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  1. All images, articles, videos and screenplays on this site are copyright their respective owners, and no infringement is intended. Where possible, a link back to the original source is provided.
  2. News updates are copyright the webmaster. I don't mind you using any of it, but it's considered good netiquette and common-sense to provide a link back to the relevant web page if you're going to quote us.
  3. BCK is in no way officially affiliated with Charlie Kaufman or his representatives. This is only a fan site. I am not Charlie Kaufman. I am not Charlie Kaufman. I am not Charlie Kaufman. I have no contact with him, I don't know his email addy. If you want to try contacting him, send him a letter care of:

William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, LLC
9601 Wilshire Blvd., 3rd Fl.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Tel. 310-248-2000
Fax 310-248-2020.

No guarantee that you'll get a response, but it's worth a shot. 

If you're tech-savvy, too lazy to visit BCK on a regular basis, and know what RSS feeds are all about, we've got just the thing. You can subscribe to BeingCharlieKaufman.com's RSS feeds in selected categories, or read every single News update in RSS, if that's your style.

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scanner-infopage.jpgThe Pitch: An adaptation of the Philip K. (Bladerunner) Dick novel.  It's about an undercover narc cop whose constant lying and own drug use start blurring his realities. He develops a split-personality (cop vs. addict) and, as a cop, begins surveilling his drug-dealer identity. And then it gets complicated. But of course.

Charlie's script is unproduced. (Richard Linklater eventually directed the film, using his own adaptation.)

The screenplay is available to download via the Scripts page.

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newear-infopage.jpg Dates: 28-30 April 2005 (St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn), 13 May 2005 (Royal Festival Hall, London), 14-16 September 2005 (UCLA)

The Pitch: "Theater of the New Ear" was a double-bill "sound play," a concept dreamed up by compose Carter Burwell, who wrote the score for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Charlie wrote one half of the double-bill,  the Coen Bros. wrote the other - their play was called "Sawbones." "New Ear" was performed in New York, London and LA, with actors reading their lines from behind a desk on-stage, accompanied by an orchestra and a foley artist making sound effects - just like the old-style radio plays, before a live audience.

Charlie's play, "Hope Leaves the Theater," follows a middle-aged woman, dissatisfied with her life and relationships, watching a play-within-the-play - and then leaving the play, catching a bus and heading home for some cyber-sex. Actors step in and out of character, there are references to Charlie himself, and the play is as self-referential/meta as anything Charlie's ever written.

In LA, due to scheduling conflicts the Coens' play was replaced with "Anomalisa," written  by 'Francis Fregoli,' the pseudonym of  "a well-known writer" whom, it turns out, was actually Kaufman. Google "Fregoli syndrome" for interesting results.

An article from Creative Screenwriting describes "Anomalisa" this way:

Anomalisa is about a self-help business book author (David Thewlis) who travels to Cincinnati to lecture his disciples and meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) at his hotel. A drunken night reveals that Lisa is disfigured (we don't see this, as the actors are not in make-up) and doesn't want to discuss what happened, but she does mention that she hasn't had sex in eight years. The author falls in love with Lisa's voice, has sex with her, and vows to leave his family for her. The audio-based sex is intentionally comedic as we watch two actors moan and breathe heavily while a foley soundman furiously rubs silk sheets together between the seated actors. Next, the author has a nightmare wherein he's convinced that everyone in the world is in love with him and is in fact one sum-total "group" personality that incessantly wants things from him. Again, this is accomplished via audio as actor Tom Noonan does the same voice for pretty much everyone in the play except for Lisa.

In the morning, Thewlis drifts away from Lisa and, upon returning home to his family, has a mental meltdown. Fregoli expertly puts us inside Thewlis' P.O.V. for his nightmares and even during his breakdown, wherein the sum-total group from his nightmare descends upon him while the antique Japanese pornographic toy the author gave his son starts literally sputters out of control. The toy spews forth faux-semen and sings a Japanese song, which ends the play on an ambiguous note as we wonder whether the author will drift back toward his family and reality, if this freaky toy will magically destroy the author's world, or if this too is another dream during a restless night. Excellent details, wild storytelling, solid characters, and a unique P.O.V. without the use of a single image makes this character-driven drama successful.

Cast, "Hope Leaves the Theater": Hope Davis, Meryl Streep, Peter Dinklage
Cast, "Anomalisa": David Thewlis, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Download: An MP3 of the New York performance is available for download. It is unknown if a recording of "Anomalisa" exists anywhere.

MP3, 96MB, 163 kBits/s. Running time: 1 hour 22 mins (approx.)

The "Theater of the New Ear" MP3 contains a brief intro by Carter Burwell and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the Coen Bros. play "Sawbones," a brief intermission with Burwell and Hoffman, Charlie's play "Hope Leaves the Theater," an outro by the campest radio announcer ever, and a few seconds of ABBA's "Supertrooper."

BCK's running costs are fairly high, so we ask that you donate $6 to help keep us alive. Any problems downloading the file, please let me know.

 

 

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synecdoche-infopage.jpg"Regardless of how this particular thing works itself out, I will be dying. So will you... So will everyone here. And I want to explore that unflinchingly." - Caden

Release: 24 October, 2008.

The Pitch:Playwright Caden Cotard is having what might be termed a bad life. His marriage falls apart. He seems to be dying of a mysterious illness that is systematically shutting down his autonomic functions. His ex-wife heads off to Germany with their daughter and her friend. The friend gradually turns Caden's daughter into a lesbian Nazi. But hey, he's received a Macarthur Grant, and sets about producing a work "big and true and tough. You know, finally put my real self into something." To that end, Caden builds a scale replica of New York in a warehouse and fills it with scores of actors - some of them playing Caden's real-life friends and acquaintances, one playing Caden himself. As the project evolves, reality and fantasy meld. Is anything in this movie really happening? Are we just seeing reality as Caden perceives it? What's with the house that's always on fire? How come time flows so strangely? What does it all mean, if any of it means anything? Easily the least commercial of all Charlie's scripts so far, this one's set for release later in 2008.

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Caden Cotard), Catherine Keener (Adele Lack), Hope Davis (Madeleine Gravis), Michelle Williams (Claire Keen), Tom Noonan (Sammy Barnathan), Samantha Morton (Hazel), Emily Watson (Tammy), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Maria), Dianne Wiest (Ellen Bascomb/Millicent Weems)

Three drafts of the screenplay are available for download, plus a Spanish translation of the 1st draft, and the Synecdoche, New York PDF press kit. You can find them via the Scripts/Writing section of this site.

  

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spotless-infopage.jpg"Clementine Kruczynski has had Joel Barish erased from her memory.  Please never mention their relationship to her again.  Thank you." - screenplay, 1st draft

Release: 19 March 2004 (USA)

The Pitch: Introverted boy meets extroverted girl. Boy and girl have a relationship. Relationship ends. Girl undergoes a medical procedure to erase boy's existence - and their relationship - from her memory. Boy freaks out and has the same procedure done to himself... but halfway through, as he relives each memory in reverse-chronological order (bad break-up to great beginning, all played out on-screen for us), he realises that some of those memories are worth holding onto. Boy tries to fight against the erasure. This is Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry's topsy-turvy spin on romantic comedy, an original script based on an idea by Pierre Bismuth - a conceptual artist friend of Michel's. It's also attained the biggest cult following, and the most critical/commercial success, of any Kaufman film to date.

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jim Carrey (Joel Barish), Kate Winslet (Clementine Kruczynski), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Howard Mierzwiak), Kirsten Dunst (Mary), Elijah Wood (Patrick), Mark Ruffalo (Stan)

Two drafts of the screenplay are available for download, plus a Farsi translation of the shooting script. They can be found in the Scripts/Writing section of this website.

 

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John HawkesJohn Hawkes (Goodman Hesselman)Release: A pilot was filmed, but the series was not picked up.

The Pitch: "FX Networks has greenlighted How And Why, a half-hour comedy pilot from Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman. It tells the story of a man who can explain how and why a nuclear reactor works, but is clueless about life.  Kaufman will write and direct the pilot and serve as executive producer. FX Prods will produce." (Source)

"[John] Hawkes is set to play the lead role of Goodman Hesselman, host of the How & Why educational show-within-the-show, who loses his passion for explaining how complicated things work, yields his show-within-the-show to a younger host, then moves to a smaller town, where he tries to create a similar, yet significantly less popular, parallel-show-to-the-show-within-the-show. According to Deadline, Hawkes’ character then also “encounters the supernatural world,” which is, indeed, its own show-surrounding-the-parallel-show-to-the-show-within-the-show. [Michael] Cera will play Hawkes’ boss at his new studio." (Source)

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: John Hawke (Goodman Hesselman), Michael Cera (Mendelson), Sally Hawkins (Yvonne Hesselman), Catherine Keener (Alice)

The pilot script is not yet available for download.

 

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confessions-infopage.jpg"My name is Charles Prescott Barris. I have written pop songs, I have been a television producer. I am responsible for polluting airwaves with mind-numbing, puerile entertainment. In addition, I have murdered thirty-three human beings. I am damned to Hell." - Chuck Barris

Release: 31 December 2002 (USA)

The Pitch: Based on the "unauthorised autobiography" of Chuck Barris, creator and host of such TV classics as The Dating Game and The Gong Show. Barris claims to have worked for the CIA as a hitman at the same time that he was working on TV, chaperoning contestants around the world. Truth? Baloney? And if baloney, why make up such stuff? Charlie spins things just enough to let us decide for ourselves.

Director: George Clooney
Cast: Sam Rockwell (Chuck Barris), Drew Barrymore (Penny), George Clooney (Jim Byrd), Julia Roberts (Patricia Watson)

The 3rd draft of the screenplay is available for download via the Scripts/Writing section of this website.

 

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adaptation-infopage.jpg"I am old. I am fat. I am bald. My toenails have turned strange. I am repulsive. How repulsive? I don't know for I suffer from a condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I am fat, but am I as fat as I think? My therapist says no, but people lie. I believe others call me Fatty behind my back. Or Fatso. Or, facetiously, Slim. But I also believe this is simply my own perverted form of self-aggrandizement, that no one really talks about me at all. Why would they? What possible interest is an old, bald, fat man to anyone? I am repulsive. I have never lived. I blame myself." - Charlie Kaufman (screenplay, 2nd draft)

Release: 6 December 2002

The Pitch: Oh man, where to begin? Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is given the assignment of adapting Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief, which tells the true story of a plant dealer named John Laroche and three Seminole Indians who conspired to clone rare orchids and sell them at exorbitant rates to plant collectors. But Charlie has no idea how to write a straight adaptation of the book, he's missing deadlines, and he's becoming attracted to Orlean. In desperation he decides to write the overlapping tales of Orlean, Laroche, and his own struggle to complete the screenplay. Add to the mix Charlie's identical twin brother Donald - ace screenwriter of cliché thrillers - an alligator attack, drug-snorting and car chases, and you have the film Adaptation: thoughtful meditation on the art of adaptation, crazy mix of fact and fiction, with a good-sized dose of typically offbeat humour. Whoa, my head hurts.

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Nicolas Cage (Charlie/Donald Kaufman), Meryl Streep (Susan Orlean), Chris Cooper (John Laroche), Brian Cox (Robert McKee)

Two drafts of the screenplay are available for download via the Scripts/Writing section of this website.

 

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hn-infopage.jpg"Ahhh! I don't get it. I don't get it. I don't get it. How could I find myself in this mess? This is a mess. This is not a situation I understand. This is a mess. How do I extricate myself from this mess? Is my girlfriend a man? I don't understand. This is not a part of any plan. She deceived me. She has hair! She's not supposed to have it!  But am I being fair? So what if she has hair? Who am I to judge? I have hair.  But I'm supposed to have it! I am a man. Men are supposed to have hair.  But poor Lila. Think of what she's had to go through. The courage she's had to have in the face of this abomination of nature. I should love her all the more. I should love every grotesque hair on her body." - Nathan

Release: 18 May 2001 (Cannes), 12 September 2001 (France), January 2002 (Sundance), 12 April 2002 (USA)

The Pitch:  If you're into hirsute women, monkey-men, uptight scientists and penis jokes - all of it delivered with a small element of high-brow - this is the film for you. Human Nature gives us a four-way romance between Nathan (a scientist who believes he can save the world by teaching mice table manners), Lila (a naturist with excess body hair), Gabrielle (Nathan's French lab assistant) and Puff (a man raised by his father to be an ape). Nathan discovers Puff in the jungle and attempts to turn him into a civilised human being. Hilarity attempts to ensue.

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Tim Robbins (Dr. Nathan Bronfman), Patricia Arquette (Lila Jute), Rhys Ifans (Puff), Miranda Otto (Gabrielle)

The screenplay's 1st draft is available via the Scripts/Writing section of this website.

 

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bjm-infopage"There's a tiny door in that office.  It's a portal, Maxine.  It takes you inside John Malkovich.  You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes, then, after about fifteen minutes, you're spit out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike." - Craig 

Release: 2 September 1999 (Venice), 29 October 1999 (USA)

The Pitch: Craig Schwartz, an out-of-work puppeteer in a stagnating marriage, takes a job as a file clerk on the 7 1/2 floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building, where he comes across an empty office with a tiny door set into one wall. The door opens into a dark, membranous tunnel that... well... as Craig explains it to a co-worker, with whom he's infatuated: "There's a tiny door in that office. It's a portal, Maxine. It takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes, then, after about fifteen minutes, you're spit out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike." And from there, things get weird.

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: John Cusack (Craig Schwartz), Cameron Diaz (Lotte Schwartz), Catherine Keener (Maxine), John Malkovich (John Horatio Malkovich)

 

The screenplay's 1st draft is available in two formats (PDF and RTF) via this website's Scripts/Writing section.

 

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Staff:
Mick Spadaro (Webmaster.)
  Claartje Van Swaiij (BCK logo and banner)

Site History
In which your Aussie webmaster, Mick, waffles on about how this site came to be.

Being Charlie Kaufman was conceived in late 2001, the product of four separate, yet equally riveting factors:

  1. I'd taught myself how to build simple websites, but had no actual reason to build one.
  2. I had just read the first draft of Charlie's Being John Malkovich script, and thought it was hilarious, clever, and more readable on its own than most other screenplays. This was long before I saw the film. I've always been a reader more than a film buff; I'm a writer myself, of short stories, novels, and — very, very occasionally — short film scripts. (I've attained a fair degree of success without yet getting a novel published. If anyone wants to give me some work, you obviously know where to find me. Will work for peanuts.) Anyway, as a writer, I really enjoyed the interviews Kaufman gave to promote Malkovich. Some of our beliefs about story-telling are very, very similar. I actually read the script specifically to get inspiration for a new novel.
  3. Nobody else had a website about Charlie, and he seemed like the kind of guy who'd develop a good-sized fan base. I figured I could save fans a lot of time by compiling all the Kaufman data I could find, into one site. Back in those days, Kaufman-related information was hard to come by, and took a bit of Googling.
  4. Boredom.

I had little interest in running a site about any celebrity who already has two hundred sites devoted to them. And hell, I'd probably get bored with this in less than three months. But I still wanted to see if I could maintain a successful, regularly-updated site. It was an experiment, more than anything. People were always saying to me, "Please. Get a hobby." So I did.

BCK was designed in November '01, online in December, and in search engines by February 2002. Charlie had 3 movies out that year, so there was a fair amount of traffic, an insane amount of news to report and a lot of email coming in. Any other year, I would've gotten bored and closed BCK pronto. But a lot of neat stuff happened — John Laroche contacted me, I was asked to write script reviews for The-Trades.com, a variety of cool and interesting people sent emails — and I was hooked. Cos I'm eager for attention. And I like the idea of helming the definitive info resource about a cult celebrity. The site has opened doors to other fun opportunities; it is, I gotta say, among the best projects I've ever undertaken.

When Adaptation's release date neared, BCK was crashing almost 24hrs a day — the woes of setting up camp on a free Tripod account with very limited bandwidth. Miraculously, Sony Pictures contacted me and offered to pay for more bandwidth until the movie's theatrical run wound down. Never in a million years would I have predicted that turn of events and it just goes to show, Hollywood isn't evil 100% of the time. So we lived to fight another day, and a few months later moved to a new host with more storage space and more available bandwidth.

All was smooth sailing — the site's popularity grew (we're not talking Beatles popularity, but for a site about a screenwriter, we're doing really well), we got mentioned in a few prominent publications, and around 2004 everything went crappy. My PC died, and the people tasked with reviving it accidentally erased about 4 years' worth of files. Plus they didn't revive it. The same week, I found out that my web hosts had bought some fancy new servers and I was supposed to manually transer my files to the new machine. (100+MB with my dialup modem, mind you.) Problem was, nobody had told me any of this until it was almost too late, and my hosts were on the verge of shutting down their old equipment... which means BCK goes bye-bye. Almost three years' work, down the tubes. Cue a rescue mission headed by Robix — one of our veteran visitors/newshounds/all-purpose-BCK-staffer — who backed up our site in record time. But the drama wasn't over. After the transfer, I suddenly started getting hit with astronomical fees for exceeding my web host's bandwidth restrictions. (I later discovered that I'd been exceeding them for ages, but the host's billing system somehow never noticed until they upgraded their Goddamn hardware. So for a while I was unknowingly sticking it to the man. And they still have no idea. GO ME.) Clearly it was time to change hosts again — and this time help came in the form of Jason, a BCK visitor who runs Silver Bullet Hosting, which is where we relocated and where we remain to this day. You know how long it took for the events in this paragraph to unfold? A single month. Those four weeks, brothers and sisters, were entirely, entirely horrible.

When Eternal Sunshine attained a major cult following — a bigger following than any other Kaufman film so far — it became screamingly obvious that BCK's static HTML pages were not going to cut it much longer. (Yes, the whole site ran on static HTML and a few stylesheets! How 1996!) The website was becoming disorganised, too unwieldy to maintain, and a complete pain in the ass for your humble webmaster. Plus it was looking pretty dated. We needed a makeover, and we needed it bad. After much procrastination, a pastime in which I have a black belt, I made an experimental though ultimately abortive attempt to transfer the site to Wordpress, a blogging tool. It's possibly the best blogging tool out there, but lacked one or two features necessary to make BCK tick. (I discovered this when the redesign was 98% complete…) Later I found a content management system I liked (Joomla), and in 2006 began manually transferring every piece of BCK over to that CMS. It took for-bloody-ever and was like trying to service a moving vehicle. 2007 was essentially a write-off due to family dramas. But the finished product is as good as anything I wanted, and ten times easier for me to run. Which means — again — BCK lives to fight another day.

The big idea has always been to run Being Charlie Kaufman as an information resource, more than a fan site, and to have a good time doing it. I'm a fan of Charlie's, absolutely, but I'm not here to constantly gush about him, and I'm all too aware that editing a fan site is neither brain surgery nor Serious Journalism. Hopefully I'm doing a decent job.

BCK is fueled by the help of a lot of people. The news, screenplays, random trivia, all that stuff is 98% thanks to your contributions, and I'm constantly amazed by how helpful BCK's visitors can be. Some have come and gone, some have been here the whole time, and a handful… well, a handful are just plain worthy of name-dropping. Sue me. You can skip the next bit if you want.

Thanks to:

Robix, WiLL, Tram, Chris Faile, Raul Burriel of The Trades, Sony Pictures, Valdis Oskarsdottir, John Laroche, Susan Orlean and Jason Kottke, Paul Proch, Drew from Script-O-Rama, Renee from Admire My Cage, Ruth from Discover Kate, Marla from Admiring Kate, Tommy Noel Pihl from Jim Carrey Online, Myla from Meryl Streep Online, Malkovich Online, Katie from By George!, Kevin from Director File, Adrienne Canzolino, Laura, Tim Bishop, Armin Volckers, clemato; MagneticMonkey (Andy); Stonesis; Ryan Poenisch from the WGA; wannabe; Laura Carroll. And thanks to the BCKsters who wish to remain anonymous.

In 2001, three sites in particular were an inspiration to me as far as content and/or layout are concerned. They don't really fit on the Links page but I wanna give them a plug, so here's as good a place as any. In their own ways, they offer (or offered) examples of what a truly great fan site should be: the late, great DarinLand (devoted to the genius TV writer Darin Morgan, and operated by Julie Ng, who's now working on film sets with Davids Fincher and Cronenberg); Natalie Portman.com; and the late, great James-Marsters.com (not the official site, but a bogglingly thorough—and now sadly-departed—fan site created and maintained by Lisa Kincaid).

charliekaufman2small.jpg In Variety's 1999 list of "Ten Scribes to Watch", Charlie Stuart Kaufman was the only one not pictured, and when Esquire staged a group portrait of top screenwriters, his name was prominent but again he declined to be photographed. Close-lipped about his own life and background, Kaufman confesses he's a shy, reserved guy: "I don't like talking about myself." His wild, surreal screenplays are in contrast to his personality; the Long Island native longs for quiet time, which he finds writing his darkly comedic tales.

Born on 19 November 1958 (despite what the IMDB tells us), Charlie had a normal kind of Jewish upbringing: "I grew up in the equivalent of Levittown, that kind of post-World War II development" he told Salon.com, and spent time staging "plays at home for my parents and making short movies" that, even then, were quite good.

High School

He spent his sophomore, junior and senior years in West Hartford, Connecticut, after moving there from Massapequa, Long Island with his parents and older sister in about 1974. The town has produced some figures of minor celebrity, including a Nobel Laureate and several authors. Katharine Hepburn's family moved there when she was 20.

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 (High school senior, 1976)

As introverted then as he is now, Kaufman nonetheless appears to have been well-liked by those who knew him, though there's little doubt he felt like an outsider. Always very smart, he was a good student but not outstanding. He was anti-establishment, so school was not his priority, and he spent all three years in the TV Company (an elective for the study of TV production) and in the drama club. While there was no grand plan to turn into the cinema's comedically subversive soul that he is today, Kaufman never hid his taste for comedy — "I always loved the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, and, when I was older, Lenny Bruce." Charlie himself was a talented comedic actor who performed in numerous school and community plays including "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." His big acting break came senior year when he landed the lead role in his high school's production of “Play It Again, Sam,” the Woody Allen play that first appeared on Broadway in 1969. Charlie wrote an account of the experience for his high school yearbook. Kaufman also acted in “On A Clear Day” his first year and “Up the Down Staircase” his second year, and was briefly involved with an improv group called Upscene, in which Charlie was a standout performer.

Some 550 seniors participated in the high school's commencement exercise on June 16, 1976. Charlie did not graduate with honours or high honours, but he did receive his school's Diane T. Weldon Scholarship for Achievement in Dramatic Arts and was one of three seniors honoured with the school's dramatics award for their work over the three-year period. (The other two went on to Central Connecticut State College, now Central Connecticut State University, and the Hartford College for Women.) 

College

After graduating, Kaufman headed off for Boston University, reportedly hated it, and transferred to NYU where he studied film. Among his classmates was future film director Chris Columbus, but it was with student Paul Proch that Kaufman would form a lasting friendship. Possessed of the same skewed sense of humour, the pair wrote a multitude of unproduced scripts and plays, eventually scoring a breakthrough churning out ersatz Letters to the Editor for National Lampoon magazine, among other pieces which can be found here. "I think they paid $25 each," Kaufman would recall in an interview with the Hartford Advocate. "And that was exciting. And when we wrote our first article — and I want to say that the articles were 25 cents a word — it was a lot of money. I remember that the first big check I got from the Lampoon was a thousand-something. I Xeroxed it." Charlie and Paul's collaboration continued after college, resulting in scripts and plays such as Purely Coincidental, which North Adams Transcript journalist John Mitchell describes as "a brilliant attempt at building a story on coincidence and featuring lots of Don Knotts jokes." Says Charlie: "It's about film school, a very odd, very long screenplay. [204 pages.] I remember we sent it to what we thought was Steven Spielberg's house. Usually we got the stuff sent back to us, or we never saw it again. You know, the big thing was, you can't submit unsolicited manuscripts. We were always up against that. The only response we ever got was from Alan Arkin. He read it and wrote back this really lovely letter, which was so encouraging. He really liked it. And that somebody read it — that Alan Arkin read it — was really an enormous deal for us." More on the Purely Coincidental experience can be found here.

TV wilderness

Kaufman lived in Minneapolis during the late 1980s, working in the Star Tribune circulation department for four-and-a-half years. "I would take missed-newspaper calls at 5 in the morning. It was a hard job, especially in the winter. I'd get up at 4 and take the bus downtown. It was freezing and everybody looked really sad on the bus. I worked at the art institute as well. I was the person who said 'The museum will be closing in 15 minutes' over the loudspeaker." Proch would visit Charlie and, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the services of an agent, the pair wrote some TV scripts, such as a spec for Married... With Children (entitled "Al's Well That Ends Al") and "a Newhart in our style, which had nothing to do with the Newhart episodes that existed. Coincidentally, the big thing that they did at the end of that series, we had in our episode. We had Bob Hartley and his therapy group [from Newhart's previous sitcom] staying at the inn in Vermont. As you know, the ending — 'it was all a dream!' — it's not exactly the same, but there's enough of a similarity to make us, at the time, very suspicious, y'know?" 

In 1991 Kaufman moved to Los Angeles with no job and no prospects. Aside from the National Lampoon articles, his first professional writing gig was on a sitcom. "I got myself an agent and moved out to L.A. during hiring season [when cast and crew are assembled for TV series]. I got nothing. Not even interviews. Then all of a sudden I got one phone interview from a guy who was doing a show in Minneapolis with Fred Willard [the Comedy Central series Access America, which featured clips from community-access TV shows around the country]. He hired me over the phone. I was really disappointed because coming out to L.A. was my last-ditch effort to get into show business. But I thought, OK, I've got a writing job that's better than anything I've had before. I'm going to move back to Minneapolis. I'm going to make that my home. My wife, Denise, was still out there waiting to see what would happen. And I was packing up to head home in my 1980 Jetta, which had no air conditioning, was falling apart and all rusted out from Minneapolis. Then I got a call from David Mirkin [the creator of Get a Life!, who presided over the surreal final seasons of Newhart and served a stint on The Simpsons]. He liked my script. I told him I was heading home and he said, "Don't." He didn't hire me but I trusted him. I had to give up the Minneapolis job in order to wait around. I called up Bo and I told him I wasn't going to take it, and then I got hired on Get a Life (Fox, 1990-92). I almost didn't live out here [in L.A.]. I do think everything that happened since is a result of that because I wouldn't have tried again."

charlieberlinsmall.jpgGet a Life! was a quirky sitcom starring Chris Elliot as a 30-year-old paperboy living above his parents' St. Paul garage. "I worked on the second season," says Kaufman. "Not even the good season!" He had already written some short, spoofy films for Elliot that were shown on Late Night With David Letterman. The two Get A Life! episodes he penned, about a female ex-con who takes Elliot prisoner and about Elliot drinking a concoction that allowed him to travel back in time, both displayed elements of the surreal which would come to be a Kaufman hallmark. 

He went on to write some 30 episodes of TV shows ranging from the ensemble sketch comedy The Edge (Fox, 1992-93) to more conventional sitcoms like Fox's Ned and Stacey during its second season (1996-97), as well as The Dana Carvey Show, and The Trouble With Larry (1993) — a short-lived comedy starring Bronson Pinchot and Courteney Cox. The IMDB reports he served as producer on Misery Loves Company (1995). Charlie also tried to sell many of his own pilots, including Depressed Roomies, which several television executives thought too dark and weird to be put on the air. "[Roomies] was about two guys who live in a tenement apartment, and… Well, it's kind of silly. They're absurdist, I guess. It got attention and people liked it, but it was weird, and it dealt with sexuality that was questionable for television at the time. And it didn't feel like a sitcom — it wasn't naturalistic. It was sort of theatrical. I also wrote something called Rambling Pants, which was a pilot about a poet, a travelling poet whose name is Pants. He was a very bad poet, but he doesn't know that. He travels the country and gets into different kinds of adventures — again, pretty silly. And that one has a lot of singing in it. People break into song way too much in that one — like every fourth or fifth line. He has a sidekick who was actually a newspaper reporter who kind of went astray and looks to Pants as a hero — this very naïve, sort of dumb Jimmy Olsen kind of guy. And I wrote something for HBO which was about a relationship. I wanted to follow this relationship from its inception, but it's sort of anti-romantic — it's a couple in this sort of a gridlock situation, where people are together but there's never really any clear reason why. And it was called In Limbo." The numerous pilots drew a lot of attention, but ultimately none were picked up. 

Being John Malkovich and beyond

While waiting for more work after one of the sitcoms he wrote for was cancelled, Kaufman started writing a film script that began as "a story about a man who falls in love with someone who is not his wife." It eventually evolved to incorporate elements of whimsy and inventiveness. He included such oddball details as having his hero be a puppeteer who finds work on the 7 1/2 floor of a Manhattan office building, a randy centenarian boss and eventually the actor John Malkovich. Reportedly Kaufman selected the latter for several reasons, including the fact he is a gifted actor as well as for the lilt of his name which, when repeated frequently, can seem hilarious. "I wrote it just to get assignment work. I never thought anyone was going to make it. Then Malkovich read it and liked it, which I was very happy about, and I thought that was as far as it was going to go. And it was, for a couple of years. Then it kind of came together." The screenplay created a buzz around Hollywood, but producers were too scared of the story's oddness to actually make it. Then the company owned by R.E.M's Michael Stipe bought the script and things began to move. Spike Jonze, previously known for only his music videos and TV commercials, signed on to direct the film. The cast, including Catherine Keener, John Cusack and Cameron Diaz, all got on board because of the originality of the material. As Diaz described it, "they say in Hollywood there are only 14 scripts. Well this is number 15." 

From its initial screenings, Being John Malkovich generated positive buzz and its inclusion at various film festivals before its theatrical release led to its cachet.

Portraying the inner mind of Malkovich is one thing; cerebral cinema is another. "My movies don't offer lessons," says Kaufman. But there is a lesson to learn from watching his work. "I try to be truthful in writing."

In 2002 Charlie followed up Malkovich with not one but three films. In Human Nature a coquettish Patricia Arquette portrays a sexy siren with animal instincts, as electrically charged as the electrologist (Rosie Perez) who treats her. Written the year after Malkovich — again after one of the shows he worked on was cancelled — the film was met with an indifferent reception, not helped by minimal publicity and a limited theatrical run.

ckspotlesspremieresmall.jpgAdaptation fared much better with critics and fans alike. Using Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief as a starting point, it blurs the line between fact and fiction in telling the parallel tales of Kaufman's own struggle to adapt Orlean's book, and the tale of Orlean herself, writing about orchid thief John Laroche.

Once his career took off, Kaufman invited Paul Proch to submit material that he'd pass along to his agent, and they collaborated again shortly after Adaptation. Proch recalls, "There was an old screenplay we tried to rewrite for HBO when they asked him to do a series. It was just too crazy. We were gonna do a fake documentary about this guy making this film. They turned it down, and then they did Project Greenlight. Ours was more interesting. I don't feel too bad, because they turned down Mulholland Drive, too." [If anyone has a copy of that script, how's about emailing me?]

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind brought to the big screen Chuck Barris' "unauthorized autobiography", wherein the real-life former gameshow host claims to have worked as a CIA assassin while simultaneously chaperoning Dating Game contestants around the world and introducing the masses to a variety of questionably-talented folks via The Gong Show. Directed by George Clooney, starring Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts and Clooney himself, the star power and Barris' claims ensured the film was "highly-anticipated" according to critics... yet upon its release the film was met with mediocre success and a mixed reception similar to the one which greeted Human Nature. Unlike all the previous films, Charlie didn't work with the director, and reportedly some re-writes were done by Clooney himself. The final cut did not impress Charlie, who disliked the "aren't-I-cute" tone of the movie.

March 2004 saw the wide release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, an original script based on an idea given to Charlie by a friend of the film's director Michel Gondry. This is the film that finally won Charlie an Oscar, after previous nominations for Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. In Kaufman's words, the romantic comedy was "about this guy [played by Jim Carrey] who finds out that his girlfriend of two years [Kate Winslet] has had this surgical procedure which has erased him from her memory. So he's freaked out and trying to live with it and he can't, so he decides to have the same procedure. Most of the movie takes place in his brain as she's being erased, and you see their whole relationship, moment-by-moment, backwards from this sort of bad end to the better beginning. Halfway through, as the memories start getting better, he decides he doesn't want the procedure." More serious in tone than Kaufman's previous work — though still containing more subtle elements of humour — Eternal Sunshine quickly became his most commercially successful film to date, no doubt helped by the big-name cast including Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo. The film was arguably the most positively-reviewed movie of 2004, making it into the top half of almost every Top 10 list that year. Carrey's character was based partly on Paul Proch, and some of Proch's art appears in the movie.

In 2005 Kaufman returned to his roots, in a way, writing the sound play "Hope Leaves The Theater" as part of a double-bill with the Coen Bros' "Sawbones." Audience members watched the actors read their lines on stage, accompanied by sound effects and an orchestra, recreating the style of old-time radio plays. The unique concept was devised by composer Carter Burwell, who scored Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Both plays were well-received in New York and London, with Kaufman's — a self-referential, hall-of-mirrors piece, similar to Adaptation in themes and style — receiving most of the attention and praise. It starred the voices of Meryl Streep and Peter Dinklage — who portrayed themselves, as well as characters in the play —  along with Hope Davis, whose character was (just like the audience) ostensibly watching a play starring Streep and Dinklage. At UCLA, due to scheduling conflicts, "Sawbones" was replaced with Francis Fregoli's "Anomalisa." Fregoli was in fact a pseudonym for Kaufman. (Google "fregoli syndrome" for interesting results.) 

The question arises: why such wild, convoluted plots? "I like to live in the confusion," says the writer of his preference for chaos over concrete. "When you complicate things, that's when things are more interesting."

Always an avid reader, though loath to list influences lest his work be compared to theirs, among those whose work Charlie enjoys are authors ranging from Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick and Stephen Dixon to Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith, who both specialise in "the queasy, really subtle shit that happens between characters; it can seem like nothing's happening, but it's horrible just the same." Another favourite is Flannery O'Connor, who believed that Southern writers aptly render "the grotesque" because they can still recognize what it is. Reading O'Connor made Kaufman fear "that I wouldn't have a voice because I didn't seem to come from anywhere — I was jealous of other parts of America." Part of Kaufman's own development came from recognizing the "weirdness" within his purview. Some of his favourite films include What Happened Was... (Tom Noonan), Naked (Mike Leigh), Safe (Todd Haynes), Ladybird Ladybird (Ken Loach), Eraserhead (David Lynch) and "most of the Coen Brothers and David Lynch things."

If the buzz any new Kaufman project creates is any indication, then he'd better be able to adapt to the attendant glories of fame. Nope, says the writer: “I'm still shy and quiet,” just like he was when he was a Bar Mitzvah boy.

It's funny that one of filmdom's hottest writers projects more of a warm-milk image. “It's a quiet life. I stay home and I work,” he says of what it means being Charlie Kaufman.

He presently lives in Pasadena with his wife and daughter, where "there's no sense of people looking at you to see who you are."

What next? Synecdoche, New York, a "scary movie" that will mark Kaufman's directorial debut. The sprawling film is about playwright Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the mysterious illness he appears to be suffering from, and the convoluted relationships he shares with several women in his life. Caden's attempting to create a work of "brutal honesty," building a scale replica of New York City in a warehouse and populating it with a cast of hundreds, some playing friends of Caden's, one playing Caden himself. "I have no interest in making a genre horror movie," Charlie said while writing the project. "I keep trying to figure out what's really scary, not what's scary in movies because that is too easy." He told the LA Times, "I was thinking about things that are really scary to me, not horror-movie scary… [The film is] about getting ill and dying, about time moving too quickly as you get older, and not feeling that you've accomplished what you've hoped for. There are issues of enormous relationship nightmares that I was thinking about. Losing his family. Losing the respect of his wife."

Kaufman has spoken of perhaps someday writing a novel or returning to TV. He also wrote a screenplay adaptation of Philip K. "Bladerunner" Dick's A Scanner Darkly, though Richard Linklater eventually helmed that project and wrote his own adaptation. Richard, you fool!

The links below are dead now. I'll update them at some point.

(Some of the information above, including Charlie's high school years, was provided directly to BCK by sources who wish to remain anonymous, and by Twink Schiff who doesn't.

The majority of the rest came from www.hollywood.com and Jewish Exponent, as well as Colin Covert's interview with Charlie which appeared online at the Star Tribune, and Mike Russell's Q&A with Charlie, titled (KAUFMAN sweats), from In Focus.

Most of the information about Kaufman's work with Paul Proch came from a piece in the Hartford Advocate.

Thanks to Nate Teibloom from Jewhoo for pointing me toward the JE profile of Charlie.)

Additional information