a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Charlie Kaufman

So I finally read Charlie Kaufman's next screenplay, "Synecdoche, NY", which he is also directing; it is starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I'm not one to splash plot details or spoilers on my blog of something that isn't out yet, so all I'll say about the story is that it's about a theater director who falls ill, and then odd things happen.

I'll also say that:

IT'S LONG. 152 pages. Kids, don't try this at home.

IT'S VERY STRANGE, AND NOT MUCH FUN. This is much more David Lynch than Spike Jonze; it's unpredictable, but it's also a bit glum in its weirdness.

KAUFMAN WRITES VERY GOOD DIALOGUE. As someone who reads (and writes) a lot of dialogue that tends to the mediocre, it's nice to read back-and-forth dialogue that has some real shape and snap.

THERE ARE SOME INTERESTING WOMEN'S ROLES. And he has cast the hell out of them -- Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Tilda Swinton, Samantha Morton, in some combination of actress-to-part.

IT'S NOT VERY MAINSTREAM. It's hard to see this finding much of an audience; it has a definite art-house vibe to it. It might rival "Human Nature" for the lowest-grossing thing he has ever written. Unless he nails it, and it catches on, then.... who knows?

But there's enough here that is so intriguing that I'll go to see it when it comes out, just to see if he can pull it off.

Enough said.


At 11:42 AM, Blogger Lucy said...

As an ex-teacher, synechdoches piss me off, so I'll hold that against him for a start. And not much fun either?? Damn.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Allen said...

had to look up th word...still not sure I get.


At 8:28 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Sounds like a bomb to me. Adaptation probably made too much money, which seems like that would piss off a guy like Kaufman.

At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Matt said...

With all due respect, why are we rating movies based on how much money they will make? Keep in mind, Wild Hogs is a smash hit. Half Nelson barely made a dime. If it's a discussion of box office, then I get it. But the discussion was more about the quality of the writing. Great writing often equals poor box office. Don't understand what you mean by "Adaptation probably made too much money". It made what it made. It was a terrific movie. In a perfect world, it would have been a blockbuster.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

I read it sometime in December. I posted about it, but took the post down after a couple of days because I was uncomfortable that I brought up Heaven's Gate in the same post. But uh yeah, he risks a bomb here. (Or a strange masterpiece, akin to Lynch's Mulholland Drive, one of my favorite films.) I too liked the dialogue, and I really liked the ending - ie where it went. Also, I suspect that what everyone read wasn't the final draft, right? Things change. I loved the assistant who lives in the burning house - very David Foster Wallace.

But overall, a head scratcher. I think I prefer his earlier, funnier films.

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Stephen Glauser said...

Those of you that have read it: where did you find it? I'm guessing it wasn't online and that you guys got a copy of it legitimately. However, if it is online can you post up a link?

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

It wasn't online, and I didn't get a copy legitimately, unless legitimately is "some guy sending it to me".

I'm not saying that it will make the movie good or bad if it doesn't make any money at the box office. I'm just saying that it's just not the kind of movie that's liable to make money at the box office whether it is good or bad.

At 2:15 AM, Blogger wcmartell said...

You realize that his highest grossing film so fr was SPOTLESS MIND with, like, $34 million... and ADAPTATION was around $22 million. Even his "hits" are flops.

The reason why we look at money is because it indicates *audience* - the people we are telling our stories *to*. If no one cares to listen to us, we are just rambling to outselves... and that's what crazy people do.

Storytelling is... telling stories to *people*.

- Bill

At 3:55 AM, Blogger James said...

The script isn't his best work. It is pretty unfocused.

It needs some major revisions before it hits the screen.

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

Eternal Sunshine may have not made much money, but everybody that I know who saw it loves that film. Wild Hogs made a ton of money, but even the most positive reaction from my friends was "it was cute".
Yes, you can use box office as a barometer of success. But you shouldn't. The masses are asses. The box office proves this every week.
Storytelling is telling a story. If that's 10 million dollars worth of people then that's something. Should Kauffman water down his approach so he can make bigger hits? Of course not.
You may have been making a joke, but it seems as though you are suggesting Kauffman is crazy because he doesn't make big hits that a lot of people "listen to".
This is art, like it or not. It is also a business, but we shouldn't forget the art. Yes, Michael Bay's films make a lot of money, but they are also crap filled wastes of time.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I would say that the fact that movies like Eternal Sunshine, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich each made north of $22 million is a testament to how good they actually are -- because that boxoffice is pretty much the high-end potential of the kind of movies they are.

It's all about context. Wild Hogs has made over $100 million, but I think that's disappointing -- because if it had actually been a really good movie, it would have made a lot more.

The problem is that Hollywood looks at context, and tends to want to make movies that will make $100 million even if they aren't all that good, rather than movies that, if they are great, will make $22 million. Sad, but true.

None of which changes the point that Synecdoche, as interesting as it often is, doesn't even feel like a $22 million grosser. It feels like a $2 million grosser, because, though it might entertain some filmgoers, that audience is likely to be a very small slice of the population. For better or worse.

At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

Scott, agreed. But I honestly don't think Kauffman expects his movies to make as much as they do. Just like David Lynch, he makes movies that are very personal, and reflect his offbeat and curious personality. If he was writing scripts like Human Nature intending to be the next William Goldman (or whoever) then I would feel real bad for his mental state. He realizes he has a cult following, which will normally guarantee at least a few million or more at the box office. Beyond that, I think he's happy he gets to do whatever he wants. At least he's not fighting with other writers to get a chance at writing that Epic Movie sequel. To me, that's success in Hollywood.

At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That's shitty logic. Period.


Not everybody wants to write Dodgeball rehashes like "Shuttlecock". Some people have shit to say.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger James said...

Matt, have you even read it?

It's subpar... for Charlie Kaufman.

His other scripts, including HUMAN NATURE, are MUCH better.

At 1:58 AM, Anonymous Matt said...


No I haven't. Never said I did either. I was saying that rating the quality or success of a movie based on the box office is idiotic. Sorry, but most audiences go for the movie equivalent of Mcdonalds. That's not quality. I read the script for Being John Malkovich, and on the page, it didn't do much for me. The movie was brilliant though.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

Matt and James:

I read Adaptation before it came out, before I even really comprehended who Charlie Kaufman was, and thought it was amazing. I still consider it the best (unproduced) screenplay I've ever read.

I read this new one and have to agree with James that it's unfocused. That's a good word for it - lots of interesting subplots, great female characters, great dialogue but it doesn't come together the way Adaptation did.

But -- giving him the benefit of a doubt -- who knows what draft this was? It may have been leaked way earlier in his process than Adaptation was due to his increased popularity.

I agree he's not someone to base on box office. I think he's a lot like Tom Waits in that he's appreciated more by his peers than the masses. (Like David Lynch.)

At 1:37 AM, Anonymous Matt said...


I agree totally. David Lynch has never been a popular attraction. Yet every film he makes is far and away superior to anything Michael Bay has made. Maybe this script won't be as good as the others, but maybe since he is directing he has more of it in his head than normal. We'll see.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

So a movie can't have something to say *and* be popular? That's shitty logic - and most of the films from the 1930s and 1940s prove that you can make a fun pirate movie like CAPTAIN BLOOD that also deals with social issues.

If you write a movie that is about something but nobody sees it - did it matter?

If you write a movie that's about something, but only people who already care come to see it - did it matter?

- Bill

At 1:12 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

Yes, it still matters. It's art. Even if it doesn't make a dime, it hopefully still meant something to the people making it. If you truly think that box office success = quality than I feel a little bad for you. And Kauffman's movies make more than a dime. 20 million plus ain't nothing to sneeze at. And he gets to make probably whatever he wants.

And how do you know that only his die hard fans see his movies? Have you done surveys? I know quite a few people that normally don't stray far from the mainstream that love both Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Eternal Sunshine. The guy has an Oscar, a devoted following, at least three brilliant films under his belt, and now he is apparently trying to push his own boundaries a bit further.

This should be applauded, not looked on as if it's a waste of time.

Are you trying to tell me that because it's been more successful on it's own than all of Kauffman'
s films combined that Wild Hogs matters? Because it sounds as if that's what you're saying. And it's retarded logic.

Don't know why I wrote so much, when it seems as though you ignore it for the most part.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well, the thing with box office is this: that Charlie Kaufman is only going to get to make what he wants as long as his movies make **some** money.

If Synecdoche tanks, then he is a lot less likely to get someone to bankroll his next film. And that's why box office is important, and why caring, at least just a little bit, about whether or not your movie might connect with an audience is important.

I think, If Charlie Kaufman could direct a movie a year that made $22 million, they'd let him make movies forever. But if he turns out a couple that make $2 million, the road is going to get a lot tougher for him. As it has for David Lynch.

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

Kauffman's movies will probably always make at least a little. Hell, Lynch has been lucky enough to make films for thirty years already. That's a successful career. But I never did say box office isn't important at all, especially in terms of keeping a career going. But the talk of certain movies being less important, and less in quality, because of smaller box office is ridiculous. I know it wasn't you, Scott, who was attempting to make that point.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

What usually happens is that a non-mainstream film maker finds a patron. Someone who will give them money even when their films flop. One of my movies was distribbed & produced by an indy company that made a Robert Altman movie (in those dark years about a decade back). He funded the film because it had a great cast and Altman was a legend.

The film lost money.

Robert Altman had to find someone else to fund his next film. And he did. But for a while he never did 2 movies for the same place.

Lynch has a patron - I met both of them at some event.

Movies are not personal expression - too many people involved. Storytelling is a form of communication - and the more people who you are communicating with, the better you are communicating (and the more minds you can change). My job is not to create a cult that worships me, my job is to get 600 million people to think about sometyhing they never thought of before - to examine their lives, to see the world through different eyes. It's not about me - it's about them.

- Bill

At 2:09 PM, Blogger ECHenry said...

LOVED "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Thanks for the tip on Charlie's latest venture. Can't wait to see it. He's SOO creative.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


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