Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman may have scripted only one produced film (Being John Malkovich) until now, but it was such an oddly visionary movie that he's now the object of much curiosity. With his second film just out and two more coming soon, we spoke with him about the special challenges of writing for the movies.
JD: Is the authorship of a film a big concern to you?
CK: How do you mean?
JD: The way a film is often attributed to its director: "A film by ..."
CK: Yes; it's not a big concern, but I think it stinks. I wouldn't take that "A film by ..." credit, if it were offered to me as a writer. There are just so many people who contribute to any movie. It should be, "Directed by ...", "Written by ...", "Cinematography by ..."
JD: When you think about films, do you not group them by directors or writers?
CK: You know, I have a tendency to do that, probably as much as anybody, just because that's the culture in which I was raised. But I find it interesting that you don't do that in the same way with plays. Theater's a good analogy, because you have sort of the same grouping of people — directors and actors and so on — but you don't talk about a Eugene O'Neill play like — you might talk about who directed it, but it's still "a Eugene O'Neill play."
JD: In that case, of course, a Eugene O'Neill play could be staged by many different directors, but a particular screenplay is probably only going to be produced once.
JD: It's not exactly the same situation, because we do talk about the plays of O'Neill, or of Ionesco or Shakespeare...
CK: Yes, but if I take my work as seriously as someone who writes plays, and the work is completely realized ... For example, I wrote this script called Adaptation that includes myself as a character in the most unflattering way. It couldn't be more personal, and then I read something online where they talk about "Spike Jonze's Adaptation" — what is that? Spike doesn't do that, he gives credit where it's due, but people want to talk about it that way. It's sort of a romantic vision people have of what a director does.
JD: People want to think of "Scorsese films," even when he's not writing them.
CK: Yeah, though Scorsese, say, with Taxi Driver, is always saying that that's Paul Schrader's film.
JD: With the voyeurism of Being John Malkovich and the Plexiglas cage where Rhys Ifans' character lives in Human Nature — are those images related to your concerns about privacy in your own life?
CK: I don't know why images are compelling to me. Not wanting to talk about my personal life — I just don't like that whole culture of celebrity and I don't want to be put in that position. I'm just a guy, I do my work, and I don't want to be romanticized, I guess. Celebrity stuff just seems like you're talking about how great you are, or how hard your life was, or whatever — but the work is really the interesting thing. That's what I give.
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