A Profile of a Profile of Charlie Kaufman

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Charlie Kaufman is the writer behind movies including Adaptation, Being John Malkovitch, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (He also wrote two episodes of the TV classic Get a Life, though he didn't win any Oscars for them.) In the leadup to Kaufman's directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, Wired decided to write a profile of the man -- because the Wired folks, like me, are huge fans. In true Kaufman style, the Wired editors decided to add a layer to the story: document the process of writing the profile during the writing of the profile.

So, despite not having actually interviewed Kaufman (yet), Wired writers have been posting daily to a blog called Storyboard, currently featuring nine entries (including a fairly dry video of a staff meeting). The stated idea is to provide a look inside the process of writing a profile, but if Kaufman's writing is any guide, watch for the Storyboard blog to go off the rails -- and fast. Just as Kaufman's Adaptation was ostensibly an adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, the movie is in fact a crazy mixture of a drug caper and a think piece about trying to adapt a book about flowers (which, lacking much action, is hard to do...hence the drug caper). More than that, Adaptation an examination of identity and time and evolution and sex and frustration and storytelling. The result is transformative and wonderful -- one of my very favorite movies ever -- but it's a very different text from The Orchid Thief. (Which itself is an entertaining and enlightening read.)

Anyway, Wired's Storyboard blog currently features behind-the-scenes material from various editors talking about scheduling interviews with Kaufman and various other people in his circle (Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and so on). But the text of the blogs seems to suggest (to me, at least) that this is all a set-up for the kind of meta-narrative for which Kaufman is famous. Here's a sample from Jason Tanz's post on August 29:

2) this threatens to become REALLY corny, but: a) if Kaufman's project [Synecdoche, New York] is "emotional truth," and he thinks that the standard storytelling tropes (and commercial imperatives) obscure that truth; and b) my job is to present some "truth" about Kaufman; then c) there's some parallel between the movie and the article (or really any creative project, I guess). It will be a challenge to bring the meta without also bringing the obnoxious, but maybe there's a theme to touch lightly upon there.

3) the dude doesn't like to talk about his personal life, which is fair enough, and doesn't like to explain his work, which is also fair enough. I haven't hear him talk much about his influences, which would seem a pretty good place to start. I'm assuming like Borges, Kafka, Dick (he wrote an early adaptation of Scanner, Darkly), etc. I don't want to overdo the recluse angle, which has been done to death already.

Stay tuned, folks. For Kaufman fans, this is about to get interesting.

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September 4, 2008 - 11:42am
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