Charlie Kaufman
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Charlie Kaufman: “I don’t believe in rules”

Short Profile

Name: Charles Stuart Kaufman
DOB: 19 November 1958
Place of Birth: New York, New York, USA
Occupation: Screenwriter

Mr. Kaufman, how are you?

I am not that great. How are you?

I'm actually fine. What's wrong?

I don’t know. I am just tired and…


No, I am not cranky. Just tired and pissy. I have a headache and I am tired and I am fine.

Somebody once told me that a good writer is supposed to read at least twice as much as he writes, otherwise he is not improving his skills. Would you agree?

I don’t believe in rules. I think that there are probably always exceptions to everything. I think reading is a very good thing for writers to do, obviously. I think it’s probably better not to read screenplays if you are going to read because I think they are usually not very interesting and not well written. But I don’t know if there is a formula, something that mathematical like 2 + 2. I don’t know. I certainly write so slowly that I am sure that I read more than twice as much as I write.

How long does it take you to write a script?

Sometimes between two and three years. They’ve been taking longer lately. I don’t know what that means. I’ve got to change that pattern because I want to get a few more movies done before I die. But I wrote Being John Malkovich in a very short period of time. I was working on a TV show waiting for hiring season. I think I wrote it in six months, which is pretty amazing for me.

The trailer to Adaptation (2002), written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. Allegedly, the script development to Adaptation dates back to 1994.

When people reach a certain level they often hire assistants to do a lot of their work. Do you have help or do you have to battle the beast yourself?

No I’ve never had one. The only time I had an assistant was as a director. For co-production I had an assistant. But, no, I never had an assistant in any way other than that. I don’t know what they would do. They would sit next to me in my office in my house and that would be really weird. Research for me is part of the learning process. No one else could do it for me.


I read things really haphazardly – something leads me to something else. I spend five hours going through things online and oh, that leads me to this. How could anyone else do that? So the answer is no.

The architecture of your movies seems to be getting more elaborate. Maybe this is the reason.

Yeah, I think so. Maybe that’s why and I am thinking about more things and – I am trying.

Is it a self-analytical process when you write?

In a therapeutic way? I don’t know if it is. That’s a tough question. I get asked this question and I don’t know what the answer is. I feel glad to be doing it, I feel glad being able to think about the things that I am thinking about and create something out of them, but I don’t know if I get better because of it or anything. I am still the same person. But it’s a living. Maybe, we’ll see – might be a living.

“One of the biggest things about writing your first screenplay is that you actually finished a screenplay.”

You’re one of the few screenwriters who has become a brand. People have an idea of what a Charlie Kaufman film is, there is a kind of stamp on it. Was that not enough or why did you feel the need to direct as well?

I don’t think it was necessarily like I needed it for my ego. I was interested in it. I started out doing that stuff: I went to film school and I made movies when I was a kid and I did a lot of acting when I was a kid, too. I’ve always been interested in theater and actors and it was something that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a good thing for me to be able to make my work even more personal – to take it from its conception to its completion and to be able to make all the choices myself. It maintains a certain integrity maybe that it might not otherwise have and I wanted to explore that.

How did you find the experience then? Was it like you expected it to be?

Well, it wasn’t all that surprising to me. I’ve been working on movies for a while so I kind of know what it is to make them to a certain extent. Was it everything that I expected it to be? Yeah, it was pretty much what I expected it to be. It was straining, it was intense, it was very concentrated, a lot of people asking me a lot of things, managing a lot of people.

Did you enjoy it?

I enjoyed it and I am glad that I did it and I would like to do it again. I learned a lot, but it’s not like there were any kind of major surprises in the process. "Am I really that director?" It wasn’t anything like that.

What do you think you learned as an artist from the process? About yourself and your work?

What did I learn about myself? I think that I can direct a movie, which is probably the biggest thing I learned. “Now I have directed a movie!” It’s like when you write your first screenplay. One of the biggest things about writing your first screenplay is that you actually finished a screenplay. It’s a very important sort of milestone just to have done that – even if it sucks. It gave me a certain confidence to go on and do it again if I can.

You said you used to act. Can you imagine acting, writing, directing, and producing one day? Does Charlie Kaufmann want to do it all?

I don’t know because I don’t really act anymore. I haven’t done it in years. I’m very kind of uncomfortable in front of cameras. So I am not sure. I’ve thought about it maybe somewhere in the future. I don’t know, it depends on how my therapy goes.