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Creator / Charlie Kaufman

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"Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. If you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognize him or herself in you and that will give them hope. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Do you. It isn’t easy but it’s essential. It’s not easy because there’s a lot in the way. In many cases a major obstacle is your deeply seated belief that you are not interesting. And since convincing yourself that you are interesting is probably not going to happen, take it off the table. Think, ‘Perhaps I’m not interesting but I am the only thing I have to offer, and I want to offer something. And by offering myself in a true way I am doing a great service to the world, because it is rare and it will help.’"

Charles Stuart "Charlie" Kaufman (born 1958) is an American writer, director and author known for his metatextual references, use of absurdism, and headache-inducing tendencies. Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry have each directed several of Kaufman's screenplays. Considered to be among the most brilliant contemporary screenplay-writers.

Outside of his original screenplays, he has worked as an uncredited script doctor for screenplays such as Kung Fu Panda 2. Yes, really.


Works include:

* = writing, ** = writing + directing

  • Being John Malkovich*: The feature debut of director Spike Jonze.
  • Human Nature*: The feature debut of director Michel Gondry.
  • Adaptation*: A meta-adaptation of The Orchid Thief, framed as the story of Kaufman's struggle to script an unfilmable novel adaptation and deal with his evil-hack-writer-twin. Perhaps the first film in history to credit a fictional character (said evil-hack-writer-twin) as a co-writer for a screenplay Oscar nomination.
  • Confessions of a Dangerous Mind*: The directorial debut of George Clooney, although Clooney deviated considerably from the script without Kaufman's permission.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind*: A science fiction film about a company which can selectively erase their clients' memories. Kaufman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for this film.
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  • Synecdoche, New York**: Kaufman's directorial debut about a stage director who creates a life-sized model of New York City in his pursuit of verisimilitude on the stage. Considered by Roger Ebert to be the best movie of the last decade.
  • How & Why**: An unsuccessful TV pilot Kaufman pitched to FX about a host of a cancelled children's science show (played by Michael Cera) who tries to start over with a new show in a little TV market - also a portal to the supernatural world.
  • Anomalisa**: Kaufman's first animated feature, about a lonely man struggling to connect with the first truly unique woman he's ever met. Co-directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson.
  • Antkind*: Kaufman's 2020 debut novel, about a film critic named B. Rosenberger Rosenberg trying to remember a 3 month long film, which leads him on a surreal journey throughout his brain, other's brains, and beyond.
  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things**: Kaufman wrote and directed this adaptation of the Iain Reid novel of the same name. It was released on Netflix.
  • Chaos Walking (2021)*: Adaptation of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Kaufman was brought on to write the first draft in 2012 and left shortly after; the draft eventually passed through six other people and was revised so much that he was uncredited on the final product.

Tropes in Charlie Kaufman's works include:

  • Author Appeal:
    • Romances where a melancholy man will fall for an extraordinary woman, but things aren’t what they initially seem.
    • Mentally broken, awkward men who can't get on with the rest of the world. A retreat into the mind is typically the only way they can deal with their situations.
    • Copious amounts of surrealism and headache-inducing moments.
    • Fictionalized facts and playing with the rules of reality.
    • Meaningful names, usually referencing mental illnesses and diseases.
    • Monkeys.
  • Black Comedy: When his comedy isn’t weird as hell, it’s probably going to be this.
  • Central Theme: Mortality, death, what it means to be human, and the meaning of life as well as how people use fantasy and escapism to cope with traumatic experiences or negative emotions.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: No one is ever all good or all bad in his work.
  • Genre-Busting
  • Humans Are Flawed: Kaufman says he does like people in real life, but his characters are usually emotionally damaged, self-loathing, and insecure.
  • Loser Protagonist: Very few Kaufman protagonists aren’t. Hell, he even made himself one!
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Being John Malkovich and especially Sunshine deconstruct this to the extreme. They go over what happens when the novelty of such a person wears off.
  • Meaningful Name: Particularly in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche, New York and Anomolisa.
  • Meta Fiction: Adaptation most bluntly, but also seen in Synecdoche, New York.
  • Mind Screw: Almost goes without saying.
  • Portmanteau:
  • Postmodernism: Metafictional elements? Check. Deconstruction? Of course! Weirdness up the wazoo? You bet!
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: His romantic leads are this, males almost always being being blue and women usually being red.
  • Rewatch Bonus: His films have a lot of elements that take on new meaning on a second or third watch.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His movies are usually cynical in tone, but have a shine of optimism at its core.
  • Surreal Humor: His trademark style of humor.
  • Surreal Horror: Used every so often.
  • Widget Series: Usually of a dramatic variety.