Monday, April 30, 2007

Synecdoche, NY – Part I of II

[Warning: Minor Spoilers]

We knew from the trades (like this article in the
Hollywood Reporter), that Charlie Kaufman would be directing his first film from his original screenplay and that he and Spike Jonze were producing with William Horberg as the Executive Producer. Great. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, and Tilda Swinton were in negotiations to star. Double great!

Of this production, William Horberg was quoted as saying,

“It takes the term 'living theater' to a whole new level… We were kind of hoping that Charlie would write a small, contained film set in a kitchen with a couple of easy-going characters. Instead, he came up with a massive undertaking of visually elaborate worlds and stunningly complex characters and ideas. The film would be all but impossible to pull off if we weren't surrounded by such incredible actors, the most exciting team of filmmakers imaginable and the most supportive producing partners one could hope.”

Then buzz about Kaufman’s script exploded when the L.A. Times launched
Scriptland last September. It’s premiere article was penned by Jay A. Fernandez who bragged like a fanboy about how he had the new Charlie Kaufman script on his desk. “I've read it — no, lived it. I've been moved and astounded by it. And I'm tortured by the dilemma of what I should or should not say about it here. I feel a bit like Frodo palming the One Ring.

He went back and forth about whether he should talk about it. He said it made him sick to his stomach. But then he caved in:

Synecdoche nominally concerns a theater director who thinks he's dying, and how that shapes his interactions with the world, his art and the women in his life. But it is really a wrenching, searching, metaphysical epic that somehow manages to be universal in an extremely personal way. It's about death and sex and the vomit-, poop-, urine- and blood-smeared mess that life becomes physiologically, emotionally and spiritually (Page 1 features a 4-year-old girl having her butt wiped). It reliably contains Kaufman's wondrous visual inventions, complicated characters, idiosyncratic conversations and delightful plot designs, but its collective impact will kick the wind out of you.”

In the end, he concluded: “If this film gets made in any way that resembles what's on the page — and with the writer himself directing, it will likely gain even more color and potency in the translation — it will be some kind of miracle. Synecdoche will make Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine look like instructional industrial films. No one has ever written a screenplay like this. It's questionable whether cinema is even capable of handling the thematic, tonal and narrative weight of a story this ambitious.”

News of Jay’s article spread like wildfire across the web, and the man was roundly and thoroughly condemned.
Jim Emerson said: “Fernandez isn't a journalist and he isn't a critic; he's a leech, on the level of those self-aggrandizing amateur web trolls who think their premature, uninformed opinions about an unfinished work are ‘news…’ What a self-serving piece of crap. I have a great idea, L.A. Times: Why don't you go put your Calendar entertainment coverage behind a web subscription wall again?”


Hey, wait a minute. Who are you calling a web troll?

I have three reactions to all of this pre-release controversy:

One: if Kaufman & company didn’t want the script leaked, they should’ve taken better care of protecting their material.

Two: and this goes out to you, Mr. Jay A. Fernandez – you’re a great big dork. You are not special. Media people should stay the hell out of the script leaking/reviewing business. It is most assuredly unethical for a major publication like the L.A. Times, which fancies itself as the “paper of record” on the entertainment business, to make official, critical judgments on unfinished works.

Three: I will agree that fanboys are a very mixed bag. They will reveal every detail in a script, add a small flourish like “it royally kicks ass,” and then call it a “script review.” I’ve also chronicled in my
Indiana Jones 4 article the frustrations that come with following fanboy rumors, because fanboys are quite capable of spreading baseless gossip and calling it “news.” But hey, fanboys will be fanboys. They have every right under the sun to talk about the movies they love and the rumors that interest them. At the same time, it must be said that fanboys aren’t as uninformed as snotty film critics like to think. I still love the time when Sir Lancelot wrote: Lady In The Water is a diarrhea splat of storytelling so haphazard, ideas so undernourished, dialogue so banal, and characterization so criminally lifeless that if you'll be able to lift yourself out of your torpor you will be truly amazed.”

Ya know, I can’t say I disagree.

And let me remind everyone that it was the loud, unified, and venomous anger from fanboys the world over (like in this
article) about the leaked J.J. Abrams’ script of Superman that actually shut down production, which Bryan Singer & company eventually took over. Even J.J. Abrams should be grateful, because his nonsensical story could’ve been the disaster that brought his career to a screeching halt. (At one point in the script, Lex Luthor figures out that he’s from Krypton and FLIES.) This could have been the biggest disaster of a Superman movie since Quest for Peace. All in all, Singer gave us less of a disaster.

Finally, let us be very clear about who we are and what are doing here with our script reviews. We are not fanboys. We are real screenwriters who live and die in the world of “unfinished works.” How well we can pinpoint weaknesses in scripts is crucial. We need a way of discussing the craft, and for us, script reviews are not meant to be “news” or perceived as early reviews of films that haven’t been released yet. It’s just a discussion about craft meant for the consumption of screenwriters only. MY readers are smart enough to know that a script review is just a script review and may not reflect the finished film. And in this context, there is nothing wrong with a serious discussion about the craft like we had for Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon, James Cameron's A Crowded Room, or even The Transformers.

We're all about the craft, baby. If you don't like it, don't read it.

By the way, one of Emerson’s “web trolls,” ZeroC at Ain’t it Cool News,
had this to say about Kaufman’s script: “I really hope Kaufman is able to pull this off… if he can, this may end up being one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of cinema. Either that or a steaming pile of indecipherable, pretentious shit.”

Ya know, informed or not, I agree.

Wednesday, MM’s review of Kaufman’s script. (We'll do the Screenwriting News on Thursday.)


Laura Deerfield said...

My initial reaction to Charlie Kaufman directing his own script was:

Oh, that could go badly.
I mean, it could be great... but it could be really... not great, too.

But I have to root for the man who wrote Eternal Sunshine. (The only film I went to see three times while it was still in the theaters - and at Los Angeles prices, no less.)

Wait... does this mean you aren't Charlie Kaufman? (OK, so I knew that. I figure you're about 10-12 years younger.)

Guillermo said...

Oh, who gives a flying fart what Emerson thinks anyway? If anybody ought to know about leeches (and just what are his cridentials for being a crictic/blogger anyway? Oh, that's right his match everyone elses: none) it's Emerson. Sounds to me like Emerson is just jealous he didn't get the LA Times Scriptland gig...

Geeez...I just hate assholes, especially those like Emerson.

Hope Charlie pulls this off, if not he won't be the only first time director to screw up.

GimmeABreak said...

I just don't get Charlie Kaufman. Don't care for his scripts and don't like the movies made from them. If he's given directorial control, I think an LSD/PCP cocktail with a little peyote on the side would be more coherent.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

bob said...

I've wiped four year old kids butts about 500 times in my life. You know, I don't want to pay money to see it.

If they want to cut that scene out, then we can talk.

Seriously, I always worry about a script outsmarting itself. I like Kaufman okay, he's not God. I just applaud him getting the opportunity to direct one!

Mim said...

I agree with Guillermo. Film critics attached to accredited papers are becoming a thing of the past. There are so many really great blogs and fansites out there that do a much better job of informing the potential audience.

The times they most definitely are a'changing.

My big beef with Charlie Kaufman scripts is that he uses the "we see" and breaking the fourth wall that we're learning not to do on TS. It's a very nit-picky thing, but it was such a disappointment to read the first page of Adaptation. Writers like Peter, Bob, and Pat bring their stories visually to life so much better.

James said...

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on Kaufman's new script.

I have been sitting on my thoughts about it for nearly a year now. And have let some thoughts slip here and there.

What bothered me more about the original "leak" which was like September? of last year? Long ass time ago. Was that it gave brilliant reviews with very little information given.

(Uh oh. I got started. Minor SPOILERS WARNING)

And to top it all off, the script he read at that time was a flaming turd.

To rant a little more... I don't see how any serious production company could even begin to complain about how costly Kaufman "visualized" his script.

It is one of the cheaper scripts to produce that I have read in a long time. Hell, the most interesting visual is the SAME EXACT SET repeated time and again. Talk about saving a fortune.

You could almost shoot his script on a weekly television budget and schedule.

As far as budget, it is far from TITANIC. Hell, it isn't even ETERNAL SUNSHINE.

Mystery Man said...

Laura - For you, honey, I'll be whoever you need me to be. Hehehe...

guillermo - Thanks for that. I am a fan of Emerson even though he won't respond to my e-mails... He's a smart cookie. He had some great essays on Munich and Donnie Darko.

Pat - If you didn't like him before, you definitely won't like this new script. Hope you're doing well. I'm looking forward to reading this new script you're working on. I'm sure I'd enjoy it more than Synecdoche, NY. Hehehe...

Bob - There is a lot of feces in this one of varying colors - green, gray, black, light brown. Lots of feces. I'm kinda looking forward to the green poop.

Mim - On critics - I used to read Ebert every Friday. But now... I read brilliant film bloggers like Girish and Emerson and Edward Copeland and The Shamus and I get more out of their articles than just brief blurbs that praise or condemn. My formatting beef with this new script is that it's so long, he cheated a few times, particularly when it came to montages. What is now 152 pages, if formatted correctly, might be closer to 200.

James - I hope you'll enjoy it. It'll be in the vein of the way Kaufman wrote his new script, a metaphysical soul-searching review of the metaphysical soul-searching script. I'll still cover all my thoughts. It should be fun.


Guillermo said...

guillermo - Thanks for that.

Ooooooooo...I recognize this, this is sarcasm. Right?

Mystery Man said...

guillermo - Not at all. I'm very sorry if I came across that way. I really meant it, actually.

James said...


I hope your review ends in a similar manner too :p