Masterclass with Charlie Kaufman

Festival of american cinema in Deauville, 2004

Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter, eccentric, and awesome films like “In the skin of John Malkovitch” or “Adaptation” was at the festival of american cinema of Deauville in 2004 on the occasion of the screening of the film ” Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind “. The opportunity for him to come back on this film, his previous and his job as a screenwriter.


The title of the movie “the Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” is really beautiful, but for the translation in other languages, it is very difficult. Is it you gene ?

CK : So, in fact, this is the title, rest assured, is equally difficult for English speakers but in fact the distributors in different countries who are distributing the film, sometimes chose to totally change the title. Besides I think that Italy at the palm of the funniest and the worst, in fact. Basically it is : “Erase me and I leave thee “. I think they have been inspired by the last film of the Coen brothers ‘”Intolerable cruelty,” which has not good market in the United States but that has a very good market in Italy and the Italian title of the film by the Coen brothers was : “divorce me and I’ll kill you “. So I guess it’s a precedent that has inspired them for the film to work.

One of the first versions of the scenario would appear it was very different because it ends with a projection into the future, about 50 years, where we saw a scene or clementine appears outdated, there is a christmas tree. So why are these cuts have been made ? And why this decision to keep the film much more focused on the present ?

CK : So in fact, yes actually, originally in the book the end was 50 years before, but this is not clementine, it’s actually Mary who is back and who is trying to publish a book entitled “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” because what she actually wants before dying, it is ultimately to perpetuate the memory of all those beings which are made clear to them, and so she decided to publish this book, but unfortunately nobody wants it and it dies in the subway before the book is published. However to get back to Clementine, and well actually I wanted a scene or Joel and Clementine have 50 more years and we see that it’s been years that they love as they fade, they re like, they re disappear and it is the last experience of Clementine, who for one last time is being made to erase the memory of Joel, who at this time is called but he does not know she is doing this process and the technicians who will hear the message on the machine, the erase and in fact, this scene no longer exists, because nobody except me did not want this scene and I think that in reality it is just, ultimately this is good for the film because I prefer that it is not answers, I love that you stand on issues, and that the public will demand is that ultimately it is good or not that they see once again this story together. I love these sorts of purposes who are not and Michel me complains still of having too many purposes in my scenarios. It is tough because I don’t know too much what I write when I write it, but in any case it is for that that purpose no longer exists as you speak to me about it.


How the film was received by critics in the United States ?

CK : He received a very warm welcome, as well as in England, in Scandinavia, in Russia, even if obviously there are people who don’t like it, but it is a very good critical reception, a little less commercial as you know. But I have to say that this film commercially speaking is better than my previous.

There had long been a mystery around Charlie Kaufman, your identity. I wanted to know if this mystery had been maintained by the media or by your friends and is that you had fun.

CK : You see, I have nothing mysterious, it is a mystery for me why I became a character so mysterious. I’m doing the press for my movies. I made it to ” In the skin of John Malkovich “, and I’ve made to “Adaptation” and I don’t know why we seem to find it even better that I am this species of recluse that we wonder if he really exists and well I am sorry to tell you that I really exist and I’m there besides in front of you today without any other mystery.

You replace you ? Are you trying to write other screenplays for other films ?

CK : I do not rest much that I should write or not. Ca is not really related to the writing. I think this is my body which is so done, my alchemy personal. I am currently working on several projects, including normally the next film from Spike Jonze, which I will say nothing.

One day, would you like to work with a French director ?

CK : As you know two of my films have been filmed by Michel Gondry, a French. Two films about four it is still a nice majority are going to say. But I believe that you would not want that I write in French because I don’t speak your language. So I think my experience with Michel was the closest to my French experience or the one that I will never have.

Question : I would like an explanation on your process of writing. Do you write linear, or ideas in bulk that you earn as ?

CK : there is nothing very scientific or very organized in my method of writing. I am just trying to understand what should be the structure since it is essential to tell the story I’m writing. For me, structure is key. How to tell the story most organically possible. Here (for Eternal), as you have seen I use a structure of the chronology reversed, so that the public itself always in phase with the characters and what happens in them. The first time they meet each other, Joel and Clementine think that this is the first time, and the public. And this is the time Joel had this operation and that it is in his head that we like him just as puzzled. I want the public to have the same interactivity as emotional as the character. And gradually the memories come back, it’s like for us when we have a break or something painful, and the memories that it creates the first are memories of sadness, bitterness, and so at the beginning we have a vision of clementine who is sullied by this. Then as the memories of Joel are evolving, and clementine has a vision of it different much more colorful. This is important to me, is that this structure works for this film. This is not a structure that I have adopted for another film, but for this topic it was essential. You know, it’s a bit like the figurative art and abstract art. The abstract art is that of the surface. The figurative art of the illusion, the dream. I wanted to work through it, bring together the abstract and the figurative. That is to say that the public could both watch the story on the surface and interiority.

How to write you ? Is this every day ? For several weeks, several months, and suddenly you stop ? Your writing has changed since the time, at the start or you’re writing for television ?

CK : The work for the tv was very, very different because we have deadlines to meet, this is more of a team work. I’m more secure in my writing and sometimes it happens to me to spend long days with nothing to lie down on the table. When I feel in a positive sense, I find it quite well-these sorts of blockages, but sometimes it is a little more difficult. I’ll give you an example, I am working on a scenario for a very very long time, at the beginning I felt good with, and then at this time I was more nervous and anxious because it no longer came, and then I had from time to time the studios, who called me saying ” so are you alright, Charlie, everything is going well ? A good holiday ? “You see the kind. And then the other day all of a sudden I was walking on the beach and I had an idea, an idea that I like, and suddenly I have included it in the scenario thinking that she was actually a solution, and I think if rather desperate of my blocking, I was forced to find an idea, I think this would not have been better. In any case I think that this would not have been the same film but a film very different. I realized that, like ” Adaptation “, as for ” Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind “, after a time, however very long in writing, at the last minute, I’m ready to make big changes and this is how I work.


A day of writing, what is he like ?

CK : It depends. I’d like to say that I am always in the flow, sometimes this happens. But the hardest part for me is finding the concept of the scene, to know or she is going to go. But once I found the concept, the writing of the dialogue is actually quite simple, but when I work I come back a lot on what I wrote previously. I reworked a lot of the pages of my script and I have the impression at this time that I am really accomplishing something. My day, I could tell that she was quite beautiful, but it is not always the case, it is not in general. For me the most simple, it is actually the process of rewriting once I have the scenario. Thus, if a developer wants the least change, where if I see changes, this is not complicated. At this time, I can easily write up to 10 pages per day when beginning the writing process, I can hardly write half a page per day.

I wanted to know if you refréniez a little in your delusions because your scenarios are sometimes fairly twisted, pretty crazy, I wanted to know if sometimes you say ” no there is too much for the viewer ! “?

CK : Precisely it is when I have the feeling that I can’t, I should not that I am going to the merits ; It is my audacity to me, and it is this that excites me. Moreover, to give you an example, at the time of ” In the skin of John Malkovich “, I was not in the movie world, I didn’t know at all this actor. I said to myself : “no you can’t do it” and it is this that has me completely laugh, so I was excited, and of course I did. It is the same thing for ” Adaptation “, I put in the script, what a terrible idea…and of course I did.

How do I make the transition from the world of television to the cinema, and how have you met Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and others?

CK : When I worked at the television, I was working on tv shows and you know, cancel each other out more often than they do not exist, so there was a season like that, in the month of may, or incurs the writers of the shows, and I found myself suddenly with some free time ahead of me, and I’ve always wanted to be a scriptwriter, screenwriter and film so I said why not start writing and as it spread samples of what I can do. This is how I made a sample of what would later become ” In the skin of John Malkovich “, same for ” Adaptation “. So I agreed and at the same time I was writing and at the same time especially, these scenarios had begun to circulate in Hollywood, we noticed it was pretty nice and everyone told me ” Listen this is really funny stuff is stuff but nobody will ever make “. I thought it was really weird but eventually I accepted them as a fait accompli, and at that time I was assigned as a work order to write “Confessions of a dangerous man” and then at the same time Spike Jonze has received my script ” In the skin of John Malkovich “. I do not know anything Spike Jonze, I even thought at first that he was the son of a man in the 40s was music with sound effects, finally someone very interesting. I found the Spike Jonze that now I know, we sympathized, he really wanted to do my scenario. Anyway, as he had been the only one to express the desire I had no choice. For Michel Gondry, it happened simply because it was the director’s favorite Spike Jonze and it was his friend, he presented it to me, and thus began the adventure with Michel Gondry.

Would you like that we use “Adaptation” to study in the schools, in the decrypting ?

CK : I don’t know if I would like that one dissects ” Adaptation “. I don détesterai not but is it really worth it ?

Should it be that you are really in a report mixed with the developer when you write the scenario ?

CK : on The contrary, I prefer not to know the director when I’m writing a screenplay and elsewhere, when I write in general, there is no director attached to the script I’m writing. Except for ” Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind “, of course, or I worked initially with Michael, but once we worked on the concept and the idea, I worked totally from my side, completely separately, that anyway I always prefer to do. This has been the case for “In the skin of John Malkovich” and “Confessions of a dangerous man” because I have not had contact with the directors that, once the writing of the scenarios completed. The reason why I prefer this solitude, it is that I struggle a lot when I write so I prefer not to talk about the process and keep it really as a private experience intimate, in my head. First of all, because basically I want to be personal in my writing. But I realize that when one speaks to the other, you have reactions, good or bad and I do not want these reactions dissipate or pollute my energies when I write.

In ” Adaptation “, we see the character Charlie Kaufman on the set of the film ” in the skin of John Malkovich “. What is your involvement in the shooting ?

CK : I’m not at all involved in the shooting. I am especially involved in aspects of the production, who are well on the pre-production and post-production, when I speak with the director of the casting, and especially our vision of the film which is going to be. I’m very, very involved in the phases of assembly and also for the music, but during the filming itself, I avoid or I try to not get too involved unless sometimes there are scenes a little tricky, or that the director feels that I have to be on the shoot for may be to rework some of the moments of the scenes. Otherwise I’m a little bit like in ” Adaptation “, I’m there, and when there is all this action and this movement around me, I feel like I’m gene, and I prefer to remove it.

The members of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze are the only filmmakers to be able to visualize your universe ? Besides you’re very loyal to these directors. I wanted to know if you think Spike Jonze would be able to achieve your scenario (Eternal sunshine) and how it would have been different ?

CK : I’ve worked with three directors, so obviously Michel, Spike and George Clooney. I don’t know very well. I just think, that in any case, in regards to George Clooney, this was not the right director to bring my script to screen. Just because Spike and Michel are working together in the real sense of the term. I feel, with them, of course. I know that this film, their film, rest a bit my film. It is a true collaboration. I find it quite bizarre that typically a lot of directors throw the writer somewhere once that they are in the process of turning because I find it an arrogance and a true stupidity. It is a disservice to make a film that does not work with the one who wrote it. I think that there are other filmmakers as Spike and Michel to be in my universe, but I don’t know yet.

I think that Spike would have been able to make this movie (Eternal) but it would have been a film very, very different. These are two directors, in any case, to which I entirely trust. As much for their style as by their visual ; But you know, visually they are very different and therefore it is very difficult to imagine the film that would have created Spike. But I think that the two filmmakers have this point in common is that they love infinitely the characters and the visuals are always in service of this character, it is this that is important.

I have this feeling that Michel Gondry is more romantic and that Spike Jonze would have been even more delirious.


CK : I am not agree with you. I think that both, according to my human experience with them, are romantic. Men who are interested in this aspect of things and of life. However, I think that Spike has more control, a greater level of control on these shoots. For example, ” In the skin of John Malkovich “, probably the history of the most crazy on which one has worked. There is a restraint on his part as a director and it is this that often makes it completely reality.

How have you ever thought about a scenario as crazy as “In the skin of John Malkovich” ? Why John Malkovich and what has the response been of it ?

CK : It is difficult to explain why John Malkovich. You think about the fact that I’ve been thinking about an answer to this question that has been asked me many a time ; but in retrospect I think that this is a choice totally instinctive. That is to say that I thought it was a good idea at the time funny, but that was not stupid because it is a real player. So it is both a choice funny but it is also a choice of complex for me and I have always found that, when we see John Malkovich play, there is always a mystery on what is going on in his head you always wonder what he is thinking really. There’s a strange aloofness with the world around them, and so I found it very interesting all of a sudden show the world in the eyes of John Malkovich. And then, let’s face it, his name is very funny for a title. Because, at the time I was writing the scenario, he had not yet accepted on to play in the film. Then we tried several ideas, you have understood. Christopher Walken, because I wanted a character a little quirky like this. But to the ear it was not terrible ” In the head of Christopher Walken “. It does not sound well. I found that it was still considered very serious as the sound of it. Finally, well before the Spike read the scenario, and the partner of John Malkovich sent him the scenario, and his first reaction was : “But finally that is what he has this guy, I fucked with his girlfriend or what ?” so he found it very funny. I was completely happy because it was already unexpected that John Malkovich to read it, but it’s even more incredible that he found this scenario. Finally when he accepted it, his only concern was ” Is that it’s not going to sound like a trip of self-absorbed ? Is it that we are not going to say, this is a commissioned work, it was I who asked you to write about me.” then he would have said, if the film doesn’t work, it’ll stay as a shadow on my career, and if it works, it will always remain as a shadow on my career, such as ” this is the film ultimate “. He had the same thought a time to play Craig and not play him-even this, which really would have been a different concept. In any case, once it was in the character he was completely at the bottom, even at a time it was that I was not hard enough with him-even if I can tell. When, at one time, he speaks of himself by saying that he is a bag of shit overrated, I must say that it was still a pretty strong.

You say that with George Clooney, this had not been a nice experience. That reproach you in the movie “Confessions of a dangerous man” ?

CK : Why is this problem with both George Clooney and the film ? Problem but problem yet different. First of all, George Clooney did not want to really work with me. He came in screaming and he said to me : “Charlie, this is the best script I’ve ever read this is great” and then suddenly I was no longer there, there were the influences of Steven Soderbergh, the influences of others. So in the end the story took a totally different direction in which I was not involved. I was completely cut off from this project in any way and without being too biased, I find that the story is totally distorted as I described a story that focused on the humanity of the character. This man whose life was behind him, who thought that his life was a failure in which all the potentials were gachés.this is a man in a state of depression, in a time much troubled in his life. When he wrote his memoirs, he wanted to beautify his life, to give it a different meaning. He beautified, for him, being an assassin, a “hitman” for the CIA. This is what I was interested in this fantasy totally pre teen that a man of 50 years lived. Especially that I was interested in, it is ultimately the sadness of such a character who must do this. George Clooney was much more interested in the genre-beautiful day/ beautiful night it is “Game show” during the day and assassin at night, which was absolutely not the story I had written. I really had the sensation that for him the form was the substance. The style was more important than the story and it was very show-off, as is often the works of the first directors or one finally loses the character. He restructured the story and for me it doesn’t work. This is very embarrassing for me, because, after all, my name is attached to the scenario, is that it has added scenes and I was greatly embarrassed, since I signed up when even the scenario. I think that yes in fact I would have been able to make a better movie than this one.

Question : Will you one day make your own movie ?

CK : first Of all, to finish with George Clooney, just to give you an example for

show you at what point it went away. I was shown the film when it was very close to the final edit without really tell me that everything had already been decided in advance and seeing the film I handed over to George Clooney seven pages of notes to explain to her what in my opinion didn’t work or didn’t work very well. He has not responded to a single one of my suggestions. I found it completely stupid.

Will I one day make my own movies ? I think after the film I am working on with Spike Jonze, and much can be may be I’d realize my first movie.

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