Sunday, October 26, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 10/26/08

Hey guys,

Coming Tuesday, a review of Travis Beacham’s Clash of the Titans script followed by a review of Larry Kasdan’s revision.

Hope you’re well,



Free Online Film Books!

Jonathan Rosenbaum - Moving Places: A Life at the Movies

Andrew Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal (eds) - Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes

John M. Frame - Theology at the Movies

William C. Wees - Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-Garde Film

David Bordwell - Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema

Barton Byg - Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub

Charles Musser - Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company

Thomas J. Saunders - Hollywood in Berlin: American Cinema and Weimar Germany

Gene Youngblood - Expanded Cinema

Jennifer E. Langdon - Caught in the Crossfire: Adrian Scott and the Politics of Americanism in 1940s Hollywood

Robert Philip Kolker - The Altering Eye

Donald Richie - Japanese Cinema

Nöel Burch - To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema

(Hat-tip to
Catherine Grant & Film Studies for Free. Thank you!)


Bono to write for the NYT whose profits have dropped 82%.

Hollywood Movies Still Thrive During Tough Times
"When the going gets tough, consumers go to the movies," said Derek Baine, senior analyst at SNL Kagan. "Historically, theaters have been fairly recession proof, and this year looks to be no exception."

The art of avoiding writer's block
…Nor should you get hung up on perfectionism. Don't assume you are writing anything more than a draft, and always leave yourself enough time to revise it once you've finished the last sentence. Delay putting pen to paper and you may be forced to complete an assignment by an unachievable deadline, which would be even more daunting. Instead, set yourself easy targets, and once you get going you may find yourself reaching way beyond them. It isn't helpful to have the sneaking suspicion you could be the next Ernest Hemingway, either. You'll find it inhibiting, and anyway you're not. Even if you are, no one will find out unless you write something. Treat it as a job that has to be done, rather than a rare chance to share your genius.

Del Toro on writing The Hobbit:
Can you talk a little bit about the process of working as one of four writers, and maybe it’s a navigation that’s still being borne out, but what is the process literally?
Well the strange thing - as we got to the most - I mean I work in collaboration a lot. I normally write alone in the Spanish Language films, or I - I have even written Hellboys as a screenplay writer alone, but I’m used to collaboration. Sometimes with one, or sometimes with two writers, like in Devils Backbone. I mean it’s not as a cumbersome project as one might think, because in reality Peter, Fran and Philippa are a single person. You know they really are like born out of Catholic dogma - its Father Son and Holy Spirit, [Anthony quietly laughs] - you cannot distinguish them. I mean I can tell you where each of them brings something different to the process - Philippa is kind of the Oracle of the Law - and she knows. But so is Fran! She doesn’t think that she is - she claims “well I don’t remember much but” that preface is always followed by a scholarly citation about the Dwarves mining or whatever subject you want. And Peter, Peter and I come to it always from the intuitive film making audience engaging and so forth. The more I read of Tolkien, analogue Tolkien, and so forth, the more I feel that the task is going to be perfectly balanced because basically what you do is a ping pong. One of the groups finishes one part of the task and then bounces it off the other part of the group. And in this case it’s not four groups, it’s one - its two groups, and eventually it will be completely fused. I mean, that’s happened to me with the other writers...

Bag Lady Turned Screenwriter
But 27-year-old former Sydneysider Kathryn Eismann, who launches her new book What Does Your Bag Say About You with appearances on Good Morning America next week said she's to busy to settle on one man at the moment. "I'm enjoying meeting new people but I don't have a serious handbag at the moment, only a few clutches," she told Confidential from New York. After a stint back in Sydney, Eismann returned to the Big Apple six months ago, a place where she initially tasted success with her first book How To Tell A Man By His Shoes at 21. She has now turned her hand to screenwriting, working on a screenplay of her first book.

Ripley's New Director
The long-gestating Ripley's Believe It or Not! has found a new lease on life at Paramount Pictures. Harry Potter and Home Alone director Chris Columbus is in talks to direct the project, according to Variety. Tim Burton dropped out of the project in 2007. Jim Carrey remains attached to star as Robert Ripley, the titular explorer.

Screenwriter: Movie Racists Meant to be Tar Heels
Recall the dust-up over The Express, the new biopic on the life of Ernie Davis, the first black Heisman Trophy winner. The film portrays a Davis visit to play the West Virginia Mountaineers as an ugly near-riot of racist antics and incitement from the stands. Trouble is, it never happened. This little oversight predictably sent the folks of West Virginia into orbit. The upset reached the halls of state government, including the governor. In an evident attempt to quell the uproar screenwriter Charles Leavitt wrote to Gov. Joe Manchin this week. Don’t blame me for the WVa thing Leavitt wrote, as the AP reports: “But screenwriter Charles Leavitt told Gov. Joe Manchin this week that the scene was supposed to depict a 1958 game at Tar Heels Stadium in North Carolina — a choice that also displayed artistic license. ‘When I saw the film for the first time, I was as surprised as you were to see West Virginia inserted in place of North Carolina,’ Leavitt wrote Manchin in an Oct. 20 letter. Leavitt, who also sent the governor a copy of his script, told Manchin he apologized for the depiction while noting it was ‘something I had no hand in.’”

On John Lasseter’s Success
Heart. Inventiveness. Inspiration. These are Lasseter's own hallmarks, visible in everything from the free education available to Pixar employees to the imaginative way he works with Pixar's "Brain Trust," a group of directors who play a pivotal role on each film. The Brain Trust is critical to Pixar's success. It gets together regularly to look at work done by other directors and comment candidly.

Here’s a blast from the past. In March, 2007, I wrote an article
about Disney’s Rapunzel. We talked about all of the promises Glen Keane, master animator, made to the media about how this would be the most gorgeously rendered animated film ever produced. But then an article on Jim Hill Media pointed out that the story was in trouble, that John Lasseter gave Keane a deadline to fix it or he’s off the project. So we looked at the original story, which is quite awful on so many levels, and people STILL leave comments on that old Rapunzel article with ideas about how to fix the story. Well, we know now from Ain’t It Cool that Glen Keane is no longer the co-director of Rapunzel not only because of story problems but also health reasons, too. The reins have been handed over to Byron Howard & Nathan Greno, who were the co-directors and heads of story on the new Bolt film. Plus, a NEW article on Jim Hill Media tells us that “while Rapunzel's story reels have gotten noticeably stronger over the past 18 months... In the end, Glen & Dean were never able to solve this project's main story problem. Which is that -- once Rapunzel gets trapped in her tower -- this fairy tale goes stale. This is why John Lasseter & Ed Catmull were forced to do what they did on both American Dog and Rapunzel. As the new heads of WDAS, they have a responsibility to deliver commercially viable animated features that will then go to entertain a mass audience.” And now Byron and Nathan have to wade through six years of development and find a workable storyline for Disney's holiday 2010 release.

Bourne Writer Confirmed for Army of Two Flick
We mentioned in passing this morning that Electronic Arts was going to be working on a movie of Army of Two. Well, the company has now confirmed that not only is the project green-lighted (green-lit?) with Universal Studios but that a writer has been appointed. The scribe in question is Scott Z. Burns who is responsible for the not better than James Bond (oh, it is) Bourne Ultimatum. According to IMDB he was also the producer on Al Gore's eco-scary An Inconvenient Truth, so we might get more than usual video game as terrible movie outing. (Here's how the screenwriter described his take on the flick on Variety's game blog: “The ambiguity of these private military corporations lends weight to an intelligent thriller with relevance to what's going on in the world right now. You have contractors with their own agendas, and two guys whose friendship supersedes all the politics. I told EA right off the bat I wasn't a gamer, and that appealed to them because they didn't want to simply replicate the game.”)

The Five Paths for Australian Screenwriters

Here’s an interview with a new, unknown screenwriter and contest winner David Ebeltoft -
Part One and Part Two:
Can you tell the readers a little about You Were Once Called Queen City? How long did it take you to complete?
The script is about Danny Mesersmits, a past-obsessed teenager, who is trying to decide whether to follow in the wrestling footsteps of his deceased father, a local legend. It’s set in a sweet, mid-western town and contains a quirky collection of small-town idiots dusting up situations that sometimes help and other times hinder Danny’s decision. When an unexpected tragedy occurs Danny has to come to terms with his past so he can deal with the present and face his future. It took about two years to obtain the draft I submitted for contest consideration…
(Note to Danny: Don’t ever call your own characters “idiots.” That doesn’t help sell your story. -MM)

MSU film grad says perseverance is key to career in Hollywood

Who knew?

Coming Soon: a
Das Kapital adaptation:
What with the humbling of some of the world's grandest banks, and the improbable success of John Sergeant as a hoofer in Strictly Come Dancing, the world has been moving in mysterious ways. But few as mysterious as the current climb up Germany's bestseller lists of Karl Marx's Das Kapital - a book which, like Finnegans Wake, A Brief History Of Time and À la recherche du temps perdu, tends to be more bought than read. The philosopher whose aim was to “reveal the law of motion of modern society” has become as fashionable as this season's colour on the catwalk. Marx's German publisher says sales have been soaring since the summer. Some people must be reading Marx's fifth step of the ten essential steps to communism - “centralisation of credit in the hands of the state” - and smacking their foreheads in recognition, as if something they read in their newspaper horoscope that day actually has just come to pass. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, has been photographed reading Das Kapital. Germany's Finance Minister, Peer Steinbrück, recently said: “Certain parts of Marx's thinking are really not so bad”. Pope Benedict XVI has praised Marx's “great analytical skill”. So far this year 40,000 tourists have visited Marx's birthplace in Trier. And - are you ready? - director Alexander Kluge is making a movie out of Das Kapital.

Five questions with Beau Thorne, Max Payne screenwriter
Not among the questions: "What the hell were you thinking?"

Final Draft Honors Stephen J. Cannell at Annual Event
(I share this because this was the first event in which they actually put “Mystery Man” on the VIP list, thanks to my dear friend & editor in chief of Script Mag. I didn’t go. I was tempted. Hehehe…)

Cruising: The Sound of Violence
In a famous essay of the early 1980s titled "The Incoherent Text," the British critic Robin Wood drew special attention to William Fredikin's Cruising (1980) - a film which had been vilified by many gay critics - as "extremely audacious" because "its surface is deliberately fractured, the progress of the narrative obscured." But Wood added that, despite or perhaps because of its formal experimentation, the film was "not necessarily artistically successful." In his analysis, Wood compared Cruising to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and Richard Brooks's Looking for Mr Goodbar (1977), and this corpus was founded on a gnawing ambiguity: was the incoherence of these texts, their dynamic contradictions, voluntary or involuntary, crafted or merely symptomatic?

The cinema of William Friedkin presents, in fact, a richly ambiguous borderline case within contemporary American cinema. Rather than evoking Scorsese and Brooks, one might place Friedkin's work within a certain cinema of hysteria that includes auteurs like Oliver Stone, Mike Figgis, Adrian Lyne, Tony Scott, and Zalman King - or, further back, Ken Russell. The cinema of hysteria is a mode of filmmaking that actively cultivates incoherence: structured upon moment-to-moment spectacular effect, it aims for the sudden gasp, the revelatory dramatic frisson, the split-second turn-around of meaning or mood, the disorientating gear-change into high comedy or gross tragedy. Many Friedkin films, from The Exorcist (1973) to Rampage (1992), artfully evoke an intense atmosphere of hysteria - within both the fiction, and its spectators. Yet, at the same time, his films also display a level of control that acknowledges a large debt to the classical cinema of Ford, Hawks or Lang. And so it is within the highly coherent incoherence of Cruising that we can locate its substantial artistic success, and evaluate it as one Friedkin's finest works.

Tomas Alfredson, director of Let the Right One In, which is currently
at 97% on the Critic’s TomatoMeter (red band trailer above), says in an L.A. Times interview that he found his inspiration in paintings:
FOR SWEDISH director Tomas Alfredson, the eyes have it -- that scary quality just right for horror. So when Alfredson set out to make the eerie film Let the Right One In, about the friendship that develops between two adolescents -- one of whom happens to be a vampire -- he didn't watch any horror movies for inspiration. Instead, he studied paintings to see how they used "eye-to-eye contact," he says. "I studied Renaissance painters; one, called Hans Holbein, has a very strange way of dealing with eyes." Alfredson was especially taken with Holbein's 1538 painting "Edward VI as a Child." The prince, Alfredson says, "is looking outside the frame and under it. It's very strange and very scary." (See also the
GreenCine round-up of articles.)

A few Hans Holbein images:

Q&A with Jonathan Demme
"I think this is the best work that I've ever done," declares director Jonathan Demme of his new film, Rachel Getting Married, and as Demme has done such work as The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense and Something Wild, among many others...

U.S. writers to go on tour de France
Gallic film commission Film France has teamed up with the WGA to launch France Unlimited Access, a program that takes 10 Hollywood scribes on an eight-day tour of Gallic landmarks to encourage them to develop story ideas set in that country. John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Michael Brandt (Wanted), Michael Dougherty (Superman Returns), Derek Haas (3:10 to Yuma), Edward Neumeier (Starship Troopers), Duncan Tucker (Transamerica) and Rita Hsiao (Toy Story 2) have signed up for the tour, set to take place in Paris and the South of France from Nov. 6-13.

Times Are Changing for J. Michael Straczynski
With the release of Changeling, Straczynski’s first feature screenwriting credit and the latest directorial effort for Clint Eastwood, starring Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, Straczynski has turned into a wanted man in Hollywood. His list of upcoming collaborators reads like the guest list at a Steven Spielberg dinner party: Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Paul Greengrass, Tom Cruise, the Wachowski brothers. In between working on numerous scripts for these (now-fellow) A-listers, Straczynski took a break to speak with [us] about his transformation into an in-demand Hollywood scribe and the challenges of trying to make the truly unbelievable real-life story of Christine Collins and her lost son seem believable. (Plus, here’s a Time Magazine interview.)

Shock: Straczynski’s Changeling
a splat on the Critic’s TomatoMeter. The consensus: “Beautifully shot and well-acted, Changeling is a compelling story that unfortunately gives in to convention too often.” This begs the question: “was the writing all that great?” A.O. Scott wrote: “The truth about the case of Christine Collins is so shocking and dramatic that embellishment must have seemed pointless, but in sticking so close to the historical record, Mr. Straczynski and Mr. Eastwood have produced a distended, awkward narrative whose strongest themes are lost in the murky pomp of period detail.”

Malkovich Directs Zach Helm’s Play in Mexico City
Actor, producer and director John Malkovich, who directed a French version of Zach Helm's THE GOOD CANARY in Paris last year, will now direct a new production of the play in Spanish. EL BUEN CANARIO will be open on November 26 at Teatro de Los Insurgentes in Mexico City for a ten-week run…. The Paris production, which was the play's world premiere, received more Moliere nominations than any in 2007 -- six -- and also garnered the French Crystal Globe Award for Best Play. Helm's debut screenplay, STRANGER THAN FICTION, received the PEN USA Award for Best Screenplay...

A round-up here on
I’ve Loved You So Long (Now sitting at 91% on the Critic’s TomatoMeter. Trailer above. I’m SO there! Hehehe...)

Bardem signs up for Iñárritu's Biutiful See also Variety’s article:
Pic is about a man embroiled in shady dealings who is confronted by a childhood friend, now a policeman. (This follows Iñárritu's well-publicized falling out with writing collaborator Guillermo Arriaga over the credit on Babel.)

McG to direct 'Dead Spy Running'
Warner Bros. has acquired "Dead Spy Running," an upcoming spy novel by British author Jon Stock for McG to direct that would serve as a launch of a franchise character. While story details are under wraps, the book, the first of a trilogy, aims to reinvent the spy genre. It tells the origin story of newly trained spy in a tone that mixes The Bourne Identity with the works of John Le Carre. "Running" sold to a HarperCollins imprint in a bidding war and will be published in 2009. (McG also has a blog on the Terminator Salvation production.)

Seth Green told
Moviehole that he’s going to direct a big screen adaptation of Freshmen, the comic book series he co-created with friend Hugh Sterbakov. Green says they’re “writing the feature, and we’re gonna make it when it’s ready”. They are currently looking for a studio to finance, which will likely require a $35 million budget.

Sherlock Holmes Script Review
We just finished the Mike-Johnson-written script of Sherlock Holmes that's currently being shot by Guy Ritchie in London. At best it's fun, harmless romp through the Holmes mythos, revitalized for audiences assimilated with the Bourne-style, action, smarts and authenticity vibe. At worst its Pirates of the Caribbean set in Scotland yard - mindless, escapist entertainment that's trite and hokey. But the Bourne-angle is how they draw you in. 'Sherlock 2000' (what we like to sardonically call it) is no more realistic than say Indiana Jones 3 (its not quite as ridic as Indy 4) and from we get from the script, we shouldn't expect anything much more than a fun PG-13-ish summer popcorn flick with a smidgen of edge unless Ritchie can really dig into this thing, but there's not a ton of depth to mine.

Apparently, there’s a controversy over The Watchmen ending.

Early reviews of Quantum of Solace
are mixed.

Marc Forster won’t be back to direct the next Bond
"They offered me the next one, but at this point the pressure is so intense — it's a year of not having a life. And I don't know if I want to do that again. It's literally not having a life, and I mean that, it's not exaggerated. I feel like life is short, you have to find a balance."


On Synecdoche, New York:

In light of the fact that there is so much noise in the media right now about Kaufman’s new film, I have
re-posted below my script review, which I wrote in May, 2007. Plus, I’ve added new pictures. It was the most agonizingly difficult review because it’s so strange.

I still recall vividly my feelings at the time. Reading that script was a deeply unsettling and exhaustively depressing experience. I felt somehow damaged by it. A feeling of melancholy settled over me. I wrote, “Why put an audience through so much sadness? Is the world so happy right now that we have to pay to be reminded of all this gloom? Is it really admirable and praiseworthy for an artist to do nothing more than to be a bit creative about shit and death? It’s not even the fact that it’s sad that bothers me but that it’s just repetitiously chronicled without any redeeming emotional lift in the end.” In fact, this brings to mind an article on
Fatal Flaws in Screenwriting where I quoted Ebert who talked about Chaos, the most nihilistic film ever made. He said, “As the Greeks understood tragedy, it exists not to bury us in death and dismay, but to help us to deal with it, to accept it as a part of life, to learn about our own humanity from it. That is why the Greek tragedies were poems: The language ennobled the material… What I object to most of all in Chaos is not the sadism, the brutality, the torture, the nihilism, but the absence of any alternative to them. If the world has indeed become as evil as you think, then we need the redemptive power of artists, poets, philosophers and theologians more than ever. Your answer, that the world is evil and therefore it is your responsibility to reflect it, is no answer at all, but a surrender.”

That, to me, is how Kaufman failed in his own unique way.

But I could be wrong.

So far, it has a higher rating
on the Tomatometer than Straczynski’s Changeling, if you can imagine that.

Of course, there is ZERO audience for this film and Synecdoche, New York will tank if/when it gets a wide release. But here’s my question: is it a good story that’s worth telling?

I turned to my most trusted critic, James Berardinelli, and
what he wrote eerily mirrored my own thoughts:

Synecdoche, New York is relentlessly bleak. That in and of itself is not a problem but it eliminates any joy that might result in unraveling Kaufman's mind-benders. The director doesn't want viewers to enjoy themselves watching this movie. It is meant to be uncomfortable and challenging and, assuming those to be his objectives, he succeeds. Kaufman's previous films ventured along the razor's edge separating ponderous from insightful, but always had a strong enough narrative to anchor them. Here, any pretense of a coherent plot is jettisoned midway through the proceedings. We're left with a movie that becomes so bloated and self-important that it's tough to sit through. The final 30 minutes in particular are difficult because, by then, we've lost the connection to Caden. Synecdoche, New York is less a movie than a series of disjointed meditations on art, death, and the connection between the two. Viewers who love to ascribe meaning to the cryptic will have a field day. To me, it seems more like weirdness for weirdness' sake…

…I walked out of Synecdoche, New York feeling frustrated and a little cheated. If I look hard enough, I'm sure I could find something meaningful in the wreckage, but I don't feel compelled to dig through the detritus. Kaufman is inviting meaning-seekers to enjoy his masturbatory ride. He has sacrificed plot, character, and logic on the altar of self-aggrandizement. Yes, parts of the film work. Individual scenes are funny, or poignant, or thought-provoking. But the picture as a whole is a mess. Some will call this art. I'll content myself with thinking of it as an ambitious misstep by a creative individual who failed to realize what he was trying to represent.

But yet, Manohla Dargis
loved it: To say that Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is one of the best films of the year or even one closest to my heart is such a pathetic response to its soaring ambition that I might as well pack it in right now.

So here’s a round-up of critical thoughts:

Jonathan Rosenbaum: It seems more like an illustration of his script than a full-fledged movie, proving how much he needs a Spike Jonze or a Michel Gondry to realize his surrealistic conceits.

Michael Joshua Rowin: There is little precedent, cinematic or otherwise, for Synecdoche, New York… Sure, early on in his directorial debut, maestro screenwriter Charlie Kaufman namechecks Kafka to prepare us for the increasingly claustrophobic surrealism that engulfs author-surrogate Caden Cotard (a phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman), while the character's psychotic, Borgesian obsession with artistic fidelity to real life is approached with the same matter-of-fact bemusement as Buñuel - this isn't entirely unfamiliar territory, at least to begin with. But as it becomes more and more frustrated in its attempt to reconcile personal entropy with creative perfection, Synecdoche proves that even from the ingenious, hilarious and, clearly, tortured mind of the man who might be this country's greatest current contributor to the art of storytelling, it is like nothing else we've quite seen…

Fernando F Croce: The artistic psyche has never been more joylessly explored… Synecdoche is a reminder of what a dead-end brilliant screenwriting conceits can be when left by themselves on the screen.... Freed from the influence of collaborators, Kaufman wallows in his thematic fixations like a dieting matron lunging at a box of bonbons.

Elbert Ventura: A whimper against creeping mortality, Synecdoche, New York can border on the insufferable. Caden flagellates himself with such single-mindedness that you can’t help but want to escape his whiny company. Endless though this hall of mirrors may seem at times, it is also frequently brilliant. Kaufman’s script is a wonder of lapidary craft (only the Coens write screenplays as precise and poetic). Synecdoches and stand-ins, echoes and doubles, projections of a mind desperate for renewal, are seen everywhere. Bird flu in turkey? No—Turkey. A skin disease called sycocis—not psychosis. At one point Caden comes up with a title for his play: “Simulacrum.”

Rex Reed: Charlie Kaufman. Oy vay. I have hated every incomprehensible bucket of pretentious, idiot swill ever written by this cinematic drawbridge troll. But nothing that has belched forth from his word processor so far—not the abominable Being John Malkovich, the asinine Adaptation (Meryl Streep even worse than in Mamma Mia!), the artery-clogging Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Chuck Barris from “The Gong Show” a secret operative for the C.I.A.?), not even the jabberwocky of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind—prepared me for a bottom feeder like Synecdoche, New York. It is extremely doubtful that you will sit through all two-hours-plus of this obnoxious drivel—in fact, the fool producers who actually put up the money to finance it owe you a prize if you do—but even if Hollywood bought the myth of Charlie Kaufman, the latest Hollywood example of “the emperor’s new clothes,” as a writer … whatever did he do to convince sane people he could be a director, too?

David Edelstein: This epic dream play with its leaps through time and space, its characters and shadow characters, poses a momentous question: Uh... well... I'm not sure what question the movie is posing. The answer, though, is definitely 'Death…'" The best thing to do with one's spatial-temporal bewilderment is get over it and go with the free-associational flow: Synecdoche cannot be diagrammed.

Mark Haslam: No doubt, it's got some great ideas about space and time which seem natural to film; but they're not put together in any cohesive way. Things are jumbled, uneven. Leaving the theater, I couldn't escape the thought of what would've been if Kaufman had given things more time, allowed the form to unfold itself, gradually over time, so that we feel time slipping away from us as it slips away from Caden, so that the approach of the film's end really is that gradual approach of Death.

Karina Longworth: The film "is impeccably acted, inventively designed, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and often devastatingly sad... It was also still such a mystery to me after two viewings that I found it hard to trust my own vocabulary to describe what the experience of watching it is actually like. But [in The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert] Burton, rambling on 400 years before the fact, seems to nail it, or at least part of it: a life where the madness of creativity and the madness of love/lust are constantly exchanged for one another, to the point where [pleasure] from either is unattainable. But it's also about the fear of death, the impossibility of romance in the absence of longing, the instinct to project our desires on to others and to seek answers about ourselves in mirror images. In other words, as theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) says of his own life's work, 'It's about everything.'"

Jürgen Fauth: overambitious meta-narrative about a director producing an overambitious meta-narrative. From the punny title to the bitter end, Synecdoche, New York is driven by its creator and main character's desperate attempts to address the grand themes - art, love, life, and death. The one self-referential twist that Kaufman didn't intend: both the play-within-the-movie and the movie itself are disastrous failures.

Richard Corliss: The obvious inspiration is Federico Fellini's , in which Guido, a moviemaker with director's block, is beset by memories and fantasies as he dodges all the women in his life, from mother to wife to whore to mistress to muse… Kaufman has constructed a most devious puzzle, a labyrinth of an endangered mind. Yet it's one that - thanks in large part to a superb cast, led by Hoffman's unsparing, sympathetic, towering performance - should delight viewers who both work the movie out and surrender to its spell.

Dana Stevens: Synecdoche, New York is a very sad movie for two reasons. First off, the story, about a theater director who's sucked into the vortex of his own impossible artistic ambitions, is unremittingly bleak, making for one of the most depressing nondocumentary films you're likely to see, well, ever. But secondly - and in the long run, more movingly - Synecdoche is sad because it's a constant reminder, a ghostly double, of the great movie it could have been.

Scott Foundas: ...Synecdoche is a partly confessional, partly satirical investigation into the creative process - and the notion (or the absurdity thereof) that art can lead to understanding.

And now the interviews:

"Oh, God almighty," said
Hope Davis when asked to describe the film. Michael Ordoña meets her for the Los Angeles Times.

From the Kaufman interview at /Film:
Do you typically write your films hoping that audience will require multiple viewings?
Yes. Well, I think it makes it more interesting for an audience to have some complexity in the material, and also, I’ve got this sort of thing where I’m trying to make it feel like it’s a living piece of theater, as opposed to a set, sort of a pre-recorded thing. And it’s sort of a tricky thing to try to make film feel alive because it isn’t. So this way, it can change when you watch it again at a different point in your life, or just seeing it for the second time, you’re going to see things you couldn’t possibly see the first time because you didn’t know something until the end. But, also, you get to look at details. You can watch things that are happening in the background of scenes that are informative that you probably don’t see the first time through when you’re just trying to get the thing. So that’s why.

indieWIRE’s interview with Kaufman:
Can you say something about your mental process when you are writing?
I often have a theme in mind when I'm starting. I know that I want everytihing to be in a world of, say, evolution, or guilt. But also I do a lot of things intuitively. I'm not often consciously aware of what I'm doing. It's like in a dream: There's something going on that's powerful but you don't know exactly why. As I'm writing, though, I start to see connections, and themes I didn't see, and that sparks other things. So then I go back and rewrite things or alter them. It's a combination of intuition and a lot of finessing. It becomes a combination of the rational and the irrational. I always go in circles. I have OCD to a certain extent, so I tend to do a lot of circular thinking. I think I do have OCD a bit.

More interviews with
GreenCine, FilmCatcher, Fresh Air, Michael Guillén, Liz Ohanesian, Brent Simon, Steve Dollar, Jesse Hassenger, Ted Zee, and Andrew O'Hehir.

Official website. And here’s the press kit.


On the Contest Circuit:

Movie Script Contest Announces Finalists

Spec Scriptacular Finalists Chosen

People's Pilot Finalists Chosen Announces 2008 Split-Screenplay Contest Winners

Slamdance Announces 2008 Contest Winners and Finalists

Austin Fest Announces Contest Winners

CWA Announces Final Contest Results


And Finally

Something happy! “Directed by John Hughes” by one of my favorite YouTubers,
Mr. Barringer82. Be sure to watch it to the very end.


Anonymous said...

Congrats on your article in SCRIPT magazine. You've got some nice shiny shoes.

Joshua James said...

Dude. Do you ever sleep? Heh-heh-heh.

Scott said...

A quick question: Do you know of any Australian screenwriting sites? Have not come across any at all. Does anyone know of any?

Anonymous said...

I'm Australian. If you want to see some discussion of movies and structure try the Story Dept. on

I never got around to ordering Script. But my female curiousity is dying to see the shoes! You can tell a lot about a man from shoes. But they might not be MM's shoes. They may be his manservant's.

Anonymous said...

Kaufman's also interviewed for the latest Creative Screenwriting podcast, as well as Charlie Rose. He's everywhere!

I can't contain my excitement for Let the Right One In.

Christian H. said...

Wow, this place is like one-stop shopping. I almost feel like I should send you money.

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