Charlie Kaufman
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Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman Fantastic Fest 2015-0257 (27441349145) (cropped).jpg
Kaufman at the 2015 Fantastic Fest
Charles Stuart Kaufman

(1958-11-19) November 19, 1958 (age 61)
ResidencePasadena, California, U.S.
Alma materNew York University
  • Screenwriter
  • producer
  • director
  • lyricist
  • novelist
Years active1983-present
Denise Kaufman

Charles Stuart Kaufman (; born November 19, 1958) is an American screenwriter, producer, director, lyricist, and novelist. He wrote the films Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). He made his directorial debut with screenplay Synecdoche, New York (2008), which was also well-received; film critic Roger Ebert dubbed it "the best movie of the decade" in 2009.[1]

One of the most celebrated screenwriters of his era,[2][3][4][5] Kaufman has been nominated for four Academy Awards: twice for Best Original Screenplay for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (winning for the latter), Best Adapted Screenplay (with his fictional brother) for Adaptation, and Best Animated Feature for Anomalisa. He also won two BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplays and one BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Three of Kaufman's scripts appear in the Writers Guild of America's list of the 101 greatest movie screenplays ever written.[6]

Early life

Kaufman was born in New York City to a Jewish family[7][8][9][10] on November 19, 1958, the son of Helen and Myron Kaufman.[11] He grew up in Massapequa, New York before moving to West Hartford, Connecticut where he graduated high school.[12] While attending high school, Kaufman was part of the school's drama club, performing in numerous productions before landing the lead role in a production of Play It Again, Sam during his senior year.[12]

After high school graduation, Kaufman attended Boston University before transferring to New York University where he studied film. While attending NYU, Kaufman met Paul Proch, with whom he would write many unproduced scripts and plays.[12]


Debuts on television (1983-1997)

Between 1983 and 1984, Kaufman and Proch wrote comedic articles and spoofs on spec for National Lampoon. His work included parodies of Kurt Vonnegut and the X-Men.[13] Kaufman and Proch tried to get their screenplays produced, sending them to many people in the film industry. The only response the two ever received for their work was a supportive letter from Alan Arkin in regards to their screenplay titled Purely Coincidental.[14] In hope of finding talent agents the two began to write spec scripts for television series such as Married... with Children and Newhart. In 1991, Kaufman moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in search of more job prospects. Kaufman got his start in television by writing two episodes for Chris Elliott's Get a Life during the 1991-1992 season.[12] During the 1993-1994 season, Kaufman worked on Fox's sketch comedy show The Edge. Kaufman wrote some pilot scripts while working as a television writer, but none of them were produced.[12] He later worked as a writer for Ned and Stacey and The Dana Carvey Show.[15]

Move to films and critical acclaim (1999-2004)

He first came to mainstream notice as the writer of Being John Malkovich, directed by Spike Jonze, earning an Academy Award nomination for his effort and winning a BAFTA. He wrote the script on spec in 1994, sending it to many companies and studios, all turning it down. The script eventually reached Francis Ford Coppola, who passed it on to his then-son-in-law Jonze, who agreed to direct the film.[16]

After the success of Being John Malkovich, another one of Kaufman's screenplays was produced titled Human Nature, which was directed by Michel Gondry and produced by Kaufman and Jonze.

Kaufman and Jonze reunited yet again as the screenwriter and director, respectively, for Adaptation, which earned him another Academy Award nomination and his second BAFTA. Adaptation featured a fictionalized version of Kaufman and his fictional brother, Donald, who is credited as writer of the film along with Kaufman. The idea came to Kaufman while attempting to adapt Susan Orlean's novel The Orchid Thief into film. Struggling with writer's block, Kaufman turned the script into an exaggerated account of his struggles with adapting the screenplay.[17]

Kaufman wrote the screenplay for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a biopic based on the "unauthorized autobiography" of Chuck Barris, the creator of such popular game shows as The Dating Game and host of The Gong Show. The film focuses on Barris's claim to have been a CIA hit man. It was George Clooney's directorial debut. Kaufman criticized Clooney for making drastic alterations to the script without consulting him (instead, Clooney consulted Barris). Kaufman said in an interview with William Arnold: "The usual thing for a writer is to deliver a script and then disappear. That's not for me. I want to be involved from beginning to end. And these directors [Gondry and Jonze] know that, and respect it."[18]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, released in 2004, was Kaufman's second pairing with director Michel Gondry. Kaufman won his first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and third BAFTA for the film together with Gondry and French artist Pierre Bismuth. The trio also received the prestigious PEN American Center 2005 prize for screenplay for the film.[19]David Edelstein described the film in Slate as "The Awful Truth turned inside-out by Philip K. Dick, with nods to Samuel Beckett, Chris Marker, John Guare--the greatest dramatists of our modern fractured consciousness. But the weave is pure Kaufman."[20]

Director (2005-present)

After agreeing to participate in Carter Burwell's Theater of the New Ear, a double bill "sound play", Kaufman wrote and directed the audio play Hope Leaves the Theater, while the other play in the production, titled Sawbones, was written and directed by the Coen Brothers. Hope Leaves the Theater follows a middle-aged woman, dissatisfied with her life and relationships, watching a play-within-the-play, and featured performances by Hope Davis, Peter Dinklage and Meryl Streep.[21]Theater of the New Ear debuted in April 2005 at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York.[22] Due to scheduling conflicts, later productions of Theater of the New Ear did not feature the Coens' play, replacing it with Anomalisa which was written by Kaufman under the pseudonym "'Francis Fregoli".[23]

Kaufman made his directorial film debut with the postmodern film Synecdoche, New York.[24] It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. The idea for the film came when Kaufman and Spike Jonze were approached to direct a horror film. Rather than make a conventional horror film, the two agreed to have the film deal with things they found frightening in real life, rather than typical horror film tropes.[25] Kaufman decided to direct the film after Jonze left the project to direct Where the Wild Things Are instead.

Kaufman was slated to write and direct a film with the working title Frank or Francis. Few details have been confirmed about the plot except that it is a musical comedy about internet anger culture.[26] In July 2012, Jack Black, who was to star in the film, revealed in an interview that funding for the project had fallen through, as the studio was unsure about its chances for success after the financial failure of Kaufman's last directorial effort. Although the future of the project is not certain, Kaufman says "It could still happen. It would have to be reinvented, though. We had a whole cast and we were headed into pre-production. So, I'd have to get people back and who knows if they would be interested anymore. But at this point, we don't have any money, so that's a secondary concern."[27]

In April 2012, he was hired to adapt Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking book series, which he wrote the first draft of. The film is scheduled to be released in 2019, where Kaufman will share writing credit with John Lee Hancock and Ness himself, both of which did subsequent work on the script after Kaufman's draft.[28]

Dino Stamatopoulos, a former colleague of Kaufman's from The Dana Carvey Show, became interested in adapting Kaufman's Anomalisa play script into a stop motion animated film. With Kaufman's permission, Stamatopoulos turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter in order to fund the film. The Kickstarter page for the film was set up in August 2012 and by the time funding had ended $406,237 was pledged.[29] It had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2015,[30] receiving universal acclaim from critics.[31]

Trying to make a return to television, Kaufman directed and wrote a pilot for FX titled How and Why in 2014. The plot was described as being about a "man who can explain how and why a nuclear reactor works but is clueless about life". FX decided to not pick up the pilot, but it has been shopped to other outlets.[32]

In January 2018, it was announced that Kaufman was working on writing and directing an adaptation of the Iain Reid 2016 novel I'm Thinking of Ending Things.[33] In December 2018, it was announced that Brie Larson and Jesse Plemons were signed to co-star as the leads; the film was described as "the story of a woman's trip to a family farm that leads to an unexpected detour leaving her stranded, [and] a twisted mix of palpable tension, psychological frailty and sheer terror ensues."[34][35] The project begun filming in March 2019, with Jessie Buckley having replaced Larson, and Toni Collette and David Thewlis joining the cast.[36][37]

Kaufman's debut novel, Antkind, is currently due for release in 2020. Kaufman stated in a 2016 interview that the novel was being written so as to be unfilmable, and is itself about "an impossible movie".[38]

Themes and influences

Kaufman's works explore such universal themes as identity crisis, mortality, and the meaning of life through a metaphysical or parapsychological framework. While his work resists labels, it is sometimes described as surrealist.[39] He sometimes includes fictionalized "facts" about his life in his work, notably Adaptation. and Hope Leaves the Theater.

Apes recur in Kaufman's work: in Being John Malkovich, Lotte has a pet chimp named Elijah; in Human Nature, Puff was raised as an ape; in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Penny dreams about an ape; and in Adaptation, the original deus ex machina was a swamp ape.[40]

Some writers and directors Kaufman has named as favorites of his, or as influences, are Franz Kafka,[41]Samuel Beckett,[42]Stanis?aw Lem,[43]Flannery O'Connor,[44]Shirley Jackson,[44]Italo Svevo,[]David Lynch,[41]Lars von Trier,[41]Woody Allen [45] and Patricia Highsmith.[44]

Personal life

Kaufman lived and worked for a time during the late 1980s in Minneapolis, answering calls about missing newspapers at the Star Tribune, before moving to Los Angeles.[12]

He currently lives in Pasadena, California, with his wife Denise and their child.[15]



Year Title Director Writer Producer Distributor Notes
1999 Being John Malkovich No Yes Executive USA Films
2001 Human Nature No Yes Yes Fine Line Features
2002 Adaptation No Yes Executive Columbia Pictures Based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind No Yes No Miramax Films Based on the book of the same name by Chuck Barris
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind No Yes Executive Focus Features Story co-written with Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth
2008 Synecdoche, New York Yes Yes Yes Sony Pictures Classics
2015 Anomalisa Yes Yes Yes Paramount Pictures Co-directed by Duke Johnson
Based on the audio play by Kaufman (under the alias Francis Fregoli)
2020 I'm Thinking of Ending Things Yes Yes Co-producer Netflix Based on the novel of the same name by Iain Reid
TBA Chaos Walking No Yes No Lionsgate Post-production
Co-written with Jamie Linden, Patrick Ness, Lindsey Beer, Gary Spinelli and John Lee Hancock
Based on the novel The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
1991-1992 Get a Life No Yes No 2 episodes
1992-1993 The Edge No Yes No 20 episodes
1993 The Trouble with Larry No Yes No Also story editor
7 episodes
1995 Misery Loves Company No No Yes 6 episodes
1996 The Dana Carvey Show No Yes No 8 episodes
1996-1997 Ned and Stacey No Yes Yes 22 episodes
2006 Moral Orel No Story No Uncredited
Episode: "Love"
2014 How and Why Yes Yes Executive Pilot[46]


Year Title Director Writer Notes
2005 Hope Leaves the Theater Yes Yes
Anomalisa Yes Yes Under the pseudonym Francis Fregoli


Year Soundtrack Songs
2001 Human Nature "Hair Everywhere" and "Here with You"
2008 Synecdoche, New York "Synecdoche Song", "Gravity", "Little Person", and "Song for Caden"
2015 Anomalisa "None of Them Are You"

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Original Screenplay Nominated
2002 Adaptation Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Best Original Screenplay Won
2015 Anomalisa Best Animated Feature Nominated

BAFTA Awards

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Original Screenplay Won
2002 Adaptation Best Adapted Screenplay Won
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Best Original Screenplay Won

Boston Society of Film Critics

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Screenplay Won
2002 Adaptation Won
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Nominated

Golden Globe Awards

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Screenplay Nominated
2002 Adaptation Nominated
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Nominated

Chicago Film Critics Association

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Original Screenplay Won
2002 Adaptation Best Adapted Screenplay Won
2008 Synecdoche, New York Best Original Screenplay Nominated
2015 Anomalisa Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated

Critics' Choice Movie Awards

Independent Spirit Awards

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best First Screenplay Won
2008 Synecdoche, New York Best First Feature Won
Best Screenplay Nominated
2015 Anomalisa Best Film Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated

Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Screenplay Won
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Nominated
2008 Synecdoche, New York Nominated

National Board of Review

National Society of Film Critics

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Screenplay Won
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Nominated
2008 Synecdoche, New York Nominated
2015 Anomalisa Nominated

Online Film Critics Society

San Diego Film Critics Society

Saturn Awards

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Writing Won
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Nominated
2015 Anomalisa Best Animated Film Nominated

Toronto Film Critics Association

Writers Guild of America

Year Film Category Result
1999 Being John Malkovich Best Original Screenplay Nominated
2002 Adaptation Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Best Original Screenplay Won

Other awards


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger. (2009-12-13) The best films of the decade - Roger Ebert's Journal Archived 2010-05-28 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2010-12-19.
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 5, 2008). "Synecdoche, New York Movie Review (2008)". Retrieved 2015. "Charlie Kaufman is one of the few truly important writers to make screenplays his medium."
  3. ^ "Charlie Kaufman Is The 21st Century's 'Mad Genius Of Cinema'". GQ. June 3, 2016. Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ "Charlie Kaufman: Screenwriters Lecture". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 2015. "One of modern cinema's most celebrated writers"...
  5. ^ Ulin, David L. (May 14, 2006). "Why Charlie Kaufman Is Us". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015. "In exploring our inner selves, he's become one of the best writers of his generation, David L. Ulin argues."
  6. ^ "101 Greatest Screenplays List". Writers Guild of America, West. Archived from the original on August 13, 2006. Retrieved 2015.
  7. ^ Applebaum, Stephen (May 7, 2009). "It's not easy being Charlie Kaufman". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2018.
  8. ^ Feinstein, Howard (December 28, 2009). "Decade: Charlie Kaufman on "Synecdoche, New York"". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018.
  9. ^ Solomons, Jason (March 17, 2016). "Tradition? No, I just want to write what I think is funny". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2018.
  10. ^ Times of Israel: "The tribe at the Oscars, 2016" by Nate Bloom. February 25, 2016
  11. ^ LaRocca, D. (2011). The Philosophy of Charlie Kaufman. University Press of Kentucky. p. 3. ISBN 9780813133928. Retrieved .
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Biography". Retrieved .
  13. ^ "Scans of said articles". Retrieved .
  14. ^ "Journey Into Madness". Archived from the original on 2017-02-10.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  15. ^ a b " Interview by Michael Sragow". Retrieved .
  16. ^ Kobel, Peter (October 24, 1999). "FILM; The Fun and Games of Living a Virtual Life". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 28, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  17. ^ Claude Brodesser (November 10, 1999). "Scribe revisiting reality". Variety. Retrieved 2017.
  18. ^ "Kaufman interviewed by William Arnold". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 2004-03-18. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "PEN Center USA: 2005 Literary Awards Winners". Archived from the original on 2006-11-25. Retrieved .
  20. ^ David Edelstein. "Forget Me Not: The genius of Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Retrieved .
  21. ^ "Creative Screenwriting Magazine on Hope Leaves the Theater". Archived from the original on 2007-04-29.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  22. ^ "The Body - Projects - Theater of the New Ear". Archived from the original on 2007-01-07. Retrieved .
  23. ^ "Theater of the New Ear". Retrieved .
  24. ^ "Kaufman's Directorial Debut Lands Williams, Hoffman". Archived from the original on 2017-12-05. Retrieved .
  25. ^ "Synecdoche, New York: A Great Film About the Upcoming Zombie Apocalypse? | Blog |". May 18, 2009. Retrieved 2012.
  26. ^ "Is this the plot of "Frank or Francis"?". 2011-07-30. Retrieved .
  27. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (November 12, 2015). "Charlie Kaufman Explains Why Star-Studded 'Frank Or Francis' Fell Apart, Says It Could Still Happen". Indiewire. Archived from the original on December 30, 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  28. ^ "Daisy Ridley-Starring 'Chaos Walking' will Shoot in Canada". Backstage.
  29. ^ Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa
  30. ^ Kohn, Eric (September 5, 2015). "Telluride Review: Charlie Kaufman's Marvelously Strange 'Anomalisa' is An Animated Identity Crisis". Retrieved 2015.
  31. ^ "Anomalisa (2015)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015.
  32. ^ "FX's Charlie Kaufman Pilot Not Going Forward". Deadline Hollywood.
  33. ^ "Charlie Kaufman Adapting Novel by Canadian Author Iain Reid for Netflix". The National Post. January 25, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  34. ^ "Brie Larson to Star in Charlie Kaufman's Netflix Movie 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things'". Collider. December 4, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  35. ^ "AQUAMAN 2 IS IN THE WORKS, AND MORE MOVIE NEWS'". Rotten Tomatoes. December 7, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  36. ^ Howland, Jack (March 21, 2019). "Charlie Kaufman movie for Netflix filming in Fishkill, Hudson Valley". Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved 2019.
  37. ^ "Larson out, Toni Collette, Jessie Buckley and David Thewlis in for "Ending Things"". Being Charlie Kaufman. March 28, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  38. ^ "Charlie's novel has a title! And maybe a release date? And a blurby thing". Being Charlie Kaufman. February 18, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  39. ^ Indie Wire interview. Archived September 24, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  40. ^ Adaptation (Draft 2) Archived March 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  41. ^ a b c "IN CONVERSATION: CHARLIE KAUFMAN". Retrieved 2017.
  42. ^ "Charlie Kaufman interview: Life's little dramas". Retrieved 2017.
  43. ^ "Talking with the Kaufman About Pandas". The L Magazine. Retrieved 2017.
  44. ^ a b c "Being Charlie Kaufman". Salon. Retrieved 2017.
  45. ^ "The Filmmakers @KVIFF 2016: Charlie Kaufman".
  46. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (January 14, 2014). "John Hawkes & Michael Cera To Star In Charlie Kaufman's FX Comedy Pilot". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved .

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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