Charlie Kaufman: Master Screenwriter & Storyteller
Charlie Kaufman, what can I say? In my opinion,
“Charlie Kaufman is one of the greatest screenwriters alive today.”
If you have ever read one of his screenplays or watch a film based on his writing you will see that no one on the planet, other than Charlie Kaufman, can write a Charlie Kaufman screenplay.
Charlie Kaufman in one of modern cinema’s most celebrated screenwriters, his work includes the surreal fantasy Being John Malkovich, the Oscar® winning cerebral sci-fi Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the truly underrated Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and one of my favorites the comedy-drama Adaptation.
Charlie Kaufman has had a career that most screenwriters and directors would envy and while his filmography is impeccable, it is his unique style of writing and director that has allowed him to receive great acclaim.
Being Charlie Kaufman
He grew up in Massapequa, New York and was born into a Jewish family. The entertainment bug bit him early on and he was an active member of his high school’s drama club. He met his first writing partner, Paul Porch, while attending New York University to study film and the two began to write spec scripts together for a variety of sitcoms.
Kaufman’s first taste of success came when he was commissioned to write two episodes of the short-lived Chris Elliott sitcom Get a Life during the 1991-92 television season. While he also wrote a few pilots, none went into production and after doing some additional writing work for The Dana Carvey Show and Ned and Stacey, he would set his sights on the film industry.
His unique script for Being John Malkovich established his personal writing style and placed him on Hollywood’s radar as one of the most idiosyncratic and thoughtful writers currently working. He has spoken openly about taking his time when it comes to writing a script, so that he can truly get to know the characters.
Charlie Kaufman movies are their own experience and there is nothing quite like them. The viewer knows when they are watching Charlie Kaufman movies and his organic approach to writing allows his films to stand out like none other.
Control seems to be a recurring them in his filmography and Charlie Kaufman’s career had grown to the point where he was able to direct his own screenplays. He believes that your fate is what you create and this mentality permeates all of his films, from Being John Malkovich’s puppeteer protagonist to Syndeoche, New York’s tortured artist who only finds solace in creating art as it unfolds.
In the wake of the critical acclaim that was generated by Being John Malkovich, Kaufman was able to get another one of his screenplays produced and the resulting film, the Michel Gondry-directed Human Nature, received mixed reviews and is considered to be one of his more minor works.
His next film, Adaptation, reunited him with Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze and firmly established Charlie Kaufman as a screenwriter who is not afraid to use his personal experiences to fuel the creative process. His avatar in the film is terrified to ask a woman for a date and the idea for Adaptation is based on his very real struggles with writing an adaptation for the novel The Orchid Thief.
Charlie Kaufman received a second Oscar nomination for his work on the film (the first was for Being John Malkovich) and he was ascendant on Hollywood’s A-list.
His ability to draw on things that have actually happened in his own life helps him when it comes to following characters into a story and creating worlds that are richly drawn. His writing also incorporates themes that are relevant to our times, as Being John Malkovich focused on our newfound need for avatars, while Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa took direct aim at social media ego-centrism.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
The follow up to Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, became George Clooney‘s first directorial vehicle and Charlie Kaufman took umbrage with Clooney’s methods, as he made sweeping changes to the script after consulting Chuck Barris, the game show who believed himself to be a hitman that the script was based on.
Charlie Kaufman’s desire for control fueled his eventual frustrations with the finished product, as he believes that Clooney and Barris cut him out of the process, expecting him to simply deliver a script and get out of the way.
From there, he embarked on a second creative union with Michel Gondry and the result, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, stands as one of his greatest cinematic achievements. While his approach and process may seem freestyle to some, it is clear to see that there is a method to the madness.
He received a well-deserved Academy Award for his screenplay and was finally able to seize the control he had always desired. His next two films, Synedoche, New York and the aforementioned Anomalisa, are the first where he was permitted to direct his own screenplays and while they both received great acclaim from critics, they were largely overlooked at the box office.
This has caused Charlie Kaufman to become more introspective in recent interviews and he has spoken openly about his writing process and his fear of failure. While his works are often tagged with the surrealist label, identity crises and the meaning of life are discussed on a regular basis.
His willingness to fictionalize his own life and draw on the problems he’s experienced in his own world give his scripts a much-needed touch of humanization, which allow him to explore the above themes in a much more thorough manner. A Charlie Kaufman script is not cranked out at the behest of an impatient studio, it is carefully and painstakingly crafted over the course of time, in a manner that is organic to him.
Kaufman was recently asked about his seeming obsession with the concept of authenticity and he spoke of his disinterest in anything else. To him, inauthenticity is one of the most interesting subjects and that is why it recurs in his works on such a regular basis.
He prizes the specificity of his writing style and says that when he watches films from other directors, he cannot imagine making them himself. The inability to pretend to be someone that he is not is what makes his films great, but it also serves to restrict many of them to cult classic status among cinephiles.
Despite his controlling, intensely personal style of writing, he does let this mentality bleed over into his bedside manner on set, as he believes that a set should be run much like a party. Kaufman sees the process of creating a film as a means for everyone on set to have a good time and while some might imagine him as a ruthless taskmaster on set, this is the furthest thing from the truth.
Charlie Kaufman: The Obsessive Artist
True to his neurotic, failure obsessive nature, Charlie Kaufman does wonder if the style he uses on set will detract from the final product. However, he also expresses a desire to avoid the temptation to mimic other, more exacting directors like Werner Herzog. His level of self-awareness serves him well, as he knows exactly where his strengths and weaknesses lie.
Few directors or screenwriters have ever explored the concepts of mortality and depression in quite the same way as Charlie Kaufman and he has a unique gift for telling stories that speak directly to life in modern society. His characters are angry and depressed, but they also possess the self-awareness to know that they are not alone in their suffering.
Charlie Kaufman’s ethos is summed up perfectly by a monologue from Synedoche, New York, as a minister character delivers a speech that encompasses many of the themes that are closely associated with his creative process.
The minister speaks about feelings about hurt and sadness that have existed inside of him for a long time, but he stops short of feeling sorry for himself, going on to say that he has also been pretending to be okay for just as long of a time period, because everyone is dealing with some form of hurt and sadness.
In his eyes, everyone has their own misery to handle and it makes no sense to add to anyone else’s burden by forcing them to hear about his. It is a poignant moment, one that sums up Kaufman’s filmography, style and process better than anyone else ever could.
It remains to be seen what Kaufman’s next step will be after the commercial failure of the stop motion animated Anomalisa, but it is safe to say that his name will always hold a certain amount of cachet in Hollywood circles. For better and for worse, a Charlie Kaufman film looks and feels a certain way that cannot be duplicated by less unique directors and screenwriters.
The CHARLIE KAUFMAN Screenwriting MasterClass
So when I discovered this screenwriting master class Charlie Kaufman gave at BAFTA I had to share a rare look inside the head of this master screenwriter.
He discusses the techniques of writing for the big screen.
“Your brain is wired to turn emotional states into movies, your dreams are very well written”
Seeking validation in a shared perspective from the common collective of one’s audience is wonderful for the ego, but should never be the goal of putting art together.
“Say who you are, really say it in your life, in your work..”
Prepare to have your mind blown by the master, Charlie Kaufman!
Charlie Kaufman at Sundance Café 2016
“Anomalisa” co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, cinematographer Joe Passarelli, and producer Rosa Tran live at Sundance Film Festival’s Cinema Café.
I’ve also added some other amazing video lectures and master classes that take you deeper down the Charlie Kaufman rabbit hole.
Once again Charlie Kaufman has push the edges of the film frame (though it was shot on digital) with his new stop motion animated film “Anomalisa.” An inspirational speaker (David Thewlis) becomes reinvigorated after meeting a lively woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who shakes up his mundane existence.
I’ll be first in line to see it. Take a look at the trailer and featurette below.
Here’s his filmography:
- Synecdoche, New York
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
- Human Nature
- Being John Malkovich
BONUS: Some of the BEST Online Screenwriting Courses & Books available:
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting MasterClass
- Jim Uhls’ (Writer of Fight Club) The Screenwriters Toolkit
- Paul Castro’s The MILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS OF SCREEN WRITING
- Paul Castro’s The Million Dollar Screenplay
- Stephan Palmer’s Good in a Room – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
- Michael Hauge’s & Chris Vogler’s Screenwriting & Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys
- Karl Igelsias’s Writing for Emotional Impact – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE
- Save the Cat!® The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
- Linda Seger’s Making A Good Script Great – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
If you like Charlie Kaufman: Screenwriting Master Class, you’ll love my:
TOP TEN Screenwriting Books You Need to Read
Enjoyed Charlie Kaufman: Screenwriting Master Class? Please share it in your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, email etc) by using social media buttons at the side or bottom of the blog. Or post to your blog and anywhere else you feel it would be a good fit. Thanks.
I welcome thoughts and remarks on ANY of the content above in the comments section below…
Stuff You Need in Your Life:
IFHTV: Indie Film Hustle TV
Book: Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business
Book: Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Filmmaking Story)
Please note some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase or use a service. Understand that I have experience with all of these services, products, and companies, and I recommend them because they’re extremely helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I earn if you decide to buy something.
Thank you very much I am actually very happy to be here at least that’s what I am telling myself. I have never delivered a speech before which is why I decided to do this tonight.
I wanted to do something that I dint know how to do and offer you the experience of watching someone fumble because maybe I think that’s what art should offer an opportunity to recognize our common humanity and vulnerability.
So rather than being up here pretending I am an expert in anything or presenting myself in a way that will reinforced the odd ritualized lecturer lectury model, I am just telling you off the bat that I don’t know anything and if there is one thing that characterise my writing is that I always start from that realization and I do what I can to keep reminding myself of that during the process.
I think we try to be experts because we are scared, we don’t want to feel foolish or worthless, we want power because power is a great disguise. I even feel odd calling myself a writer or a screen writer, i do when I have to I put it on my income tax form but I feel like it is a lie even though it is technically true.
I write screen plays for a living but it’s not what I am. When I was young I really wanted that label, I wanted to be something you know I wanted to be a writer there is this movie SERPICO, there is a scene in SERPICO where Al Pacino was a cop and he had an artist girlfriend and there is a party scene with all this different artist types and they are saying you know well I am a painter but I work in a restaurant.
I am an actor you know but I work in the north west (2:22) and this goes on for a while and Al Pacino says I am a cop and I work for the police department. But there is that feeling when you would say you are something when you want to say you are something and you have nothing to back it up, because everybody says they are a writer or everybody says they are this or they are that.
This is what I felt and everyone else thinks it is bullshit, it is funny now that I don’t want to call myself that but at the time I did and I think that it was necessary at the time but now it doesn’t feel necessary because I think the thing I realize is that I am not those thing you know I am a person who does this and I struggle with it.
I think it was Thomas Mann who said that a writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people, which you know I thought was pretty cool and I think that’s is sort of it you know you take it seriously it is a struggle and it is interesting to me that I have been struggling with this speech for a long time.
I told them that I would do this months and months ago and this has been my job in a way, I sit at my desk and I don’t know what to do and it is very much like when I have a job writing a screen play. I wanted to do something true and I wanted to do something helpful and I think that what complicates it in addition to the fact that that’s a hard thing to figure out is that I also struggle with wanting people to like me.
You know in my fantasy I leave here and people are saying great speech you know and not only is he a great writer but, boy I really learn something tonight he really brought it you know and so as much as I know that this neediness of mine exist I also have a difficult time extricating myself from it or even fully recognising it.
When it is happening because it is a tricky thing, it’s I mean no one wants to come up here and bomb it’s really literally the stuff of night mares you know.
I have had that nightmare a lot of times and I know you want to be entertained and so for me to calculatedly not entertain you in order to be true seemed sort of selfish. So I find myself in this sort of push pull relationship with my opposing desires which I think you know is a big part of what characters are and characters do in real life.
People in real life characters and movies should, but I have gone through a lot of different version of what this evening should be and some have been really crazy and you know, I was going to do a play Trisha can attest to that they were very excited about it and so I was like holy shit now I have to do a play, because I want Trisha to like me you know and but really I ultimately decided that I just need to sort of come up here and be honest and not do a song and dance.
So I purposely kept it up in the air I picked notes but I have kept it up in the air and this increased my anxiety a thousand fold because I have notes here I honestly don’t know if this speech is 5 minutes or 3 hours. I don’t know I haven’t timed it I just don’t have no way of knowing but it is the way it is with my work is that I do feel that you sort of need to stay where you are in the moment with the work.
Sp I thought it would be helpful to start with this because if I were writing a screen play about this event I would spend a lot of time thinking about what this event is how it feels to the person speaking how it might feel to someone else, how it might feel to the audience, what it means to be an audience both as a group because an audience is an organism but also made of individuals.
Hopefully get to that later because I have written about that as well but another thing this introduction has done is it has allowed me to feel like I can go ahead and do this by being upfront that all I am is a limited struggling human being and it allows me to kind of come up here and be a limited struggling human being.
So I walked away from life so what I am offering here is a kind of thing to take from this is that it is important to free yourself and in any way you can so that you can do your work.
Here is a quote that I found, a recent quote that I found “we do not talk we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleamed from cursory reading from newspapers magazines and readers digest”.
That was actually written in 1945 by Henry Miller and I mean I think it is timely and I think what it says is the world has been on the present course it is on for a long time.
People all over the world spend countless hours of their lives every week being fed with entertainment in terms of movies TV shows newspapers you tube videos the internet and it is ludacris to believe that this stuff doesn’t alter our brains, and it is also ludacris to believe that at the very least this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient to the people who are in charge.
People are starving they may not know it because they are being fed with mass produce garbage, the packaging is colourful and it is loud but it is being produced in the same factories that makes pop tarts and art pads by people sitting around thinking what can we do to get people to buy more of these and they are very good at their jobs but that’s what it is that you are getting because that is what they are making.
They are selling you something and the world is built on this now politics and government are built on this corporations are built on this, interpersonal relationships are built on this and we are starving, all of us and we are killing each other and we are hating each other and we are calling each other liar and evil because it all become marketing and we want to win.
Because we are lonely and empty and scared and we would like to believe winning will change all that but there is no winning, what can be done, say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work.
Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time it can’t help but be but more importantly if you are honest who you are you will help that person be less lonely in their world.
Because that person would recognize him or herself in you and that would give them hope and it has done so for me and I have to keep rediscovering it, its profound importance in my life.
Give that to the world rather than selling something to the world don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do, try not to.
This is from E Cummings, to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else, mean to fight the hardest battle which every human being can fight and never stop fighting.
The world needs you it doesn’t need you at a party haven’t read a book about how to appear smart at parties, these books exists and they are tempting but resist falling into that trap the world needs you at that party starting real conversations saying I don’t know, being kind.
My first writing job was on a TV show called GET LIFE staring Chris Elliot, the show was mostly in the voice of its creators Chris Elliot and Adam Resnic they have worked together on David Letterman show and Chris’s character came from that show.
So consequently Adam Resnic’s scripts were the best of the show and we all tried to write in Adam’s voice, that was the job and I was frustrated with my results but it had occurred to me that there was no solution to this problem as long as my job was trying to imitate someone else’s voice. I can maybe get close but I was never going to get better at it than Adam. You know Rich Lytle cant be better than Johnny Carson than Johnny Carson you know.
The obvious solution was not to throw my hands up but try to find myself in a situation where I was doing me not someone else, do you. It isn’t easy but it is essential, it is not easy because there is a lot on the way.
In many cases a major obstacle is your deeply seated belief that you is not interesting and since convincing yourself that you are interesting is probably not going to happen take it off the table, agree perhaps I am not interesting but I am the only thing I have to offer and I want to offer something and by offering myself in a true way I am doing a great service to the world because it is rear and it will help.
As I move through time and things change I change the world changes, the way the world sees me changes I aged I fail I succeed I am lost. I have a moment of calm the remnants of who I have been however, depress me embarrass me make we wistful.
The inkling of who I will be depresses me makes me hopeful scary me embarrasses me and here I stand at this cross roads embarrassed wistful depressed angry longing looking back looking forward.
I may make a decision and move from that cross roads at which point I find myself instantly at another cross roads, therefore there is only movement a screen plays movement.
It is written in time and expresses the passage of time, it is made in time and it is viewed in time it is movie it moves. That’s 2 hours I will never get back it is a favourite thing that an angry person will say about a movie he hates, but the thing is every 2 hours is 2 hours he will never get back. You cannot hoard your 2 hours.
So you are here and I am here spending our time as we must, it must be spent, I am trying not to spend this time as I spend most of my time trying to get you to like me, trying to control your thoughts to use my voodoo at the speed of light at the speed of sound, at the speed of thought, trying to convince you that your 2 hours with me are not going to be resented afterwards.
It is an ancient pattern of time usage for me and I am trying to move deeper hoping to be helpful, this pattern of time usage paints over an ancient wound and paints it with bright colours it is a slide of hand a distraction so to attempt to change the pattern let me expose the wound.
I now step into this area of Langley, I don’t not know what the wound is, I do know that it is old, I do know that there is a hole in my being, I do know that it is tender, I do believe that it is unknowable or at least inarticulate able.
I do believe that you have a wound too I do believe that it is both specific to you and common to everyone. I do believe it is the thing about you that must be hidden and protected it is the thing that is tapped dance over 5 shows a day, it is the thing that won’t be interesting to people if revealed.
It is the thing that makes you weak and pathetic, it is the thing that truly, truly, truly makes loving you impossible, it is your secret even from yourself but it is the thing that wants to live. It is the thing from which your art your painting your dance your composition your philosophical treatise your screen play is born.
If you don’t acknowledge this you will come up here when it is your time and you will give your speech and you will talk about business of screen writing. You will say that as a screen writer you are a card in a business machine, you will say it is not an art form.
You will say here this is what a screen play looks like, you will discuss character arts how to make likable characters, you will talk about box office this is what you will do this is what you will be and after you are done I will feel lonely and empty and hopeless and I will ask you for my 2 hours back.
I will do this to indicate my life of love for you and I will do this to communicate that you are a waste of time as a human being it would be a ugly thing for me to say it will be intended to hurt you, it would be wrong for me to say it would lack compassion and it will hurt you and you will either dismiss it or take it in but, in either case you will hear it and it will affect you and you will thing about what you can do next time so you can be more loveable and with that your wound will be buried further.
Or you will think about how hateful people are and how your harmony (16:26) needs to be thicker so you can proceed as planned with your ideas and with that your wound will be buried further.
As I am sure you know there is a fungus called (16:43) Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, it infects the brains of carpenter ants and it turns them into zombie salves more or less.
What happens is the ants climbed to the underside of leaves near the forest floor secure themselves to the leaves then die becoming a food source for the fungus, eventually the positioning of the ants corpse serves to allow the pores to bust out of the ants head and drain down another ant.
This is true and it is very successful there is also record of this occurring up to forty eight million years ago and to this day. The thing that is fascinating about this to me is that the ant is acting mindlessly against its own interest and the interest of its fellow ants by becoming a toll for the fungus.
I think a similar system has evolved in our culture. When I first started to work in Cyrus television I didn’t need to take a course in how to write half an hour comedy, I knew because I have been raised as a consumer of TV series. I understood the rhythms I understood the types of jokes that were acceptable, I understood the star characters and of course all of this was in service of the perpetuation of the same consumer culture that trained me and made me desire to be part of it.
I was a zombie, it is a massive issue because the business I am in it is the same business that politician and corporations are in. It is the business of selling something that is important to them by disguising it as something that is important to you and it’s ubiquitous and I don’t think it is symbiotic.
As far as I can tell the carpenter ants don’t get a dam thing out of it, so my thinking as a carpenter ant is that I want to do what I can to understand my carpenter ant self and not mindlessly disseminate the fungus pores of my masters.
I like that one too. I think for me the best way to begin to combat the system indoctrination is to look at the intention. The aphorism the road to hell is paved with good intentions doesn’t ring true to me I think intension is at the bottom of everything.
My intension is shifting and complex and sometimes at odds with each other often and if I know what they are and watch them closely as they slip and slide all over the place I have a better chance of putting something honest into the world and this is my goal. My own Hippocratic Oath I do not want to harm.
I am painfully conscious of the harm that occurs when participating in the media with unclaimed intensions, I do not want to be a salesman, I do not want to screen by me or watch me and I don’t want to do that tonight.
What I am trying to express or I would like to express is the notion of by being honest thoughtful and aware of the existence of other living beings a change can begin to happen and how we think of ourselves and the world and ourselves in the world.
We are not the passive audience for this big messed up power play we don’t have to be, we can say who we are we can assert our rights to existence we can say to the police and con men the people who try to shame us and embarrass us flatter us to the people who have no compunction about lying to us to get our money our allegiance that we are thinking, really thinking about who we are and we will express ourselves and with this other people won’t feel so alone.
This is Howard Pinter, a writer’s life is a highly vulnerable almost naked activity, we don’t have to weep about that, the writer makes his choice and is stuck with it but it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed you are out on your own, out on a limb, you find no shelter no protection unless you lie in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and it could be argued become a politician.
Swear to become a human, we get to think about things, we get to wonder it seems like quite a privilege position in the universe and I wouldn’t give it up for certainty because when you certain you stop being curious and here is the one thing I know about the thing you are certain about.
You wrong of course this is a paradox how is it possible to know that you can’t know anything, it isn’t it’s just a theory and I remain open to be proven wrong. This is also Harold Pinter, I like Harold Pinter.
“There is never any such thing as a one truth to be found in dramatic art, there are many these truths challenged each other recoil from each other reflect each other ignore each other tease each other or blind to each other. Sometime you feel you have the truth of the moment in your hand then it slips through your fingers and is lost”, that the end of that.
Because I am going to go on now and I didn’t want you to think it is Harold Pinter anymore, now this is me for a while I think yes it’s me for awhile.
A manifesto is a valuable thing it’s as is everything else, anyone tells you about how to do the things something to react against it gives you a focused a frame work with which to say why, this is also true with any psychological or emotional insight you might have or might read or see expressed.
It is always a mistake to settle on anything explanation for anything because whatever you settle on you will be wrong even if you are right. Everything is a ephemeral everything is in a constant state of flux thinking pass any conclusion you drawn will reward you with a more complex insight and a more compassionate world view, this is something I am constantly trying to learn and relearn. This si another quote that I like it is a little long so, but I think it is good.
By the guy name John Garby, I am increasingly convinced that the need to be right has nothing whatsoever to do with the love of truth but to face the implications of this means accepting a painful inner emptiness. I am not now what I sensed somehow I am meant to be.
I don’t not know what I felt from the bottom of my heart I need to know the beginning of wisdom is not to flee from this condition or distract yourself from it, it is essential not to fill it up with answers which have not been earned it is important to learn how to wait with that emptiness.
It is the desire to fill up that emptiness which leads political or religious phnai (23:17) think about your react to me think pass it why do you have that reaction, why do you react a certain way to cert things, what does your reaction have to do with certain wants.
How does it correlate how would your reaction to what I am saying change if I were older younger female a different race, British. What does it mean about you that it would change, what does it mean about the subjectivity of your opinions.
What if I was me but have a different demeanour, what if I was confident less confident what if I was more feminine, what if I was less effeminate what if I was drunk what if I was on the verge of tears.
Think about all the assessments all the interpretations that occur with each interaction, think about all that you bring with each encounter multiply that by all the people here. How much is going on in this room and how do we reap that into a movie.
The challenge of multiple points of view forces us to come up with new solutions to throwaway conventional approaches movies tend to be very concrete in their construction of events and characters, it is a tricky medium in which to deal with interior lives but I think it is really a great medium for it.
Movies share so much with dreams which of course only deals with interior lives, your brain is wired to turn emotional states into movies. Your dreams are very well written I know this without knowing any of you.
People turn anxieties crisis and longing love regrets and guilt into the beautiful rich stories in their dreams. What is it that allows us to create a freedom in our dreams that we don’t have in our waking lives.
I don’t know but I suspect part of it is that in our dreams we are not constricted by worry how we appear to others, it is a private conversation with ourselves and if we worried about it this becomes part of the dream. I think if we were better able to approach our work this way the results would be different.
So what is the screen player what might it be since we are talking specifically about screen plays tonight.
A screen play is an exploration it is about the thing you don’t know to step into the abyss. It necessarily starts somewhere anywhere there is a starting point but the rest is undetermined it is the secret even from you.
There is no template for a screen play or there shouldn’t be, there are at least many screen play possibilities as there are people who write them. We have been conned into thinking there is a pre established form. Like any big business the film business believes in mass production it is cheaper and more efficient as the business model, but I don’t want to talk about that aspect of screen writing.
Here is what I know about a screen play simply that it is a text that describes what happens in a movie and I am not even sure about this definition. I think what might make this form of endeavour exciting for writers is that they find themselves in an environment where they are encouraged to use their powers to explore the world their minds and the form itself.
Think about the staggering possibilities the marriage of life vibration and time. I think craft is a dangerous thing. I saw a trailer, you call them trailers here? I saw a trailer for a movie and I won’t say what the movie is but it is coming out soon and it was gorgeous and it was gorgeous, it was gorgeous it was gorgeous and it made me really depressed and I was trying to sort of figure out why.
I think there was an amazing amount of craft and skill on the part of the film makers in this movie and yet it was the same shit, and I know that this movie is going to do really well and I know that the people who made it is going to get rewarded for it and so the cycle continues.
So I think the danger of craft is that it needed to be in second position to what it is that you are doing and it is seductive to put it in first position often because what you are doing is meaningless or worthless or just more of the same and so you can extinguished yourself by being very, very good at it.
I think you need to be will to be naked when you do anything creatively in film or any other form that’s really what you have to do because otherwise it is very, very hard to separate it from marketing. I think that it just sort of becomes what it is about.
The speaker stands on the stage he looks out at the audience, he doesn’t really know why he is here, not really more and more in his life he finds himself in places he can’t explain not really explain. He knows he is here to give a speech and he has told himself he intends to do something good with it but he knows that reason crumbles to dusk and during investigation.
What he want is to change who he is, each predicament such as this one each challenges he accepts, he accepts in order to move him to the next level of truthfulness. Each times he goes and hoping he will come out a real person. He knows if he just takes enough risks eventually he will be something, something that lives a real life.
Sweat forms on his brown how did I know, it is amazing you know because I wrote this a week ago so, sad, pools under his arms it is but I won’t show you he can feel it dripping down his sleeves further moistening his clammy hands. Actually my hands aren’t clammy they don’t get clammy that’s one of my blessings. The only part for some reason one is wet now but that is because I rubbed my forehead.
He is to speak on the subject he has been chosen as an expert but the subject is unclear to him and he is lonely it is the truth in it. He feels trapped under burdens so immense the history he carries afforded relationships the compromised relationships.
The longing that drapes him like a shroud the want he is a wanting machine ever wanting. He looks at the audience they don’t know what to make of him, why is he reading this story up there. He is to be given a street best screen writing someone in the audience is happy a train wreck is happening and he is witnessing it.
The speaker knows this, he believes he has considered every possible audience reaction, he want to be liked by them he wants to be admired and adored he want to be found attractive. He hates himself for this, this is the stuff that it always comes down to and his goal here tonight was to be different.
He want to be real, real in this contrive place but he can’t be the truths suddenly stares him in the face this is who he is this is the real him this needy wanting thing up here for the same akrondiesment (30:35)and so does everyone else who does this.
Look at me but the pain and hollowness is real, the pain that stretches back into the haze that it is his childhood, he leaves that’s it. It is nothing like anything he has ever done he walks off the stage people have paid money he things as he leaves. This will be on you tube.
I am finished, this life I lived until this point is now different forever just by walking off the stage, will they refused to pay for my hotel room now for my flight home, this was a terrible mistake maybe I can go back he considers, maybe I can say I needed to get something backstage.
He looks around grabs a water bottle and heads back to the lectern, he tells the audience he needed some water and to please forgive the interruption. He pantomime surprise when he sees there is already water on the lectern. He makes a joke about all that water something self deprecating the usual stuff he is known for unique and easy.
He gets a laugh and he is back, back in the comfort one back in fakeville and he is ashamed but he’s got to make it through, so he pulls out the old standby on his subject of expertise and he does creaky modest bit and he gets through it, he’s played the game and he changed nothing for himself in the world, but the people who brought him here seems satisfied.
He is dispersing he had thought about this evening for months, the importance of it in his head had become un wheeled he would change course with this lecture, this would be the real him revealed for the first time and he would be free and now it’s over and its all the same. He returns to his hotel and sits at the bar there is no hope left.
I read an article about bulling recently everyone is up in arms about bulling, the vocal minority thinks it is a good thing that it is part of growing up that it builds character, what was left out of this article and doesn’t seems to be part of discussion is that bullying is a significant element of our culture.
The bullying of children by children doesn’t come from nowhere the question remains whether bullying is an inherent aspect of human nature but that doesn’t change the fact that a culture that discourages rather than encourages bulling would have a better chance to curbing it, our culture is marketing this is what we do and what is marketing trying to get people to do what you want them too.
It’s what drives our consumer culture, it’s what drives our politics it’s what drives our art music movies books fine arts is part of every research grand proposal. I don’t want to participate I don’t want to tell you how to sell a screen player how to write a hit or tell you how to fit into the existing system.
I want to tell you that I have a hope that there is another way to be in this world and that I believe that with courage and vulnerability and honesty that this stuff we put into the world will serve a better purpose.
The way movies work now and I am talking about mainstream industry the only goal is to get you to buy a product, the only goal, the only goal, the only goal the only goal! And this intention creates the movies that we sit through and the movies that we sit through create us, in government we have been reduced to the same game through trickery officiation bullying fear mongering. The goal of marketing the candidate is achieved.
I don’t understand many things I don’t know as much as I would like about anything but I am a human being and I won’t be in competition for the right to be treated decently, I won’t play that game nor should anybody have to, and in turn I will try not to use whatever access I have to the public sphere to sell things including myself.
The world is very scary now it has always has been but something grotesque is specific to our time is blanketing us. We need to see that it is not reality it is the choice we are making we are lining up other people to make for us.
I sincerely hope that I have something of interest and value to say tonight, I can’t tell anyone how to write a screen play because the trust is anything of value you might do comes from you, the way I work is not the way you work and the whole point of any creative act is that.
What I have to offer is me what you have to offer is you and if you offer yourself with authenticity and generosity I will be moved.
You are born into a body into a family into a situation into a brain chemistry into a gender into a culture into a time as am I, at times I can feel the massive gravitation pulling all these various things pulling me in different directions creating me I watch the reactions I have they are as much my father’s as they are mine.
I know that they are inherent through genes and situations just as they have been for my father and I feel immense loneliness of this prison coupled with a great shame because I can see that this prison has an open door but I can’t get through it. How weak I am, how can I not be a saner person or a healthier person or a more generous person.
My secret company tells me that I can and that it is up to me, it is a sign of great weakness if I don’t just do it and these are the priest of our culture the therapist the dad with a firm hand but, your best interest at heart, a sneaker company that runs sweat shops in third world countries.
This is our dad and I don’t know about you but I can be moved to tears by these commercials that these people put out and I think it is despicable. Allow yourself the freedom to change as you discover I am like dripping I am watching it rain off of me.
You know it’s not only nerves it is actually hot up here, so but thus wool suit which I wore because I was told that London is a chilly place, you know it’s not working really bad but I don’t know what would work I need a suit made out of like, what is that stuff you know that athletes wear sometimes mesh stuff a mesh suit would be good.
Allow yourself the freedom to change as you discover allow your screen play to grow and change as you work on it you will discover things as you work, you must not put these things aside even if they are inconvenient.
Let’s not disregard all the little voices that do not simplify, let’s not worry about what it looks like let’s not worry about failure, failure is a badge of honour it means you risk failure and if you don’t risk failure you never going to do anything that’s different from what you have already done or what somebody else is done and just know that that’s the choice you making when you won’t put yourself at jeopardy like that.
Don’t compartmentalize to make things simpler than they are don’t work towards results, allow yourself time let things brew you are thinking about it whether you realize it or not. Letting the unconscious takes over brings in freedom and surprise and remove judgement.
At every single moment every single person wants something often many things often conflicting things. Understand this about your character and yourself. Story telling is inherently dangerous if you consider a dramatic event in your life consider it as you experienced it.
Now think about how you told it to someone a year later, now think about how you told it for the one hundred time it’s not the same thing. A few components enter into the change most people think perspective is a good thing to have in a story, you can figure out character arts you can apply them all.
You can tell it from a distance with understanding and context, the problems is that this perspective is a misrepresentation of the incident it is a reconstruction with meaning and as such bears little resemblance to the event.
The other things that happens in storytelling is the process of adjust (39:15) for the audience over time. you find out which part of the story works which parts to embellished which parts to jettison, be fashion ate your goal, the reasons for telling it are to be entertaining to garner sympathy. This is true for a story told at a dinner party and it is true for stories told in movies.
I am sifting through now to see if there is stuff I should you know, oh so I should stop soon, should I stop soon. Oh I will do this part now because this sort of relates a little if, (shattered here)so in relations to that don’t let anyone tell you what the story is what it need to include, what form it must take.
As an experiment go out of your way to write an none story it will still be a story but it will have a chance to be a different story, our brains makes story it is basic to us as breeding we cannot do otherwise for yourself and by extension the rest of us with your efforts.
If you give yourself too specific an assignment you will keep yourself locked away from your work go where it takes you. If you say you want to write about homeless people and then in the end revealed their humanity you will end up with something illustrative and perhaps instructive if you say there aren’t words to put this morn I feel in me but I am going to swim in it and see what happens.
You will end up with something real but you will have to throw away any predetermined notion of what real is, it doesn’t mean you will ended up with a million dollar screen play or that critics will love it you can write to that if that is your goal. In the process you might lose track of what you are but that is okay they will assign you an identity.
With the screen play you are creating a world consider everything every character every room every just position every increment of time as an embodiment of that world look at all of this through that filer and make sure it was all consistent.
As in a painting every element is part of one whole composition, just there is nothing separate in the actual world there should be nothing separate in the world you create.
This is like a little thing that I wrote that that’s just a personal thing for me so and it is very, I don’t know, but you will see but I hate this so I am just going to share with you that I hate it.
Do not write jokes to your readers and your stage directions you know what I mean by that you know people do that don’t do that. Your job is to create an atmosphere you are trying to establish a mood. You writing you writing a story and what you are trying to do with that story is you trying to help this large group of people who are going to come together to understand the tone and the spirit and the feeling of this movie so they can come together and make it and that’s what you should spend your time on. Not with weights and stuff not winking at people.
This is old gold by the way but I am but you know some of it I have covered. I tell you a little story now because it is interesting to me and I don’t know why I am telling but it is interesting to me and it sort of it just seems like there is something apparently cinematic about it.
I run in my neighbourhood and one day I ran pass this guy who is running in the other direction, an older guy you know big hulky kind of guy really struggling you know to huffing and puffing and I kind of going down a slight hill and he was coming up the hill it is very slight and he was wearing like a head band and he is sweltered and so he passes me and he goes, well sure it is all downhill that way.
And I loved that joke you know because it is funny you know because it was a funny joke and he made the connection and it sort of a witty thing to say and so I nod my head I like this guy this is a cool guy you know and he is my friend now and so like a few weeks later I am passing by him again I see him in a distances coming towards me and we are going opposite ways and I am thinking there is the guy, that’s cool and so as we pass each other he says sure it is all downhill that way.
And I was like oh, okay you know he has got a repo tore and he doesn’t know I mean I am not that special you know he probably said it to other people maybe he doesn’t remember me, he is an older guy maybe there is you know and so but okay you know ha, ha I laughed this time I forced my laugh because I have things going on in my head I am disappointed and then I passed him again and he says it again.
And this time he is going downhill and I am going uphill and so like it doesn’t even make any sense anymore, it is not even it is not about anything and I start to have so much pain about this because I am embarrassed for him and there is something wrong with him I think you know and then it just keeps happening and it is all downhill that way. Probably heard it 7 or 8 more times and I start to avoid him.
I see him coming and I cross the street because if I can’t cross the street then I look like I am really focused on my running you know just and he says it anyway if he passes me if I am not looking and I don’t know why I am telling the story except that I like the idea of changes overtime and nothing is changed you know.
What changed is all in my head and has to do with a realization on my characters part through time there is no outward story here you know and it can only be told in a form it can be told in a painting I guess is the point I am making.
I wouldn’t know how to do that and I think that you know that’s sort of I mean I am probably reaching here to sort of say this but I do think that you know that when you doing a movie when you doing a screen play you have to know why it is a movie and if it doesn’t have to be a movie then you shouldn’t make it.
Because it is very important that what you do is specific to the medium in what you doing it and that you utilize what is specific about that medium to do the work, if you can’t think about why it should be done this way or see it done this way then it doesn’t need to be done this way and then you should figure out what it is about if you want to do it then it need to be told in the form of a movie.
So I wanted to say that I hope he doesn’t, you know I think about you tube I really do think about it because you know this stuff just ends up on there and everybody in the world says what a jerk you are or whatever you know and it is a very weird thing to think about that’s the thing that you are contending with when you come and do anything in public.
This other sort of element of mindless aggression that exist on the internet and I don’t know. I got a bunch of other stuff I think it is 8.02 I think I should stop and do the Q & A. because my stuff is the B material.
Take a couple minutes? No I don’t want a couple minutes let’s just get to it.
My name is David Cox I don’t know what you are going to do with that information but that is my name, it is a great privilege to be asked to do this, this evening (49:00) for standing up there thank you very much.
Charlie Kaufman: You welcome.
DAVID: The importance to be place on honesty in the world that you say does not harm your offence pride do you find yourself surprised that you become involved in what is essentially a collaborative medium where you have given your work over to other people to interpret, do you ever feel compromised or vulnerable in that respect.
Charlie Kaufman: I mean I had the good fortune of working with directors who have been very collaborative with me and so that I have been, I had a voice in most of the things that I have written that I didn’t direct, but you know I do feel that I wanted to take that step to direct things as well.
Not because of dissatisfaction with those movies but just you know I like the idea of it of having that kind of ultimate control.
DAVID: And you stay in control of those scripts and of the projects from being (50:05)
Charlie Kaufman: With one exception I was, there was nothing, changes that were made that I made and no, for the most part I agreed with and I think there were a couple of probable battles that I lost but they were honest battles.
DAVID: That was some of the dangers of manipulating the audience of being to intuitive as an artist as for a better word entertainer and have you gotten to the point now where you are writing scripts now and worried that you are entertaining too much and you start second guessing this is slightly the stories is become too seductive become too quick and easy.
Do you always check yourself and often try and get back to some of those values that you describe just and almost make for.
Charlie Kaufman: I check to see I understand what I did, what I wrote and why I wrote it, I don’t have anything against entertaining is a really hard word for me because I don’t really know what that means, but I like when people like my things I mean I don’t I am not crazy, well I am crazy but I am not that crazy but it has to be on the terms that makes sense to me. I want to like it.
If other people like it that’s really good and great because it means that it is something that I have said somehow you know resonated with somebody and that’s amazing I like that but it has to be the thing that I have said for my own purposes, you know.
DAVID: when you writing things did you have these thoughts or have you said or seen something.
Charlie Kaufman: No I did very much so I mean that’s what I did I wrote it just because it was an idea that appealed to me and it interest me I thought it was funny and there were a lot of issues in that script that were real issues for me and they were kind of like I don’t want to say diverted but somehow they were put through a strainer of comedy because I like comedy it’s not , that’s not a compromised for me you know but yes I wrote it for myself with no expectations that it was going to get made really, none.
DAVID: Over the course of the year since John Malkovich have you such become more conscious of I guess the fact that you are working in an industry which has potentials to do some arm to somebody.
Charlie Kaufman: I think I have become more aware of it but I also think that the industry and the world is gone through some changes in the last few years than it used to be. The industry used to be a little bit more welcoming to people who were at an odds or eccentric or something I don’t think it is anymore.
DAVID: When you writing script or when you writing something new you thinking the business side of thing and you thinking how you going to sell this and you thinking about the problems that could lie ahead and has it become harder though.
Charlie Kaufman: Well I wrote one screen play after my last movie which the economy and you know the business completely changed around that time so, plus the fact that my movie the one that I directed did very, very little business. That combined thing put me in a position of being aware of how difficult it was going to be to get things made for me but, in a way I wrote in response to that and to that the next thing I wrote.
I did shy away from doing my own thing or try to fit into a form, I mean I almost just thought I am not going to do this anymore but then I though well I will do this and do it on my terms and see what happens you know.
DAVID: And so then you have a sort of brand name and it was created long before the press (54:07) coined to and people anticipate the sort of work you do and there is others with a feeling of you would work in a particular style is that a dangerous thing for a writer to suddenly believe you fit that people expect a certain thing and that you always almost become a character to some extent, do you (over lapping)
Charlie Kaufman: I don’t feel that way about myself, I don’t think that way and I don’t and I would never intentionally play on it. I mean I think that there is a chance that I always try to do something that I don’t know how to do and I always try to do something different but you know I am a person with a very specific existence and a very specific background like everybody is and the stuff that comes out of me might resemble other things that come out of me you know.
But I don’t try for that in fact I try for the opposite you know there is things I just wrote that hopefully is going to get made is a musical now I have never done that before so I did it.
DAVID: That’s a conscious thing sit down writing you know your comfort zone perhaps there (55:22) you make sure of that comfort zone is that something you actually writing and you think that’s too easy.
Charlie Kaufman: No the comfort zone for me is the kind of stuff that I was talking about tonight I mean the lack of comfort zone for me is to say something that makes me vulnerable in the world, you know the movie is about stuff that is stuff that I am thinking about. I always try to write from what it is what I am thinking about at the time that I am writing. I always try to sort of centred on that because that is the sort of lack of respective thing that I was trying to talk about before you know, there is too many safe guard when you put yourself out of it and say you are going to write about this and the best way for me to find that place where I got a lot of emotions, a lot of agitation and a lot of fear or whatever is to make that what the story is, what the movie is.
And not try to hid it and the reason it is a musical is because I have a tendency to write very interior things and I always try and figure out new way to express that and this particular movie which is a lot of which takes place on the internet.
There is a lot is isolated people at computers and they are not talking to anybody I mean that’s word by definition who they are they don’t have anybody any friends and I want to express their thoughts and I didn’t want to do voice over and I didn’t want to do soliloquies so I thought what if they sing their emotional you know states and so I like writing songs you know it likes something to do when I can’t think I like to make things rhyme.
So it is kind of like it is fun for me and so the thing is it has almost 50 songs in it this mover so which is a lot but it is not all like songs some of them are snippets you know and there is no they are not like production numbers they are very interior and they are you know no one is breaking into songs, so I think it will fit into it a lot of time I am not sure.
DAVID: Okay we should open it up to the audience (57:40)so if we just start with the fellow in the middle here.
Q: Thank you I am interested to hear you talk about your relationship with science to what extent does science in form your thinking in your work it seems that no one has done a really good job of integrating and the understanding the universe and scientific terms into you know characters and their thoughts their view of the world and point as well as you do in your speech and as you detected in your speech and adaptation.
Just in what sense does science in form your thinking and to what extent is it difficult to romanticise what science tells you that is sometimes unromantic quite harsh.
CHARLIE: The thing in adaptation is the beginning of the world stuff is that the thing you are talking about in adaptation?
A: You spoke about genetics you spoke about weaver ants and power science and that adaptation and you spoke about genetic inheritance hinting lack of free will kinds of things which.
CHARLIE: Some of that is philosophy maybe I don’t know, I am really interested in philosophy and science I am a layman you know and there was point there where I was really sorry that I have no mathematic skill because I became really interested in physics through sort of popular physic books and in every popular physic books there is a (59:12).
You know you don’t know what we are really talking about you know, we are going to pretend that we are talking to you now but you have no idea what we are talking about and I find that really frustrating and but I didn’t know what to do I couldn’t at that point see. I don’t think I had any mathematical talent I guess it’s what it is so.
My father is an engineer was an engineer and you know I use to go to his office and look at all that sort of in scribble stuff on the black board that they use to draw on and I was like awed by it but it just looked like something and there was no way I was going to understand and I didn’t.
But I mean you know when I am interested in and I am interested in reading stuff that’s I just saw this article the other day that was really crazy and fascinating to me there is by studying with MRI the brains reaction to certain visual imagery they have been able to kind of put together a library of impulses so that they can now recreate and based on what’s going on electrically in the brain they can recreate the image and have you heard about this.
A: It is called the university it is paten recognition looking at neuro.
Charlie Kaufman: But I mean to the point where they show the image and the real thing like this work is being done by a guy named Jack Allen at Berkley and the point where they have a picture of Steven Martin as inspector Crewso and then they have the brain version of it and its like I mean you can’t tell it is Steve Martin you can tell it is a guy and I was like wow, that’s going to get really freaky scary really soon what they are going to be able to do, are you a scientist?
A: I work on film which uses science as (1:1:09).
DAVID: Okay so you with your hand up.
Q: When you talk about your films in classifying them the one you feel least bad about I don’t know if you take that chunky mentors that chunky runners to heart and it is all downhill from here, but which of your movies you feel least bad about and why.
Charlie Kaufman: I actually don’t feel bad about any of the movies so I don’t know how to answer that question, I kind of like, because I am so involved with most of them in the process of making them I feel very attached to them and very sort of responsible for them you know like so I love things about all the movies I have done.
I would say that the one that I am leased attached to is the one that I worked least on, but I like you know say I like my movies say I am arrogant but I don’t feel bad about them, should I feel bad about them? Do you hate my movies?
DAVID: I have a question just pass the microphone back behind you.
Q: This is quite personal question but given the very personal talk before I thought it was apt, I think the reason that a lot is ahead right now including you to an extent is because we innately are inquisitive, we innately are unsettled and we are innately are disillusioned and seeing you talk just for like it out to rest my disillusion is very few people who are in a position of influential status whereby they are completely truly honest and I think you are one of those few people and I just want to know whether once you reach that state is there any relief to the questions that make you write.
Charlie Kaufman: The questions that make me write.
Q: The questions that were in your mind that you thought of for a very long time is there any relief to any of it once you have written and reach that acclaim.
Charlie Kaufman: No not for me I will tell you one thing though that’s revealed is that being well known doesn’t solve any of your problems and I didn’t know that I thought it would, I really, really wanted you know I had fantasies about having that I mean it solves certain problems practically like it’s you know like I have a better chance of getting a movie made than somebody who doesn’t have a reputation kind of thing.
I had a great chance now but better you know much better but my own personal problems my own sort of like the things that made me, me I still got them and it is a good thing to know and I don’t know if you can know that without having it happen and realizing it but I am so insecure you know I am such an insecure person,
I have always been and I am, I mean I will tell you this years ago what I am doing tonight no way in hell would I have done this, no way in hell could I have talked here got up on stage so maybe there are some things that are better for me just because I have been exposed to it and have more and I think that’s a good thing for me.
Because it was a big issue and when I got my first writing job I couldn’t talk in the writing room I was working on a sit com and I could not talk, I could not talk I mean it wasn’t like I chose not to talk and I didn’t talk, I couldn’t open my mouth no words would come out and that went on for six weeks and I thought I was going to get fired I mean and I probably should have been but they didn’t. But I was so terrified of this in this room of 6 guys you know so that’s who I was.
DAVID: The gentleman against the wall.
Q: 2 questions, one I would love to hear what was the germs or inspirations that co last the produce John Malkovich that one thing and then watching it as you watched it danced around I guess Los angles and eventually get made what were you thinking you know what was the process for you watching that actually be a real bust.
Charlie Kaufman: I just wrote it I mean I was off from my sit come job and I wrote it while I was waiting for hiring season and my idea was that I would write a script and maybe use it to try and get assignment work so that’s what I did and the germs were you know I had this idea that someone finds a portal and someone had and then I had another idea that somebody has a story about someone having an affair with a co-worker and neither one was going anywhere in my head and I just aside to see if I could combine them and I just wrote it.
You know it actually got positive response it was, I started to get kind of a little known because of it, people would read it and tell me how funny it was and invite me in for meetings and tell me that nobody would ever make the movie, I had maybe 15 meetings like that so I believed that and I wasn’t really expecting it to get made, so I was like oh cool maybe I would get a job offer and then somehow I got spotted by Jones and he was in a position at the time to get a movie made and it was the movie he wanted to make.
So when that was happening then it was, I don’t know we were just making a movie I didn’t really expect it to be anything I didn’t expect it to change, I mean it really ended up changing a lot for me but I didn’t expect it, I don’t think Spike expected it either it like this you know.
I remember when they went to the Venice film festival which was the first exposure that it had and I wasn’t invited but they went you know Spike and Cameron Diaz and Katherine Kettering I guess I don’t know is Malkovich was there Hugh Quzack was there and I just got the phone call that it was like this big that and it was like and then we got these articles written about it and it was cool and exciting I don’t know if that answered your question, I feel like you are dissatisfied.
DAVID: It will be one more question and the gentleman who has the mike.
Q: I just after being unfortunate to hear after a new eras a few years ago I am hearing you speak tonight about not having mathematical talent when writing your play I was just wondering as a writer and using words to communicate the truth that you feel much fated to share that whether in the future we can expect to write in other forms novels plays poetry, is that as a write do you feel you have an relationship with language in that way or is it just.
Charlie Kaufman: I don’t, you know what I am serious when I said before I am serious that I don’t consider myself a writer and not only like oh, because I don’t want to label myself, I read something that somebody wrote and go shit man.
I haven’t had to do that you know and so I don’t know if I don’t think I have writing talent either but yes I will continue to do it, I mean I like quotes Robert Benchely has a quote something to the effect, I don’t have it written down but it is like, “by the time I realize I have no writing talent I was too famous to give it up.”
But I am definitely going to write plays that’s my plan and one I would love to write a novel I don’t know if I know how to do that I thought about it I really want to be I always get sort of like scared when it comes to doing it.
DAVID: Time is up I am afraid thank you very much for coming and join me in say thank you.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN MASTER CLASS
INTERVIEWER: Ladies and gentlemen no need to say this Mr. Charlie Kaufman and what we just saw was a scene from Adaptation and it was adaptation the novel of the orchid thief and it is directed by Spike Jones and you were nominated to an Oscar for academy award for the script together for additional twin brother Donald Kaufman which I saw Nicholas Cage interpretation of him, sorry or both of you.
I just want to say that this quality of Charlie Kaufman where you erase the borders between fiction and reality it just marvellous and it is one of the reasons that’s we decided to give Charlie Kaufman the first honorary driving in award this year and I am sure that most of the audience knows everything about you the films have been screened in theatres is Sweden but I just want to do a small refreshing of our memories with a short introduction.
So Charlie Kaufman started out with a script writer for television and now has written 6 screen plays for feature films and was nominated for an academy award for the screen plays being John Malkovich and also Adaptation and won an academy award for screen play for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds and in 2008 Charlie Kaufman made his dictorial debut (3:21) in New York and we nominated that film for our won Burke man International debute award and we invited Charlie Kaufman to come here but he couldn’t then but we are so pleased and happy that you could come this year.
So this even here is called a Master Class so we all have a little hope that we should walk away with some enhanced knowledge about how to write the screen play.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Come to the wrong place.
INTERVIEWER: We just saw the Alter ego the character is Charlie Kaufman of the film Adaptation talking about how he feels about screen writing and courses and so I am not sure how we are going to succeed but let’s try, so let’s start there how do you feel yourself to teach about teaching other people how to write a screen play.
CHARLIE HAUFMAN: Me teaching it.
INTERVIEWER: Or both you and other people.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I guess I agree with the character in the movie, it doesn’t appeal to me to have a kind of a formula for writing anything so I think some people like it and it is helpful for some people and I wouldn’t tell people not to do it if they want to do it but I am not interested in sort of going in with a frame work I think it inhibits the possibility for me.
INTERVIEWER: The funny thing about the film Adaptation is that Charlie starts out with in the beginning with all these firm statements about how not to write a screen play and how you should approach the process but he kind of adapt to his brother’s Donald’s enthusiasm for masters like McKay.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I am not sure he adapts to the enthusiasm as much as he is desperate to finish this project and he doesn’t know how to do it so to my mind the movie Adaptation the main character in that movie is the screen play itself and the evolution of the screen play from its initial intense to its ultimate kind of corruption and to me that’s kind of the tragedy of this creature that is this screen play that never was able to reach the fruition that Charlie had hope, he never was able to make a movie about flowers you.
So Donald represents I guess a corruption a corrupting influence I think but, I mean he is a nice enough guy you know probably much nicer than Charlie but I don’t think it matters really.
INTERVIEWER: It is interesting to talk about those not cliché for script writing formulas our Honorary President Roy Anderson he was here yesterday at the awards ceremony and last year he held the opening speech and talked a lot always about the responsibilities you have as a film maker like what things you put out there, what images you put out there. How do you feel about that?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think it is an enormous responsibility I mean I think that you have the responsibility to be truthful, if you are going to put something into the world that so many people are going to get stuck into their brain, you know which is what happens I don’t think you want to you know it’s like hypocritical sort of you know, first do no harm you know so I take that very seriously.
INTERVIEWER: For instance you have said that Hollywood romances have been very damaging to people’s real actual relationships.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Well to my actual relationship, I can only speak for myself but I figure maybe somebody else out there might have the same problem I mean it sort of sets up I think unreal expectations which I think you then project on to your partner and it sort of destroy the possibility of an actual conversation between people
INTERVIEWER: So how should you go about, what do you do to.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I am so very successful with this so let me give you my relationship advice, no when, I just sort of the idea I could watch one of these movies that you know that would make me feel less lonely in my misery is kind of the sort of the idea, you know like if you do something that is truthful you know I mean truthful in a subjective personal sense not any kind of you know larger sense that maybe somebody else in the world can hold on to it and not feel that they are complete freak for not living in this other you know romantic comedy world that’s all I can hope for.
INTERVIEWER: So still it seems that the other type of screen plays is very popular in the world and so you have any idea or do you want to talk about why do you think that is?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Well you know Republicans in the United States have a theory that the reason that they can get vote from people who they are not helping at all is because these people aspire to the American dream you know, so well I think it is sort of the same thing this hopeful thing that you are going to you know living your life to a sound track I guess so it is appealing.
But I think ultimately I don’t think it is appealing in this sort of very you know sort of short run kind of way but then but then you have to get back to the actual sort of business living your life and then you suddenly feel like you are really less than you know and I don’t think that’s ultimately helpful for people but you know I think you give people mindless stuff and kids like a lot of sugar that is not good for them but it is sweet.
INTERVIEWER: I heard you say in another interview that writing a screen play is all about experience and creativity and I thought we would start about creating your own creativity. You started as a writer for TV and that’s a group process if I understand it right.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: It is at least situation comedy writing in the US as a group I don’t know about the dramas I never did that I think it might be more individuals. Yes you sit in a room with a bunch of comedy writers and you pitch jokes and you know the first job I got I didn’t say a work for 6 weeks and every day I would go home and think that I was going to get fired that day.
I was so scared and so shy and so uninhibited and I mean it is a competition because you are vying for the affection of your boss who is your dad and you know really is in the situation and so it is really weird and kind of some of those writers rooms are scary and you know that older brother that you hate because your dad likes him more, you know but I was really nervous.
Because I came out of nowhere really I just got this having never done anything like this before and so they didn’t get fired I don’t why.
INTERVIEWER: Can you say any positive things about the group writing process than I mean more than two people.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Yes I think it works I mean in terms of their end results or in terms of my learning how to do it or.
INTERVIEWER: Yes both
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think if you got a room full of funny people you can really polish your script you know you can get a lot of jokes in there and get better jokes in there and for that type of writing I think it can be successful and helpful and I don’t think it can be very personal, I don’t think it is trying to be but I think that for me that is the limitation of it.
INTERVIEWER: What did you gain from being in the process that you can use in the writing now.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I gained the ability to talk in public because I had to and so I got better at that and less nervous about it and then I had some success in that situation and it gave me some confidence, i mean the first actual thing that I did professionally is that I got an offer to pitch and by the way the word pitch is something that I promised that I would never say and then I found myself saying it so.
But I got an opportunity to pitch I don’t know if you know who Yogi Bear is, that’s a cartoon Hannah Barber cartoon and they were doing this, Hannah Barber was doing a Yogi Bear summer camp and all the different Hannah Barbaric cartoons were going to summer camp together and I got an offer to pitch the idea for this thing and I was living in Minnesota at the time and so I had to do it over the phone and I was so nervous. I mean I spent like a week preparing this thing and it was really complex I mean it was way too complex for Yogi Bear it was really good, but you know I was trying to make it like this thing this amazing thing but you know I got on the phone and my wife had to leave I couldn’t talk in front of her and my voice was like this, and” Yogi says” and it was Yogi Bear you know I mean and so in that sense I really come a long way.
Because I wouldn’t be nervous about pitching a Yogi Bear thing anymore you know I really wouldn’t I would be okay I would be like fuck you man I am this Yogi Bear you would really have to pay me a lot of money to do this.
INTERVIEWER: In the beginning of your career you also wrote a lot together with another writer called Crouch and what is good about writing in a pair can you be more personal when you are only two persons.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: No that was I mean overtime we had lots of certain problems together but I mean I think what was good about writing with Paul there were so many things that was good about it and the thing that when I stopped doing it was very difficult for me, was that well there was two things one is that you bouncing yourself off someone who in this case I thought was funny so if I could make Paul laugh then I felt like okay I have succeeded you know but the other thing is like symphysis of personalities and you are kind of like you don’t know what the other person is going to say.
So you are bouncing stuff off against the unknown and I think that’s the good thing about the collaboration and when I stop working with Paul I became very paralyse because it was just me you know in a room and I thought you know everything I thought was very familiar because I was thinking it so it wasn’t like I couldn’t surprise myself in anyway.
So the thing I did and I did it being John Malkovich specifically as I decided that I was going to collaborated with myself and the way to do that I thought was to get myself off of the track that was very familiar that was going to go down and the story I did was to take two different stories and to force them into one script so that they would basically be like you know Paul and me you know.
Except they would be stories instead of people and so I had two ideas one was about a guy who falls in love with someone who he works with a married guy and the other one was about someone finding a portal in someone’s head and I tried to put them into the same thing and I found it was quite enjoyable for me to work that way and helpful.
So that’s collaborating with myself collaborating with Paul you know is kind of the same thing but less you know if I want to veer off and go in a certain direction and Paul just stares at me which he did a lot of towards the end you know it doesn’t happen so this way I can do that by myself and ultimately I think, It maybe not as much fun its more mine you know.
INTERVIEWER: Okay so we are going to actually watch a tape now from Being John Malkovich so we are sitting her, no we are leaving.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: We are leaving?
INTERVIEWER: No, no we walk up stairs and then we show the clip.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: So then I am going back to my hotel now.
INTERVIEWER: No, yes Being John Malkovich it was your first screen play by yourself your first debut in film so let’s talk about creativity which was the other important thing in writing I mean your scripts often include very unrealistic and so real things like walking into somebody else’s head for instance and first of all what do you do to produce the ideas and second of all how do you make them work it is a very wide questions but.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You know I don’t know where I come up with ideas except I can say you know specifically in that case they have to deal with you know thinking about wanting to be someone other than myself and that sort of emotional issue and then I thought this was funny, you know it sort of was like it was funny to me the idea that you would find your way into John Malkovich’s head so you know I mean I trusted that it was funny because I thought it was funny and also because it seems so wrong. Maybe that’s why I thought it was funny too it just seems so obituary it struck me as funny.
INTERVIEWER: And you know if I could write it would end up being very silly and ridiculous I mean ideas like that how do you I mean you can say something about how you do to not make it silly and ridiculous.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Because for me there has got to be a real and kind of emotional basis for what’s going on with the characters if there isn’t anything then it is just silly or it is just weird and it just feel like it’s just frivolous to me you know it has to be about something and the other thing is that within that reality the characters are very serious about it.
They are going through this you know so it is fun for me to think if you this person found a portal into John Malkovich head what would he try to do with it, and then you think he is trying to impress this woman at work and so he is going to tell her about it and then this particular woman at work what would she want to do with it you know and why would he go along with it because he is trying to get her to be engaged with him in some way you know and then what would happen if his wife found out about it.
I mean it was sort of like and you try to keep those at very real emotional places and I think you know I felt that way and like Jones felt that way and so the actors were directed that way and then it gets grounded that way somehow I think.
INTERVIEWER: I am going to ask about when you wrote Adaptation that was also a very unusual approach to make adaptation this is also an original and not a very usual idea and Adaptation was a big risk for you and you said that you liked taking risk in your work.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think it is kind of a job description for me I think that is what I have to do, I don’t think I am doing my job if I don’t do that but still it is scary it was especially scary at that point because I was you know we were still shooting Malkovich when I was working on that script so I didn’t have any real reputation at all to fall back on and I thought this is it, this is the end and I didn’t want to tell them in the studio to find out if it was okay because I was afraid they were going to say no and I didn’t have any other ideas, so I thought okay this is it you know but at the same time I mean I had a certain kind of like playfulness about it like you know I actually turned the script in you know you said it was co-written by a fictitious person.
I turned the script in to my producers with my brother’s name on it as well as mine and it turns out I found out later that he was really angry because you know they hired me and it was like we didn’t hire this other person to do this with him and so you know it worked out.
INTERVIEWER: It did but I was wondering do you have any advice if we want to be more risky ourselves to take more risk what can you do because I for instance I am very I don’t want to take risk to I need to, you don’t want to but you need to, how do you challenge yourself.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think if you are not, if what you doing do not have the possibility of failing then by definition you are not doing anything new, that’s really sort of the way it is if you know how to do what it is that you are doing and or you see it done before then you are not doing anything, so the only way you can do anything new or interesting is to open yourself up to that risk of failing.
In that sense I try to look at failure and success both as natural things it’s hard and I am not always successful at accepting failure but I feel like I need to keep reminding myself of that that this is the only way that it will worth anything at all maybe it won’t be but it definitely won’t be if I don’t do that.
INTERVIEWER: What I find in your films is the surreal life science fiction elements they are all usually visualized in a very low key way like this tunnel which is low its very like a tunnel from a theatre stage or something, can you tell us a bit is that you and the director together that decide that or is that in the script.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Well I would say there is two things I think the low text sort of thing is sort of feels instinctively is what makes it funny you know it feels like that’s what makes it funnier I think in terms of this specific way this tunnel looks I describe it in the script as vaginal and I think that Spike made it anal and it’s not what I wanted but you know it’s all water under the bridge now.
INTERVIEWER: And another thing that I find in your films is that they often about people who take themselves very seriously. Craig he takes himself very seriously and John Malkovich actually turns into Craig with the same hair cut and everything once he has taken his residency, what’s so funny about people taking themselves seriously.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I don’t know I think that they I don’t know if that’s just funny or if that’s true you know that people take themselves seriously their struggles are very serious to them, I mean the thing that is sort of interesting is that by agreeing to that John Malkovich was showing that he wasn’t taking himself seriously but the character certainly was you know.
I don’t know life is hard and everyone got a struggle I think and so I guess maybe that’s sort of the way I am and maybe I am not a carefree person maybe so I don’t write carefree people because of that I don’t know which I were.
INTERVIEWER: We had a press conference earlier where we talked a little bit about your inspiration and influences, you read a lot, I read that you read a lot and I mean can you tell us a little bit about writers you like and if you can bring something into your work.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I like a lot of different people and I like a lot of different people different times for different reasons I guess the people that I feel my stuff is most directly influence by people like I guess Kaufga and Becket and Enisko and Parendello was six characters in search of a author was something that I read in high school that but I didn’t really like the play very much.
I thought it was really dull but I like the idea of it a lot, anything that sorts of steps out of what I am going to expect inform or content or literally steps out of itself was really fascinating to me so I think a lot about that you know which I gets labelled meda (30:15) which is not a label I would ever describe to anything including things I do but it sort of I guess that’s what people call it I don’t know I really hate that kind of stuff.
INTERVIEWER: I think it is time for the last clip, it is from Synecdoche New York and I am just going to say it is a bit, I am just going to say the film is about this man Kayden Petard and his play by Samar Huffman and Kayden is a theatre director and he got this large cash award which made it possible for him to be the life size model of New York inside this warehouse and kind of.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: It is a full size replica of New York inside a warehouse in New York doesn’t really make any sense.
INTERVIEWER: And so he is staging his own life and it just goes on and on and he puts in a replica of the real people and then they become important in his own life and put in more replicas.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Well there is within the replica of New York in the warehouse there is a replica of the warehouse and with that warehouse there is another full size replica of New York and the warehouse and.
INTERVIEWER: And in the clip where in this warehouse or one of them and we are going to see Kayden and his real wife Claire played by Michelle Williams playing against a man playing Kayden basically.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I was watching that wondering what that would look like if you hadn’t seen the movie I made the movie and I didn’t even understand what was going on there.
INTERVIEWER: You said also in the press conference earlier that you decide the title for the script the last thing you do is save it for.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Yes I mean sometimes I come up with a bunch of titles as I am working and then at the end I look at those and come up with others and lets come up with it at the end and ask a couple people.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us a little bit about this title Synecdoche in New York and how come you finally chose that one.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think ultimately I chose it because it sounded mysterious to me but there is a city in upstate New York called Synecdoche and I always thought that the word Synecdoche sounded like synecdoche so well I thought well the story at the beginning takes place in synecdoche New York so I thought, but if synecdoche I don’t know if it translate into Swedish or if there is equivalent word but, is there.
INTERVIEWER: They are almost the same.
CHARLIE: Oh it is, okay.
INTERVIEWER: Please explain it a little bit.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: It is kind of a turner phase when you take, it can go different ways but when you take when you use the part of something to describe the whole of it giving examples in English because I don’t know any examples in Swedish but you know like if you call your car your wheels that’s a synecdoche but also if you take the whole of something to describe a piece of something like if you talking about a cop and you call him the law.
He is part of the law he s part of the law enforcement but he is not the law those are synecdoche’s and so I mean there is a bunch of different reasons that it seemed appropriate to me but I make it a point to sort of never describe my reason for anything because I think that’s sort of like this is the movie and you know you can find what you find in it and my telling you doesn’t allow for that for it to become yours your own experience.
INTERVIEWER: I made a reflection on this film Synecdoche in New York I don’t know if its relevant but it could be about the impossibility to tell a story because every time you try like for Kayden life is so lost and complicated and he tries desperately to write a play about it but it is impossible it just goes out of his hands and because reality is very complicated and to live without structure, how do you relate to the fact the possibility or the impossibility to tell the story.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I always come up against it when I am working I mean it’s always I guess one of the reasons that my stuff is very self conscious is because I am always trying to sort of being inclusive of that consciousness that’s makes any sense, so yes I am not interested in stories I guess because I think stories are things that are kind of polish and seemed from a distance and I want to try to do stuff that it seemed is immersed where I am immersed in it when I am working on it and that the audience will experience that immersion or that chaos and confusion of actual existence as opposed to a story with the beginning and the middle and the end you know and a kind of a distance and a respective and a lifeless and all this stuff that doesn’t seem part of the actual moment to moment life that I have.
Does that make any sense?
INTERVIEWER: Yes it does and with this film you moved into direction yourself it was the first time, how did you like learn the craft of directing was it with your collaboration with the Spike Jones or Mitchell Godrey or did you have any other way.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I had gone to film school and studied film production you know many years ago and I think I learnt a lot and I got a lot of confidence being involved in the other movies and seeing how they are done and I think you know I learnt a lot making the movie which is probably I guess the best way to do it.
Again it was kind of like okay this is a risk but I am going to sort of not worry about the possibility of failure I am just going to jump in and do it and I think there are certain parts of my life and more brazen than others and I think that maybe move brave than I am in actual life that was no question.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything that surprised you about directing that was harder than you thought it would be.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: No, it was exactly what I expected it was hard but there was grind and in a way it was sort of easier than righting because for me anyway because there was a schedule and you have to stick to it and you get it or you don’t get it and you move on you know and where as I write if I don’t get something I can spend six months staring at the page and I can’t do that when I am making a movie and so in that sense there is kind of like a rigid schedule which is very helpful to me.
INTERVIEWER: And you, I read that you were an actor yourself earlier in life.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: When I was a kid.
INTERVIEWER: Could you draw something from that experience while directing.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I hope so I mean I like working with actors and I feel like I have some sort of background in thinking about things the way they do or at least the way I did when I was doing so yes that is a way for me to sort of keep in touch with that I was interested in so long ago but without having trying to be an actor that I couldn’t do anymore.
INTERVIEWER: Is it how do you direct actors do you have a formula or like a trick or is it vary to individuals.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think that the two things I learned or I felt that I learned going in was I can’t direct like anybody but me you know like I can take lessons from Spike about how to direct because basically I have to be myself and then I think I am kind of like a manager and I have to like you are managing a group you have to talk to them individually based on what you perceive helpful for them to do their job and all of the actors are really different so I felt like I had to be sensitive to what they wanted from me and what would be help them and the other thing that I think that I felt was that I had to be a grow up.
I think that I can be shy and moody and timid and all of those things and I felt that I wasn’t allowed to be any of that when I was directing, I had to be available, I had to be helpful you know I had to be if the actors had to have some sort of emotional situation I had to be stable, which was really good practice for me because as I said it is not the way I normally am.
INTERVIEWER: And when you are director you are responsible for the whole and that’s different from when you are script writer when you are the director you are like the visuality of the film and you are much more in charge it is your responsibility do you have like any visual ideas that you hold high when it comes to that.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Do I have any?
INTERVIEWER: About cinematography and the visuality of the film.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You know I think that I have opinions you know about visual things about aesthetics and I have a lot of interest in painting and composition and stuff like that and I think that, you know I am a novice and when it sort of comes to the technical stuff and in terms of cinematography I feel like I felt like in this movie because it was so hard to shoot because we had so many things to do and in such a short amount of time that I needed to do a kind of bread and butter and because of my limitations and lack of experience.
I had to do a sort of bread and butter and make sure that everything I needed was covered and that was frustrating for me but I feel like you know hopefully if I ever get to do this again I will be able to spend more time on the visual, I spend a lot of time in preproduction talking with the DP but also with the set design and sort of the special effect stuff that we did I feel kind of pleased with.
But I think all you really have is your opinions that is sort of what your value is you know as a director you hope that you have a good opinions, like people show you stuff and you like the good stuff and or you have a good sense of tone and that sort of thing.
INTERVIEWER: Before it is time for the audience questions I just wondered if you could tell us briefly what you are working on now.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I have written a script which I am trying to get financing for been a struggle, it’s a musical kind off but it’s not a conventional musical it doesn’t have like show stopping musical numbers it doesn’t have a lot of signing in it, it has more within the story and it has more to do with a kind of expressing the interior thoughts of the characters.
It is almost like monologs and there is lots of them there is like 50 songs in this thing.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have a composer for that?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Well I mean if the move gets made you know then I will have a composer, Carter Birdwell he is going to do it if the movie gets made I don’t know if you know who he is he did the score for Adaptation and Being John Malkovich he does all the Coen Brothers movies. I did a couple of plays with him a few years ago as well but I wrote and directed it and he scored so we have a good relationship.
So I am doing that and then I am going to write something that Spike Jones is going to direct we are also trying to develop money for that, there is a lot of trying to get money in my life and then I then I am going to try and do a TV series which you know somewhere down the road I am going to write a pilot and I guess if it gets picked up it will go to series but that’s always a big if and that’s it oh, and then I got a play.
INTERVIEWER: It is a lot.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Yes and then there is an amusement park ride which I am going to do.
INTERVIEWER: Okay so let’s open for question from the audience we have two micro phones, three microphones on the sides and you just raise your hands, we have immediately two questions over here from the front it is a little bit hard to see I think we need to light up if possible a little bit so we can see the audience, alright so there is one over there, okay.
Q: There is a scene in Adaptation where the character Charlie is on the set of Being John Malkovich and I wonder was it really like that for you on the real set?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I don’t know who is asking the question I can’t see, oh yes it felt like that to me but I don’t think it really was. I mean I was really nervous and shy around actors and at that point and you know I think a lot of, there is this feeling on the set that everybody has a job and everyone is running around doing something and as the writer I am just kind of standing there in the way and so you know I don’t think anyone really hated me but I didn’t feel loved but that’s a bigger issue.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you do we have another question, over there.
Q: Hi, I am Emma I have been wondering have you ever considered writing a historical script or directing a historical movie and your views about those kinds of films.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You mean my views about period movies, I think that I have been interested and I think that I needed to understand what the reason to do it was you know before I could do it and I am actually going to do one, so but it is going to be in a different way.
The thing that Spike and I are going to do together is historical in nature but oddly so, but I don’t know if that answers what my views are I don’t really have any view other than I don’t like it when it feels like everyone is dressed in a costume and everyone looks very clean, you know I feel like there is a kind of a feddishtic quality to that it doesn’t feel like its living in the time so hopefully we won’t have that quality.
INTERVIEWER: Okay there is another question there okay we have some people in the front.
Q: Hi I was just wondering as a writer do you have issues or trouble keeping to one idea and if so do you have any way of solving it.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Yes my kind of way of solving it is that I just add more ideas, I mean I am not even kidding really I just sort of like the idea of density and sort of opening things up I don’t, when I am writing I don’t have an outline generally where I am saying okay I have to get from this point to this point I find that kind of constricting and so I like the thing to come develop the way it develops , so if I have a new idea that excites me I will include it if I can.
INTERVIEWER: Okay over here somewhere, okay.
Q: Do you have other tips to encourage other people to risk like actors more than being sensitive.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think that mean to me the idea that it was very helpful to me to analyse the term success in failure to really look at them and decide try to understand why failure is such a bad word and then try to remove the connotation from the word failure, because you know if you are not afraid to fail and being an actor I am not sure what that would even mean to look foolish or to make a bad choice then you will take risk. If you are afraid then you will play it safe.
Q: Then can you be afraid of like sending that message that you feel like there is a failure like if there is failure and the whole process can you be afraid of sending that message.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Sending that to whom?
To the actor for instance if everything is going in the wrong direction, can you be afraid of.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You mean as a director can I be afraid?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Just so I understand the actor is failing and the director is sending the message or the director is failing and directing the actor I am not really clear on what you are.
Q: If you were encouraging them to take risks.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: If I were as a director and encourage the actor to take risk.
Q: And allowed them to take risk.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Yes I think you got to you know create an environment where someone doesn’t feel that they are going to mocked and laughed at or embarrassed by it you know, you got to make people feel safe and appreciate it that’s what I would think. I mean that’s the best thing that you can do for anybody you are working with to get good work out of them.
INTERVIEWER: Okay is this one.
Q: I am just wondering, it is a question about faith I guess, once you hand in the script to the producers how much re writing takes place afterward, I mean your scripts are quite whacky and complex and I am guessing they are pretty hard to read for someone who isn’t a writer themselves so how often do you have to write extensively afterwards.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think the rewriting I have done has mostly been with the directors not with the executives or production companies and I have these a relationships with you know Spike Jones and Michelle Andre who have done most of my movies with so the rewriting feels very organic to me, you know with Spike what we do is sit together and read through the script and he will ask me if he doesn’t understand something he will ask me what it means you know why does this guy say this basically and it will put me in a position to having me explain it and either I explain it or I can’t and we can change it if I can’t you know and so then I feel fine in changing because at that point we talked it out but I haven’t had much experience with such obituary changes for the sake of making things more audience friendly and things like that and so i feel fortunate in that regard.
Q: How do you see people that are trying probably desperately trying to analyse your scripts or films trying to see how do you do in the kitchen of script writing, it might be probably wrong but somehow it maybe as well funny that your works are living life after making them.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You have to do that again I am not following.
INTERVIEWER: What’s the question?
Q: How do you see people who are desperately trying to your work.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: How do I see them and what do I think of them. I don’t know I put things out there so that people can think about them and talk about them and I mean that’s ideal for me if people want to analyse things and talk about them that’s exciting for me if people you know don’t want to talk about them that’s when I or they are trying to judge me is what you are saying.
A: No, No just to seeing and understanding what you doing.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I like it you know I like reading that stuff and I like it especially if it is nice I am not wild about it if it is not you know I have gotten kind of use to it but I think it is great for me.
INTERVIEWER: Okay where is the next over there.
Q: Yes hello I was going to ask you more about the writing process, what do you actually do with your inner critic and secondly.
INTERVIEWER: Could you please stand up, thanks.
Q: What do you do with your inner critic and secondly your leftover garbage pieces do you shelve them do you put them in a draw to come back and look at them later how do you deal with that whole aspect of just the writing process.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I just first can’t get over your accent, where are you from?
A: I am from Seattle.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Okay so now I absolutely wasn’t listening to what you said, what do I do with my garbage?
Q: The first one your personal inner critic how do you deal with overcoming that in your actual writing process.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Oh you know it’s a really hard and it is a terrible thing and I really need to train myself to let myself write the stuff that isn’t going to work out because if I am editing and being a critic while I am writing I just sit there which I do a lot of. You know but I try to force myself once I get into sort of a little bit of a rhythm it is easier to but I just stop it and let it happen and then you know often if I write something a week later or even a couple of days later I will look at it and it will be much more clearer to me what works and what doesn’t.
You know line for line I will be able to edit and pull stuff out, and then what do I do with the garbage, usually you know for a while I use to have these ideas that I have to remove from the script and think that I will use them somewhere else but it doesn’t really ever work for me that I can sort of, well on a couple of occasions really but where I can extricate something but organically fed it into something later.
It always feels really clunky to me so I tend not to if pages and page of notes and crap that you know that I would never looked at again.
INTERVIEWER: Okay where is the next one over there.
Q: Have been like disappointed with the, or when others have directed your works have you felt like they haven’t done it properly so then you have to direct yourself.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: No I think for the most part I have been pretty fortunate and also because I like the directors and I am involved in the process of making those movies beyond writing them so I have some say in what the movies are going to be like, but there is ultimately kind of feeling like sometimes there isn’t an emphasis that I would like to see that isn’t there or something that I am attached to that doesn’t end up in the movie and you know I want, I like the idea of creating and being more in charge of creating the whole thing.
Taking it from the beginning to end so I will work with those guys again if they want to and but I also like to continue to direct my scripts.
Q: Hi, why John Malkovich?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Well because it was funny to me that’s really the only reason it was funny, I mean I can tell you why it was funny but I don’t know that it matters really, it was funny to me and then when I wrote the script I wants planning on this movie ever getting made and I could make it however I wanted and once Spike came on and it looked like we could get the movie made and we didn’t have John Malkovich yet agreeing to do it we had to think of other people and other possibilities.
My instinct was confirmed because we couldn’t come up with anybody who worked as well as John Malkovich.
Q: Was John Malkovich your first choice.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Yes, yes John Malkovich was the only choice.
Q: Hello my name is Jonas (name 59:48)Philberg play writer in (town) first I want to thank you for your lovely crazy work I am presenting this idea to a few television producers and they always come back at me with aspects of John or the formats and I know what formats they like so maybe if I were a very well known writer they would let me get away with something more different from what they usually do but now I am not so, I don’t get away with it.
This is the material I want to produce I am not telling them honestly what it is so they reject it because it doesn’t fit and I don’t know would you please comment and give me some advice, give me the magic word there.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think the advice would be for you to form fit your work so that it is in the proper format and jonrow, no I am just kidding. I mean it is harder if you are trying to do your own thing and you are not you know they don’t see it the president for it, it is harder to get you know get it.
I worked, it took me over 11 years from the time I left college to get my first job in writing you know it just wouldn’t happen, I think tenacity is really the only thing you know and then what happens with tenacity is that the more times, the more people that see your stuff the more times that you know you get to talk to people that the greater the chances that you would hook up with somebody that gets it and wants to do it.
So perseverance and believing that you can do this thing that you want to do I think it is important and if you believe in your stuff then you should continue to do it you know and should continue to push for it.
Q: I was wondering with the exception of John Malkovich would you write the screen plays with any specific actors in mind, seems like Jim Carey wasn’t the obvious choice for that role.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: No and I mean you know I wasn’t the director in most of the movies that I was involved with so, although I was you know talked about casting and stuff I didn’t I mean I wasn’t the person in charge of casting the movie but when I write I don’t think of actors. I intentionally don’t think of actors because I feel like if I were to think of Jim Carey then for example for that role in Eternal Sunshine then I would write Jim Carey which isn’t really the character Jim Carey.
So the ideal situation is that for me I write a character that I feel like is realised in some way that expresses some traits that I think are important and then the actor comes and embodies it and brings Jim Carey to it rather than bringing it to Jim Carey, you know so the answer is no I don’t hate actors.
Q: My name is Yohan and I wonder without the story without the script there is no film, so why is the directors name constantly written in such very large letters and the script writers name written i such very small letters maybe excepting in your case.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: And what was the last thing?
Maybe excepting in your case.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You know there is the authority think that kind of confuse everybody for a long time but I do think that writing especially in Hollywood and you know the country that I live in is not important and you know it is proven again and again. I mean the people who market movies and make movies don’t need writers you know the worst movies with the worst problematic scripts becomes the most successful movies and so when you see that then writers aren’t important.
But you know directors have names and they have visual styles then you can sort of sell a movie with them because they got this sort of celebrity sometimes quality to them. I would say it is very different in theatre it is the opposite in theatre you know at least in the United States I don’t know how it is here.
It is the play write who is the famous name and it is the play write who owns the material and has copy write and you can’t change anything without the play write. It is not the same with actors in Hollywood.
Q: Hello I just wondered whether you think the different factors in the movie turn Sunshie (inaudible 1:5:23)other ones I mean which factor do you think is the factor that gained you the academy award when you consider the other ones I mean how do you compare how do you perceive the movie in comparison to the other ones.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I don’t know the third time is a charm I don’t know I mean certainly the most commercial the most successful of my movies and that is incredibly successful commercially but it was more so than Malkovich and Adaptation, I don’t know I mean those awards are so stupid you know and I don’t think that there is any rhyme or reason and most why to why people get them other than they are big expensive campaigns you know that are mounted to try to get people awards and movie awards and I don’t know, sorry.
INTERVIEWER: There is one up there.
Q: Hi, a friend of mine I don’t know if you read it but it says that Inception was like a James Bond film written by Charlie Kaufman do you agree and would you consider writing a Blockbuster of the sort.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You know I didn’t, I have to be very careful here, so no I hadn’t heard that, I don’t know, you know the weird thing is that you cannot say anything anymore anywhere without it appearing on line so I am not going to say anything anywhere anymore.
Q: There are a lot of different reasons to make a movie may be somebody wants to achieve an award or they want to send a message to the audience or its on a selfish level, why are you making movies.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I think it’s you know I think it is something I always wanted to do when I was a kid I always wanted to be involved in this kind of thing and it always excited me and I always like the idea of make belief worlds and you know making up stories and then I don’t know then it’s like I am trying, I don’t know it’s really my job partially now.
You know I am trying like pay a mortgage and I like this particular type of work and I guess it defines me at least it helps me feel defined I feel like maybe I have something to prove. It’s terrible reasons I mean I don’t know why I do it I don’t know what else I would do, that sounds bad, right. I mean I kind of like it sometimes but sometimes it is really hard for me and it’s a struggle and I get depressed so but I probably get depress being a homer side detective which I said this morning that was the other job I wanted so.
INTERVIEWER: Actually time is running away not as fast for us as for Kayden Cutard which 17 years but it has been 1 hour and a half and even though I know that there are a lot more questions Charlie Kaufman has an introduction of Synecdoche in New York.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Yes but I do want one more question because there is absolutely no way I am going to end on that question that’s just like…
INTERVIEWER: That’s a bad dramaturge.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Make it something nice.
INTERVIEWER: There is one question over there, there is one.
Q: I am going to ask something nice, I am sorry if your pushing but being an American I guess I am pushy. I have been here for about a month and I have worked in film for a lot of years and I admire you enormously and what I was wondering was and the nice thing I wanted to say was the amazing amount of talent that I found here I mean I am just blown away by some of students, I have been working with students and I was wondering if you have gotten a sense of.
Is it a coincidence that you are here or have you gotten a sense of some of the people and the city.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Well that is going to be exactly the same answer as the last one so, it is a coincidence, no I don’t know I wanted come here but I have been here for under 24 hours now some of it has been trying to sleep everybody seem to be good, you know that didn’t help okay we don’t have tie for anymore so.
INTERVIEWER: Okay thank you for listening.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN: Thank you very much,
INTERVIEWER: This is a we want to give you this is an enormous book about Igma Bergman the funny thing is that it is (1:11:45) is called… which mean P.. … in German but it’s like the copy book so I hope you have room in your luggage, thank you for coming.