Charlie Kaufman Interview on Scriptwriting & Why “Movies Lie a Lot”

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Charlie Kaufman Interview on ScriptrwritingThat films lie becomes especially obvious behind the scenes where one can see all the special effects films like Only God Forgives use. That’s why filmmaker Werner Herzog said, “What we do as filmmakers is immaterial. It’s only a projection of light. […] It’s illusionist work.” Similarly, Michael Haneke said, “Film is 24 lies per second at the service of truth, or at the service of the attempt to find the truth.”

Here’s how Michel Gondry explains the problem of cinematic representation: “The human brain forgets the cuts—a faculty specifically human […]. The brain absorbs a constructed continuity as a reality and consequently gets convinces to witness a fair representation of the subject.”

Film representation is also one of the central themes of Robert Bresson’s “Notes On Cinematography,” where he pondered about “The power your (flattened) images have of being other than they are.”

In Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays, particularly Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, the real blends with the fictional through self-reference. The questions of reality and lies, and the connection between art and real life is one of the main topics of Kaufman’s work, most extensively explored in Synecdoche, New York, which, ironically, may be a truthful depiction of the real-life struggles of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the main character.

In an interview about the film, Charlie Kaufman discusses how films lie, and why his films blend realism with fantasy. The other major take-away in the interview is Kaufman’s discussion of the craft of screenwriting. In the modern day of overpopulation and Internet, it is impossible to be original (which was the topic of Drew Christie’s original Allergy to Originality). Yet, within these limits, Charlie Kaufman manages to push the boundaries of creativity. As the interview reveals, it is probably because of his disregard for the so-called “rules” of writing for cinema.

Charlie Kaufman on Cinema Lies and Artifice

I really like artifice and I really like reminding people they are watching a movie. And I really like the idea of having people question the veracity of what they are watching. And so by mixing things that are possibly real with things that are clearly not real or are questionable, to me it’s interesting, and it’s fun.

I don’t see it as a paradox, I guess. I’ve always liked the fake world, and I like sets, and I like, you know, illusion, and all that stuff. But I don’t like being lied to. And I think, in a way, maybe, movies lie a lot, and maybe I’m trying not to lie in some of these things by saying that I am lying. Then I’m not lying anymore. If that makes sense.

Charlie Kaufman on Scriptwriting

I don’t think there are any rules. […] There’s experience, and there’s figuring out a creative way to tell a story. Those are the two things that I think I am interested in. […] But there aren’t any rules.

[…] I kinda vaguely know what a three-act structure is, but it doesn’t interest me. It seems like an odd thing. It’s like saying that there’s one way to paint a painting. No one says that, but they do say that there’s one way to write a screenplay. I disagree.

The beginning of the first part of the interview talks about Charlie Kaufman’s experience as a TV writer. The quote about scriptwriting starts at 5:10. The quote about cinema artifice is at the beginning of part 2. The interview then continues with a discussion about Being John Malkovich.