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Charlie KaufmanBluntly Speaking (I Think Therefore I Am. But, Then Again, How Do I Really Know? No. Really. Is Reality Even Real? What if We are Just Animated Thoughts in Someone's Mindgame? Ever Think of That?) | Charlie Kaufman
an emily blunt interview



Bluntly speaking? When a Charlie Kaufman script is in the works people get flustered - illegal copies make their way into the public eye, A-list celebrities start to finagle meetings, and the movie-going public walks with a jovial spring in their step - most of us that is. The hubaloo is founded. Kaufman continually brings all of us, unique fantastical cerebral journeys that require full left-brain functioning; Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Adaptation and Human Nature. Think 'Flight of the Bumble Bee' in script form...

How hot is this guy? Well, Jim Carrey who stars in Charlie's latest piece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, said of an announced completed Kaufman script coming into one's hands, "It's like Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets."

The man's a scripting genius; twirling subplots, creations of these wildly quirky lovable realistic-ish characters and introductions to worlds that wonderfully stretch reality to the corners of our mind's abilities. And of course the work is extra shiny thanks to incredibly creative talents that ultimately bring his Willy Wonka meets Freud stories to film by creating matching tangible quantum innerspheres.

Yes indeedy, his writing work is hurly burly, but plenty good. In fact you could string along all the multiple syllable synonyms for smart, well done and so forth, but most importantly the scripts are just plain old fun and entertaining to watch. They are different things to different people. Dark and hilarious to some, deep and riddled with underlying messages to others.

Charlie's a rare talent and lucky for us Hollywood knows it.

Here's our recent chat:

EMILY: What excites you in writing for film?

CHARLIE: What excites me is different for me at different times. Something that deals with human struggle. Relationships between people I like unusual conceits I guess. It's a collaborative medium. There's fifty people that bring enormous amounts to the finished movie.

EMILY: [The great one's are always humble huh?] Should people analyze your movies like they do?

CHARLIE: I don't want to tell people what they should do. I try to put enough in there that there's things to think about. I try to write something that's complicated. That has different levels within it - I think people can do what they want to do once they watch the movie. I intend it to be what it is. I write for myself. What I understand.

EMILY: How do you write? One character's point of view, then chop it up?

CHARLIE: No. I don't I figure out characters, then I figure out a story, then I try to figure out dynamics between people and that takes most of my time. And in this case there was a lot of technical structure and logic issues that had to be worked out in my mind. Then I tart to write scenes between people- then I discover something in the scene" Oh, this happened so, then that changes the story a little bit, or that changes the character a little bit and I make the little adjustments - so it's sort of like that kind of process; a back and forth process.

EMILY: Folks go crazy when they hear you're working on a new script. In fact they tend to "leak" out before they're completed. How do you feel about that?

CHARLIE: Well I think it's unethical. I mean first of all it gets out before should because somebody is stealing it out of the studio or out of an agency and is making copies and posting on line, so it's probably illegal, but more importantly it's a careless things to do. I still have to work on it - it's not a finished script. And when people start writing reviews I'm working on privately! To me it's exactly the same as going into my computer and taking something I'm working on and writing a review of it. I have to turn it in! You know that…I think it's a crappy thing to do, but I live with it.

EMILY: Do you have any ambitions to direct?

CHARLIE: Yeah I think I want to direct.

EMILY: Would you be more influenced by Spike Jonz or Michel Gondry or…?

CHARLIE: As in my writing I don't want to be influenced by anyone. Obviously everyone I know- influences me but I have no interest in modeling what I do after another's work. I learned a lot from Spike, I learned a lot from Michel; hopefully it will come in handy.

EMILY: I love Carrey as subtle Joel in Eternal. As the writer, being so close to the character, were you at all nervous about having an actor who's considered a broad comedian firstly in the role?

CHARLIE: I assumed going in Jim Carrey wanted to do this movie because he was interested in playing that character. He wasn't doing it for the money- that's a really important point. Because there is no money for him. And it's true in any movie I've done when a big star is involved. They're taking an enormous pay cut to do it, and think they like the project. I'm optimistic that they're going to be a team player- and he was.

EMILY: How much did you continue to be involved in the production?

CHARLIE: I was very involved in post-production. In the editing and sound design and in this case with the composer [Jon Brion]. I am not as involved in production. Not that much for my to do on the set. I see the dailies everyday and I talk to Michel [Gondry] and I talk to producers go to the set when there's a potential problem- if there's a scene and maybe we don't know that it's going to work I want to be there for any rewrites. Even if I'm there, I'm not directing it. He's busy dealing with the actors. I mean I can take him aside and talk to him. But I saw the dailies, I saw what they were doing- we had endless conversations about what he was going to do, what he wanted to do, and I felt we were on the same page with that. I guess it's a combination of trust and seeing what the results are.

EMILY: How did you feel about the way Confessions of a Dangerous Mind turned out?

CHARLIE: I'm not happy with that movie. I wasn't involved in the making of it the director wasn't interested in tings that I was interested in when I was writing the script. I think he had a different plan. I don't really want to have this conversation - I guess so but um, I wasn't involved in it.

EMILY: How come sometimes you're in control and other times you have to sit back like other Hollywood writers and say, "I sold the script - it's theirs now?"

CHARLIE: I didn't really sell it to them [in the case of CoDM]. I wrote a script that was an assignment. He came in and decided become the director. It wasn't written for Clooney. It was a complete ten years, maybe ten years down the road- with a bunch of different directors attached at different times. Different stars- it was kind of like "the movie that couldn't get made," And I don'? have any contractual control with Michel And Spike.

EMILY: They respect you and ask you to be involved?

CHARLIE: They respect me and I think, they're sensible- you know? I'm the person who wrote it, and they like the script they wanna know what the person that wrote it thinks. I think it's a smart think for the director to want the writer around.

EMILY: What do you think is the most successful fulfillment of one of your films?

CHARLIE: I have to say, and it's because I have been truly involved with the other four movies, they're all equally successful. Because they're my movies. I don't care if they fail at the box-office or even critically- they're movies I was involved in and something I was an equal collaborator with everyone else.

EMILY: You have anything still in the works- undone?

CHARLIE: I have one script one script that was not produced. It's an adaptation of a Philip k. Dick novel and apparently some one is doing their own version of that so it'll never be produced.

EMILY: How clearly do you illustrate you visions on the written page for the director?

CHARLIE: The pitch was really easy! It was an amazingly easy sell. There was a bidding war over this material. Which I completely did, not expect. But then the script was really hard to write. It was surprising. The pitch seemed so fluid then it's like, "Okay, now I gotta do it." And I couldn't figure it out for the life of me. But in terms of the language I just try to explain things as simply as I can so it's an enjoyable reading experience for the person reading it which I think a lot of screen writers aren't really interested in.

EMILY: So what advice do you give to aspiring writers?

CHARLIE: I don't really have any advise. I think the only practical advice I've ever given anybody is they need an agent. Which is something that I didn't know for ten years and it made a big difference in my professional life. In terms of what to tell a screenwriter it depends on what the screenwriter wants to do. If they want to write a big action movie - my advice is going to be useless. Seriously. My advise to myself is I try to look at what I'm doing and see if it seems true to me. If it seems true I continue, and if not I try to throw it out and see what is true at that moment. In the script- and I continue like that.

EMILY: Is there anything you use for writer's block?

CHARLIE: There's a vitamin [laughter] no! I tell you what- you can only use this once- writer's block I always sort of think you should write where you are. You know? What your focus is? What our anxiety is at the moment and try and focus that into your work - that was the issue with Adaptation. Because I wrote what I was struggling with I wrote it into the script. But like I said, you can only use that once. I can't use that again. But that's a good thing to do when you're blocked. To sort of sit back and think about your life at that point what's really important to you- and if it's really important to you then write something interesting about it. I'm not very disciplined though.

EMILY: So, if we've seen Adaptation do we know everything about you?

CHARLIE: No. If you've seen Adaptation you know nothing about me. No. You know a couple things about me. [Sly smile]


We know what we need to know: The man can write film. Admittedly I liked Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. I do wonder, now, however, what would he have done if he were involved? We'll never know and he calls the film a "heartache" so I wasn't going to press the matter…The upside is we've got a Michel Gondry directed, hands-on film from Charlie in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and it's impeccable.

The Emilyism©



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