Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Charlie Kaufman Disliked Working with George Clooney on "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"

Scene from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
When historians look back at the past 20 years of film, there is a great chance that they will see the greatest screenwriter not as someone like Quentin Tarantino, but more in line with Charlie Kaufman. One doesn't need to think too hard about why that is, especially since every screenplay he's written has been a challenging narrative that mixes the absurd with deep, philosophical challenges and often surreal imagery. He is a writer unto his own and whose latest Anomalisa is among his best work. However, he recently announced that there was a screenplay that he wasn't too happy with, and it's easy to see why once you know the story.

In a recent interview with WTF host Marc Maron, Kaufman opened up about his career. From his early days working on mediocre sitcoms to his breakout with the Oscar-nominated Being John Malkovich, he has had quite a legacy. Along with stories regarding his frequent collaborations with Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, the interview itself is a worthwhile experience for those interested in his personal insight (the episode also features commentary from Anomalisa co-director Duke Johnson). However, there's one moment that is likely to get the most attention.

In 2002, Kaufman made his second film with Jonze called Adaptation., which earned him his second Oscar and first for Best Adapted Screenplay. That was also the year that George Clooney made his directorial debut with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - of which Kaufman received sole writing credit on. Despite the film being a fun and wild look into the life of The Dating Game producer Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) as a C.I.A. agent, it turned out to not be so much fun for the writer, who complained about Clooney's interference:
"I didn’t like it. That was a movie in which I was not consulted. I mean, George Clooney changed the script, he didn’t talk to me during production. We kind of didn’t get along. I was invited to see the movie when he was pretty much done and I wrote a bunch of notes and gave them to him and I guess it was offensive to him."
His complaints make sense from a creative standpoint, especially since he spoke about enjoying his open collaborations with Jonze and Gondry on their respective projects. It is also very indicative of why Confessions of a Dangerous Mind didn't quite feel like his other movies. It was dark and more cynical than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Synechdoche New York. However, it's more striking that considering Clooney's reputation as a power player in Hollywood, it's weird to know that his directorial debut would feature noticeable conflicts. How much hyperbole Kaufman is using is unknown, but it definitely explains why he never worked with Clooney again.

Thursday marks the announcement of this year's Oscar nominees, and it is likely going to feature at least a few nominations for Anomalisa. The only question now is how many it is likely to achieve outside of the Best Animated Film category. Still, it's interesting to hear his thoughts (Maron also recently interviewed Carol director Todd Haynes - though with far less salacious stories). While art is a subjective medium and there's winners and losers on every film, it's never fun to hear a voice as confident as Kaufman express his grief over a failed project. With that said, it's intriguing that his failed project isn't all that bad otherwise. It's just not great compared to Kaufman's more assured works.

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