Charlie Kaufman is the idiosyncratic scribe behind some of the best and most innovative films of the last 16 years. After earning his keep in TV, Kaufman broke out in a big way with the endearing and offbeat “Being John Malkovich” (a film that also helped Spike Jonze make the leap to directing features). Kaufman followed up ‘Malkovich’ with his one real misfire, “Human Nature,” only to come back with the delightfully meta “Adaptation,” which gave Nicolas Cage a career defining role. He also put his stamp on “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” and “Synecdoche, New York,” and this year he delivered the excellent, animated “Anomalisa,” which is currently making the festival rounds (our Telluride review here).
A couple of years back, Kaufman gave a guest lecture on screenwriting for BAFTA. In true Kaufman style — the anxiousness, the intelligence, the oddball humor — the lecture, which runs for a little over an hour, covers the highs and lows of screenwriting: working as a pen for hire, crafting your own, deeply personal stories, and having people hate your deeply personal stories. Unique in the best way, he builds the lecture around the reality of being a writer and the importance of beginning a project by knowing that you know nothing and being hungry to learn. Kaufman touches on his experience of his first gig writing for “Get A Life” (which he likens to zombie work), the nature of selling a product through deceit, the value of staying true to your artistic endeavors and intentions, and how a screenplay should be a step into the abyss. It shouldn’t come as a shock to see the depth Kaufman mines in an hour-long lecture, but still, it’s amazing to see how he manages to surprise and dazzle and suggest a systematic reevaluation of just what it means to be an artist.
Be sure to catch “Anomalisa” when it hits theaters in limited release December 30th. Got a favorite Kaufman film? Weigh in in the comments below and check out the lecture below.