade wolf-suit Max costumes in spite of the scorching San Diego sun. Amidst the flurry of activity I was lucky enough to get a chance to catch up with Shawn and Max Records (stay tuned for a video interview!), the couldn’t-be-radder Catherine Keener, and Mr. Lance Bangs himself (pictured above in an orange visor), whose young son Marshall proudly showed off the signed Chewbacca autograph he had just received from Peter Mayhew. Comic Con– the place where dreams come true!
Shawn Records, father of Max, was our on-set observer. I love his photos. I would say he related to the aesthetic family of Joel Sternfeld and William Eggleston, his photos have a delicate wit and affection to them. I love how much of him comes through his photos. a sweet kind man with a keen eye and always soft spoken and understated. Please check out his photos at his website too. I’m lucky enough to have a print of the boy with his head in the bush. I think it is of Max in their backyard a few years ago.
The other added benefit of Shawn being a photographer that I didn’t realize until long after we cast Max was that by growing up with your dad always with a camera in hand you become used to having your picture taken and not even thinking about it, so Max is very unselfconscious in front of the camera. And also very natural because Shawn is not the kind of dad who is real loud, trying to force a shot yelling “Hey everyone, look over here! Hug your mom! Smile!” he couldn’t be more opposite actually. And that is what is so special about his pictures. Patient and observed.