Charlie Kaufman


Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

After completing "Being John Malkovich", enigmatic screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was hired to adapt Susan Orlean's best-selling novel "The Orchid Thief". Several months into the project, though, Kaufman experienced writer's block and his bid to faithfully adapt the book failed. He tells you why.

Did you have the ending we see in the film in mind when you started your screenplay?

No, Mr Saxon [the producer] hired me to write a faithful adaptation of "The Orchid Thief". I didn't know what I wanted to do and then five months into it I panicked and decided to do it this way. But I didn't tell them, and I didn't tell the studio. I just did it.

Why was the book so problematic for you?

Because I wanted to adapt it honestly and I couldn't figure out a way to do it. So, the exaggeration and the lying that's in the script is a way to tell the audience that this is not the book that Susan Orlean wrote. I think by lying, we're kind of remaining true to the book.

Is the last act of the film a kind of guilty pleasure for you? On one level it's an admission of failure, but on another you turn that failure into a satire of Hollywood conventions. It's double-edged...

Hopefully triple-edged. We were going for a quadruple edge but we will settle for triple-edged. We like to leave it open to interpretation, although I am a big proponent of failure. I'm not kidding, I really am a big fan of it.

Did you also struggle while adapting Chuck Barris' memoir, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"?

I think with the Chuck Barris screenplay it was a different story because it was more of a narrative. Plus there were questions of veracity that I felt allowed me to invent some of my own things.

The film sends up Hollywood screenwriting guru Robert McKee. Did he give you permission to put him in the movie?

All the people who were represented in the movie had to give their permission. So once the script was written, we had to go to Susan Orlean, John Laroche, and Robert McKee and they all said OK. McKee loved the movie. He came up after a screening and said to us that he thought it was funny but fair. So I thought that was good.