Script consultant – we need to talk about Charlie Kaufman

As a script consultant and script writer for hire we do really need to talk about Charlie Kaufman – he’s probably one of the best known and highest profile screenwriters around today, but he himself has said that his career is kind of shot now.  But maybe thanks to lockdown and Covid19 his NetFlix film I’m Thinking of Ending Things is getting almost as much media coverage as big budget crowd pleasers like ‘Tenet’ and the new ‘James Bond’ which are due for release in Cinema’s soon as opposed to streaming on Netflix.

It sounds like ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ might prove to be Charlie’s biggest hit. He more than anyone would appreciate getting a smash streaming film due to alack of new films caused by a fucking pandemic. That’s right up Charlie’s street.

So, what do I feel about Charlie? To be honest, he drives me up the wall. 

He’s been around longer than people think – writing episodic and comedy TV scripts for the likes of Dana Carvey going back to the early 90s. Then, from nowhere comes ‘Being John Malkovich’, which was a unique script and film.  And it probably owes a lot to director Spike Jonze too, but don’t under estimate Charlie – a big slab of the material in ‘Being John Malkovich’ is his, and he has kept coming back to some of the themes and obsessions in other scripts.

I saw ‘Being John Malkovich’ in the cinema back when it came out in 1999 – 1999 was another lifetime ago. Kubrick was alive and still working on ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. There was no Netflix, YouTube, or Facebook. Politics seemed fairly normal and there was no talk of credit crunches or banks toppling into bankruptcy. The World Trade Centre was still standing, nobody had ever heard of fake news.  And yet, ‘Being John Malkovich’  already had an unease, a unease that was universal, spiritual and moral.  And it was a film that wasn’t sure about celebrity and fame.  It was a unique film experience – it spoke of the future…

I’ve tried a couple of times to watch the film again, but I cannot get through it.

Then came (over the next 20 years) ‘Adaptation’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, ‘Synecdoche, New York’, ‘Anomalisa’, and now his latest on Netflix.

I’ve tried ‘Adaptation’ again, recently, it’s easier to watch than the others, and I think the performances are fine – Streep, Cage, and everybody is really great in the film – but it still grates in the second half.  The joke wore thin (is it even a joke?).

‘Anomalisa’ – a mad slightly bizarre, animated film of an older unproduced live action script has great performances, but is funnier to describe to people than it is to watch.

‘…Spotless Mind’, I need to watch again, but it troubled me before, and I’m so weary of Charlie.

Then there’s ‘Synecdoche, New York’ which Charlie wrote and directed. It was a huge financial failure, hardly anyone saw it.  It comes with all of Charlie’s obsessions intact. It’s depressing, obscure, the narrative is insane.  And it’s a MASTERPEICE.   It’s one of the best films that no one has ever seen. And it’s impossible.   I’m not sure I could ever watch it again, but while I did. I sat stunned.

So, that’s Charlie.  He has a new film out on Netflix, I’ll watch it, but I’m worried, it’s either water torture or genius and you can’t keep going on like that.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award-winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. His UK script coverage service, Script reading service and script development service are highly sought after.

You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.

You can contact Matthew directly to purchase his ebook The UK Soap Opera Script Writers Handbook.

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham was released in 2020. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.

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