Charlie Kaufman Offers “Eternal” Writing Philosophy


I’ve had dreams of becoming a writer ever since ninth grade, when my fellow classmate Kristi Schmidt and I received awards of excellence by our favorite teacher, Mr. Fred Melcher. It’s an honor I just remembered while starting this post about my appreciation for writer Charlie Kaufman, so apologies for this brief left turn before the actually story begins.

Scene from the stop-motion animated film, ANOMALISA, by Paramount Pictures.
Scene from the stop-motion animated film, ANOMALISA, by Paramount Pictures.

Melcher’s honor was particularly satisfying since the previous year I was the biggest underachiever in the Honors class. As a collective, this section was academically ahead of the pack, and during the final weeks of English class, Melcher spent most of his time reading William Goldman’s The Princess Bride while we sat in rapt attention.

Melcher was a charismatic instructor and, coupled with Goldman’s inspired tale, it was one of my favorite high school memories.  To this day, I still haven’t seen the movie, believing such a viewing would take away from that sublime experience.

But my love for that time is framed in retrospect, as I was intimidated by my academically inclined colleagues and, thanks to the inevitable onset of laziness, my grades suffered in the process. I struggled during eighth grade, and my memories of The Princess Bride readings were only cherished when I grabbed the English honor the following year. Clutching the slip of paper in my hand, I felt a writer’s life was before my very eyes. The road, though long, would be a straight and narrow path to success.

Remembrance of things...well you get the point!!
Remembrance of things…well you get the point!!

Life, no matter how you slice and dice it, just isn’t that clear cut. There are stops and starts, inspiration and perspiration. Falling in and out of love, or lust, or maybe even both. There is a life beyond one’s high points and deepest tragedies – things just don’t stop with every crowning victory or agonizing defeat.

The show must go on, and though for years I’ve fashioned myself on someday writing that great screenplay, penning the proverbial “great American novel,”  or directing a movie, maybe it’s time to realize that day may never come (for a look at my “work,” check out my amateurish short film). At 44, I’m totally fine with the prospect of not fulfilling some kind of self-engineered promise that started in Melcher’s class, and a huge part of this acknowledgment comes from Charlie Kaufman’s amazing screenwriting speech from September 30, 2011.

During my salad days I marveled at Kaufman’s dexterity in crafting non-linear narratives and crisp dialogue which often resides in a refreshingly surreal landscape. My numerous stabs at screenwriting ended in failure thanks to trying to emulate his writing style. Paying homage is one thing, mimicking someone’s creative voice is ludicrous.

Loneliness and self-doubt creep into Kaufman’s universe, and these days, as much as I love his storytelling ambitions, I center most of my affections towards his unflinching passion for life. Most of his protagonists vainly attempt to break through their own inner conflicts and find some form of peace and love on the other side. Whether you’re meeting a loved one in Montauk (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) or embracing (or bracing yourself for) for all that humanity has to offer (Synecdoche, New York), Kaufman’s heroes are simply everyday people, as evinced by this evocative closing voiceover from Synecdoche, New York.

“What was once before you – an exciting and mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived. Understood. Disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone is everyone.”

I don’t completely buy into the “everyone is everyone” equation (especially since the world is filled with a**holes), but maybe getting in touch with one’s fears while having a more compassionate understanding of humanity is a step in the right direction.

I created Find Your Seen, along with several close friends, to share stories about lives from all across our world. Since most of us are based in Los Angeles and New York, we’re starting small, focusing on pop culture and entertainment/lifestyle news around these two cities. But as the years progress, the coverage will hopefully reach a broader scope.

The best stories or articles from the site will originate from a place of truth, and that’s one of the many beautiful lessons learned (and re-learned) from listening to Charlie Kaufman’s speech.

Whether you’re a wannabe writer, working writer, or more importantly, a human being (and maybe even a fan of Kaufman’s work), I highly suggest listening to this speech. Humorous, epic, occasionally scattershot yet ultimately inspiring (like his narratives), it’s one for the ages.

Below is a passage from one of my favorite sections – and below that is Kaufman. Check it out:

“Say who you are. Really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost. Someone not yet born. Someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be. But more importantly if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world. Because that person will recognize him or herself in you – and that will give them hope. And it’s done so for me. And I have to keep rediscovering it (and) its profound importance in my life. Give that to the world.”

I’m looking forward to Kaufman’s next film Anomalisa, a stop motion animated project which took three years to make. The trailer’s below:

Future blog posts will detail my experiences as a radio/online entertainment journalist (I started out as a UCLA Daily Bruin Film Critic in 1991!), and hopefully these scribbles will be worth your time.

A huge aspect of Find Your Seen is finding a way to interact with people, so if you have thoughts on Charlie Kaufman’s body of work or have any pieces of insightful writing advice to share, feel free to comment below!

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Greg Srisavasdi

Editor/Owner of Find Your Seen and Deepest Dream, I'm also a BFCA member and editor of Hollywood Outbreak. I also do a weekly movie review podcast called CinemAddicts. BFCA member, Clippers and UCLA Bruins lifer!!

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