Kaufman at the Sarajevo Film Festival, August 2008
|Born||Charles Stuart Kaufman
November 19, 1958
New York City, New York
|Alma mater||New York University|
|Notable work(s)||Being John Malkovich; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Adaptation; Synecdoche, New York|
|Spouse(s)||Denise (2 children)|
Charles Stuart "Charlie" Kaufman (born November 19, 1958) is an American screenwriter, producer, director, and lyricist. His writing works includes critically acclaimed films Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He made his directing debut in 2008 with Synecdoche, New York, which was met with positive reception as well; film critic Roger Ebert called it "the best movie of the decade" in 2009.
Kaufman is often praised for being highly original and imaginative: Being John Malkovich stars John Malkovich as a fictional version of himself, Human Nature is mostly told by flashbacks, Adaptation tells the story of Kaufman himself, trying to write the film itself and to understand the book from which it is adapted with the help of his twin brother Donald Kaufman (who was credited as a cowriter despite being a fictional character), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind mainly takes place in the mind of the main character while his memory is erased, and Synecdoche, New York is a postmodern film with many complex non-realistic elements.
He has been nominated for three Academy Awards: twice for Best Original Screenplay for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, winning the award for the latter, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Adaptation. He also won two BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplays, one BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and a Saturn Award for Best Writing.
Between 1983 and 1984, Kaufman wrote comedic articles and spoofs on spec for National Lampoon, along with colleague and friend Paul Proch. His work included parodies of Kurt Vonnegut and the X-Men. After moving to Los Angeles, Kaufman got his start in television by writing two episodes for Chris Elliott's Get a Life during the 1991–92 season. During the 1993–94 season, Kaufman worked on Fox's sketch comedy show The Edge. He later worked as a writer for Ned and Stacey and The Dana Carvey Show.
He first came to mainstream notice as the writer of Being John Malkovich (directed by Spike Jonze), earning an Oscar nomination for his effort and winning a BAFTA. He also wrote Human Nature, which was directed by Michel Gondry, and then worked with Jonze again as the screenwriter for Adaptation, which earned him another Oscar nomination and his second BAFTA. Adaptation featured a "Charlie Kaufman" character who is a heavily fictionalized version of the screenwriter and who has an "identical twin brother", Donald, a sell-out screenwriter reflecting Kaufman's anxieties about Hollywood. The DVD edition of Adaptation contains a filmography which lists Donald Kaufman as having written the screenplay for the movie. The credits of the film close with the words "in loving memory of Donald Kaufman".
Kaufman also penned the screenplay for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a biopic based on the "unauthorized autobiography" of Chuck Barris, the creator of such popular game shows as The Dating Game and host of The Gong Show. The film focuses on Barris's claim to have been a CIA hit man. It was George Clooney's directorial debut. Kaufman angrily criticized Clooney for making drastic alterations to the script without consulting him (instead, Clooney consulted Barris). Kaufman said in an interview with William Arnold: "The usual thing for a writer is to deliver a script and then disappear. That's not for me. I want to be involved from beginning to end. And these directors [Gondry and Jonze] know that, and respect it."
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, released in 2004, was Kaufman's second pairing with director Michel Gondry. Kaufman won his first Oscar for best original screenplay and third BAFTA for the film together with Gondry and French artist Pierre Bismuth, which centered around a man enlisting the services of a doctor to erase the memories of a failed relationship from his brain. The trio also received the prestigious PEN American Center 2005 prize for screenplay for the film. David Edelstein described the film in Slate as "The Awful Truth turned inside-out by Philip K. Dick, with nods to Samuel Beckett, Chris Marker, John Guare—the greatest dramatists of our modern fractured consciousness. But the weave is pure Kaufman."
Kaufman made his directorial debut with his next project, Synecdoche, New York. Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest and Michelle Williams star in the film, which tells "the story of an anguished playwright who is forced to deal with several women in his life." It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.
In late December 2010, several sources indicated that Kaufman would be reuniting with longtime collaborator Spike Jonze. Very little is known about the project except that it will be a political satire.
Kaufman was slated to write and direct a film with the working title Frank or Francis. Few details have been confirmed about the plot except that it is a musical comedy about internet anger culture. In July 2012, Jack Black revealed in an interview that funding for the project had fallen through, as the studio was unsure about its chances for success after the financial failure of Kaufman's last directorial effort. The future of the project is uncertain.
Kaufman wrote and directed the audio play Hope Leaves the Theater, a segment of the sound-only production Theater of the New Ear. The play starred Meryl Streep, Hope Davis and Peter Dinklage. In the world of the play, it was the last thing Charlie Kaufman (the character) wrote before committing suicide. The title actually refers to Hope Davis's character "leaving the theater."
Kaufman was interviewed on the Colbert Report on December 9, 2008, Charlie Rose, and also by Mark Kermode for The Culture Show on BBC2 on 24 March 2009. Michael Sragow asserted in a 2007 article on Salon.com that Kaufman "avoids talking personally." In 2009, David Poland said to Kaufman, "you've not really done a lot of press," to which Kaufman responded by saying "I've done a lot of press" and that he was annoyed by "mythology" created by entertainment media. Kaufman informed Poland that he had done interviews for all movies from Being John Malkovich onwards, yet interviewers had continued to say to him during interviews that he didn't do a lot of press.
He was born to a Jewish family in New York City, the son of Helen and Myron Kaufman. They moved to Connecticut shortly after his birth. Kaufman is a graduate of William H. Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut. He attended NYU Film School, where one of his classmates was filmmaker Chris Columbus.
Themes and influences
Kaufman's works explore such universal themes as identity crisis, mortality, and the meaning of life through a metaphysical or parapsychological framework. While his work resists labels, it is sometimes described as surrealist. He sometimes includes fictionalized "facts" about his life in his work, notably Adaptation and Hope Leaves the Theater.
Apes recur in Kaufman's work: in Being John Malkovich Lotte has a pet chimp named Elijah, in Human Nature Puff was raised as an ape, in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Penny dreams about an ape, and in Adaptation the original deus ex machina was a swamp ape.
Among Kaufman's favorite writers/directors and influences are Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Stanisław Lem, Philip K. Dick, Flannery O'Connor, Stephen Dixon, Shirley Jackson, Italo Svevo, David Lynch, Lars von Trier and Patricia Highsmith. In Being John Malkovich one of the protagonist's puppet shows is called "Eloise and Abelard: A Love Story", based on the Alexander Pope poem Eloisa to Abelard. This poem is also referenced in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and is the source of the title.
- Get a Life (1991–92)
- The Trouble with Larry (1993)
- The Edge (1993–94)
- The Dana Carvey Show (1996)
- Ned and Stacey (1996–97)
- Moral Orel (2006)
- How and Why (upcoming)
- Hope Leaves the Theater (2005; playwright, director)
- Anomalisa (2005; playwright [under the pseudonym Francis Fregoli])
- Ebert, Roger. (2009-12-13) The best films of the decade – Roger Ebert's Journal. Blogs.suntimes.com. Retrieved on 2010-12-19.
- "Scans of said articles". Beingcharliekaufman.com. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- "Biography". BeingCharlieKaufman.com. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- "Salon.com Interview by Michael Sragow.". Retrieved 2007-05-15.
- "Kaufman interviewed by William Arnold.". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 2004-03-18. Retrieved 2007-05-19.
- "PEN Center USA: 2005 Literary Awards Winners". Archived from the original on 2006-11-25. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- "Kaufman's Directorial Debut Lands Williams, Hoffman". Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- "24 Frames". Los Angeles Times. 2010-12-16.
- "Plot details on not one, but possibly TWO upcoming CK films". BeingCharlieKaufman.com. 2011-03-02. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- "Is this the plot of "Frank or Francis"?". BeingCharlieKaufman.com. 2011-07-30. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- "Creative Screenwriting Magazine on Hope Leaves the Theater". Retrieved 2007-05-19.
- "The Body – Projects – Theater of the New Ear". Archived from the original on 2007-01-07. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- "colbertnation.com Interview by Stephen Colbert". Retrieved 2009-02-14.
- Stein, Joel (Apr. 26, 2004). "Charlie Kaufman". Time Magazine. Retrieved 14 March 2010.
- "BBC". BBC. 2009-03-24. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- "salon.com Interview by Michael Sragow". Retrieved 2007-05-15.
- "David Poland Interview with Charlie Kaufman, January 17, 2009". Video.google.com. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- "Box Office Prophets". Box Office Prophets. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- Indie Wire interview.[dead link]
- Adaptation (Draft 2)[dead link]
- Sneider, Jeff (July 22, 2011). "Carell, Black and Cage eye Kaufman pic". Variety. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
- Charlie Kaufman developing an FX sitcom called How and Why IMDb.com
- Charlie Kaufman on National Public Radio
- Charlie Kaufman at the Internet Movie Database
- Charlie Kaufman lecture on screenwriting, BAFTA Lecture Series, 30 September 2011. (1:10:08 hours)