[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.)