How Amanda Adelson Went From “Accidentally” Directing A Kanye West Video To Shaping ‘Beastie Boys Story’ With Spike Jonze – Q&A

How Amanda Adelson Went From “Accidentally” Directing A Kanye West Video To Shaping ‘Beastie Boys Story’ With Spike Jonze – Q&A

September 14, 2020

Beastie Boys Story, released by AppleTV+ in April and nominated for five Emmys, tells the story of the band that was formed in 1978 by Adam Yauch, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz.

The film, directed by long-time collaborator Spike Jonze, was not your usual rock doc. It was told via a live show put on by Diamond and Horovitz (Yauch passed away in 2012) following the release of their memoir Beastie Boys Book.

Back in April, the film’s press tour was dominated by Diamond and Horovitz joking through interviews with a bit of context from Jonze, who first worked with the band in 1993 on their Time For Livin’ video.

But one of the people instrumental in the film who was not particularly visible was Jonze’s creative producing partner Amanda Adelson, who helped write the film in addition to producing it.

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Adelson (left), who below with Jonze discusses how the doc came about, has an interesting story.

Fresh out of the agency world, Adelson began working at Dickhouse, the Jackass production company run by Jonze, Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine. She was discovered by Priya Swaminathan, who previously worked at Dickhouse and now is the co-head of President Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground.

Jonze says that he got to know Adelson on feature film Bad Grandpa, where she was “our script supervisor, writing assistant, holding all of it together”.

Adelson has spent the last five years as Jonze’s producing partner and the pair have worked on projects including theater shows in New York, a live music video featuring Karen O and Danger Mouse on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and a slew of music projects.

She also “accidentally” directed Kanye West’s I Love It video, which features the rapper wearing rather odd outfits described as Roblox outfits meets the suits from David Byrne’s Stop Making Sense film with vocals from Lil Pump and comedian Adele Givens.

Jonze says that West asked him for an idea for the video, which he gave him, but that he was unable to make it to set as he was going out of town. West was expected to direct and Adelson went to set to help out. “I kind of prepped it for him and then I sent Amanda down to help. Amanda would be able to be at the monitor and give notes,” Jonze adds.

Adelson adds, “I got to set and the AD came up to me and said ‘Oh, you’re Amanda, Kanye said you’re directing this’. I said ‘No, but I guess’. He decided in between that I was going to direct it.”

This was not Adelson’s only “accidental” credit. She co-wrote The Dirt, the Netflix comedy drama feature about heavy metal band Mötley Crüe, a band that she describes as the “diametric opposite” of Beastie Boys.

“When I was working at Dickhouse, I was working with Jeff Tremaine, who directed the Jackass movies and he got the script and as he was going out for it, he wanted to break the story down and I was his assistant at the time and I was helping him. Through that process, I just started writing it,” she says.

Then came Beastie Boys Story.

DEADLINE: Mike and Adam were going out on a book tour to promote Beastie Boys Book – how did that turn into a documentary?

SPIKE JONZE: We worked with them on the [book tour]. That was more the put on a show in your barn version. Mike and Adam wrote it but we helped stage it and direct it. They wrote it and made a version that was much closer to the book and was entertaining. The second one became a much bigger show and it was fun in a much more surreal way, we were in a giant theater with a crew. The second one, we decided to film it and I felt that if we were going to film something, I wanted them to go much deeper than they did in the book tour and really tell their story and the story that moves me about them. I love them so much and I wanted to show the world what I love about them, their friendship, their integrity and their humor.

We re-wrote it from scratch, me, Amanda, Mike, Adam and Jonah Hill also helped us on it. We’d meet every day on story meetings and record and make notes and structure and then Mike and Adam and I went away and wrote it.

AMANDA ADELSON: It was insane and really quick. Just seeing the friendship, it was so cool, at the beginning, because I didn’t know much about their music. I knew them from Spike’s perspective and I knew their music from my brothers but I didn’t know their story. The first meeting, seeing their relationship and seeing their friendship with Spike, I thought this could only happen because of these guys being from one place at one time. It was so moving seeing how they related to each other. It ended up being a big part of the writing process, them telling their stories together and the friendship resonating felt like a really moving through line and something that was really important.

DEADLINE: What was that writing process like?

JONZE: It was some stuff I kind of knew and some stuff, I’d never asked them before. Or I’d heard a story from Yauch but never heard it from Mike, but really it was asking what was this like. When I first met them, it was the early 90s and they’d only done their first record License To Ill, four or five years earlier. The wound was still fresh and we never really talked about it. Over the years, we’d talk but it was interesting to go back. They went pretty deep into it in the book, and there’s some really good writing in there, but the book is written with these standalone chapters so there’s these big holes in between chapters and early on after the book tour, we knew we wanted to really hone in on the first ten years from being a punk band to everything they went through and then reconnecting with themselves on Check Your Head and Ill Communication.

They’re a band that is so intimate and even when I first met them, they were kind of impenetrable because it was mysterious. As I got to know them and work with them, I got let in a lot. I still never got let in to the inner sanctum, the precious thing that they have together. They also don’t take themselves seriously so this didn’t come naturally. For instance, Adam revealed as much as he felt comfortable in the book but this was more.

DEADLINE: Did you feel you had different relationships with each of them or did you have a relationship with them as a trio?

JONZE: I had very different relationships with each of them, they’re all so different human beings. What was special was, I’ve known them over 25 years, and each of those relationships evolved in different ways. Yauch was a filmmaker but also a mischief maker, he thought anything could be done, there was no limits. If someone said ‘No’, that’s definitely the direction they went. We had a lot of that energy in common and filmmaking in common. He was inspiring when I was 21. They were all inspiring in different ways. Mike was the softy, I’d stay at his house and we’d talk about things that we wanted to do. Not that we went deep into our feelings because we were in our early 20s, but he was always soft and sensitive and sweet. Horowitz was always the funniest, quickest, wittiest wisecrack. As we grew up, we went through all sorts of life stuff together.

DEADLINE: Spike, you briefly show up in the film during a prompter issue.

ADELSON: That was the most moving part of it for me, the dynamic between all three of you. Giving each other shit and taking each other places that they wouldn’t have otherwise gone.

JONZE: The show was three and a half hours, they’d improvise and different things would fuck up. We had many more fuck ups in the show than we showed in the movie, but that was the energy. Things would go off the rails and I’d try and bring them back on the rails.

DEADLINE: What did you cut from the live show that didn’t make it to the doc?

JONZE: The things we cut was much more theatrical, things like little skits. There’s some pieces in there when Mike talks about being stoned in his Paul’s Boutique outfit going to a Dolly Parton birthday party and talking to Bob Dylan, who was his idol and Bob Dylan confuses Mike and is fucking with him but Mike can’t even tell if he’s fucking with him and Mike leaves confused. So, we acted that out with different actors like Michael K. Williams, Lena Dunham, Bridget Everett.

ADELSON: Early on, during the stage show we realized it was long.

DEADLINE: Did you ever consider making a longer version of the film?

JONZE: As we were doing the show, when we got into the edit, we kind of got the sense that that was the stage show and now we were going to make the film. We said we didn’t want to make a document of the show, let’s make a live documentary. As soon as we got into the edit room, we let go what the show was and started making something that was much more focused and the through line of the story that we wanted to tell. I love all that stuff, but I also felt that the strongest thing was the story of their friendship and their music.

DEADLINE: The format also largely prevents it from becoming a hagiography.

JONZE: Adam Horowitz would never allow that anyway, he’d be so cringy if there was any of that. They were telling a story of how Paul’s Boutique bombed and I said we should talk about what the record’s become, it’s become one of the most influential rap albums but he said ‘I’m not going to say that, fuck that, no way’. I said ‘What if we have someone else say it’ and he was like ‘If it’s funny’. Then we came up with the idea of different people interrupting like Ben Stiller and Steve Buscemi.

DEADLINE: You could have done a multi-part series on Beastie Boys, did you ever consider that?

JONZE: You could do a documentary series… there’s so much untold about them, we just took that ten-year story and told that one part of their story but their story is obviously so much bigger but we chose that as representative of who they are and their character. Lesser people would have done Fight For Your Right To Party and then broken up and been a one hit wonder. I think what’s cool was what they came out of that.

DEADLINE: The last half an hour of the film is very emotional, how difficult was it to put together the footage and interviews with Adam Yauch?

JONZE: Every night of the show was really moving, especially when Adam Horowtiz talks and then Adam and Mike talk about Yauch at the end, those last few sections. I loved it because I felt close to Yauch and what moved me was feeling him and the force of life he was. Being able to go through all of those old photos, videos and interviews, he really was with us through the whole thing, which was really special for everybody.

DEADLINE: Was there ever any feeling that this was your goodbye tour with the Beasties?

JONZE: I don’t know. I’m not sure I look at it like that, it’s more about getting to honor this thing and these people who are so important to me and influenced me so much. Both their music and them as people.

DEADLINE: Amanda, what was your role across the film?

ADELSON: A lot of it is feeling what is this about and I got to spend time writing and got to see their relationship and how special they were. That’s what resonated for me.

JONZE: One of Amanda’s super powers is [figuring out] what does something feel like and what is something supposed to feel like. She’s a screenwriter originally so she comes from, does it feel right, and that’s incredible to have a producer like that, who knows. Sometimes, I’m distracted or tired and Amanda is able to say this doesn’t make me feel right, or doesn’t feel like it like it did on stage. That applies to the entire way we work, from making sure the process feels right and that the crews and the people we are working with are right and we’re all coming at it from the same place. Figuring out what is correct for this project and not what’s going to satisfy my ego or going to be the easiest, it’s what is correct, that trumps everything and that goes for who we are going to work with, who are we going to release it with. That’s the most important thing, her radar is very strong.

DEADLINE: The film came out in April, what reaction have you felt since then?

JONZE: It seems super positive. They’re not a controversial band, they’re not polarizing, the people that know them, love them because they do everything with integrity, they’re true and pure and they really respect their fans.

DEADLINE: It was nominated for five Emmys, you must be chuffed with that.

JONZE: It’s amazing that Mike and Adam are nominated for writing, Amanda is nominated, Zoe and Jeff, our editors are nominated, they worked so hard on it and they deserve as much credit as anyone else.

Beastie Boys Story is produced by Jason Baum and Amanda Adelson, alongside director and writer Spike Jonze, and executive produced by Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz, Dechen Wangdu-Yauch, John Silva, John Cutcliffe, Peter Smith, Thomas Benski, Dan Bowen, Sam Bridger, Michele Anthony, David Blackman and Ashley Newton. Losel Yauch, Frances Yauch and Jonah Hill serve as co-executive producers. It has been nominated for Outstanding Writing For A Nonfiction Program, Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Nonfiction Or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera), Outstanding Sound Editing For A Nonfiction Or Reality Program (Single Or Multi-Camera), Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special and Outstanding Picture Editing For A Nonfiction Program.

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