If you don’t know who Charlie Kauffman is, you’ve been writing in a hole or you’re just plain solipsistic. He’s been nominated for three Oscars and finally won this time. The picture, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Not a great commercial success, nor was Adaptation, nor Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, nor even his most popular, Being John Malkovich. Yet, he is the darling of Hollywood, the writer’s writer. The question is, why?
To me, the answer is easy. He’s brilliant. I hate to use a bad word here, but I can’t help it. He’s postmodern. Kaufman understands the conventions of screenwriting backwards and forwards and never fails to twist them on their heads. Sometimes it works, as in Confessions of A Dangerous Mind (I love the way he blends reality and fiction so there is no clean boundary) and sometimes it doesn’t, as in the third act of Adaptation (blaahhhh – a conceit that doomed itself). Always, though, it teases and entertains those who understand story structure and the rules of a screenplay. Does it reach the average Joe in Nebraska? Don’t know, don’t care. Every screenplay is not for every audience member always. In fact, no screenplay is.
There’s a point to this somewhere. Since I get on my sort of soapbox with almost every post, this one will be no different. The point is, it takes courage to do what he does to a story – maybe less courage now that he’s on picture number five and has an Oscar – but somewhere along the line it took a great deal of courage. I look at my own work and ask whether, when it finally gets through development (if ever), it will add anything important to the body of filmmaking as a whole? I’m too chicken to answer honestly – but I can tell you, it’s the drive that keeps me going. It’s a long haul, brother, but man, is it worth it….