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Charlie Kaufman is Truth: Or How and Why Charlie Kaufman is the Best and Worst Advice Giver in the Industry

August 25, 2014

Michael Cera, Catherine Keener, Sally Hawkins and John Hawkes can’t save Charlie Kaufman’s “How and Why”… yet.  Not yet.  And so goes the life of 3-time Oscar nominated and 1-time Oscar wining screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.  How?  Why?

Charlie Kaufman gives you the advice you don’t want to hear.  If you’re looking for an easy fix.  Or a simple solution.

I’m just telling you off the bat that I don’t know anything.” – Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman Screenwriters Lecture at BAFTA Guru

His words are humble.  Full of wisdom.  Lacking easy answers.  There are plenty of “gurus” out there willing to make guarantees about what their advice can do for you.  Charlie Kaufman is their anti-thesis.  If you want guarantees, Charlie Kaufman will give you the worst advice you’ve ever received.  But, anyone without a peanut for a brain knows guarantees are hogwash.  No one can guarantee what will happen in your career or life.  Charlie Kaufman doles out the advice you need.  How and why?  Because it’s who he is.  Who he has become.  A wise man.

Yet, we haven’t seen a Charlie Kaufman production developed in six years.  The only reason we’ll see one soon – Anomalisa – is because of crowd-funding.

Allow yourself time.  Let things brew.  You’re thinking about it, whether you realize it or not.” – Charlie Kaufman

I agree whole-heartedly with the above statements.  It’s a Process.  Processing takes time.  Time takes patience.  Patience breeds rewards.  Answers are not found easily, or there were be no need to ask questions.  The answers would already be found.  Asking the questions, the right questions, is part of the process.  Heck, even asking the wrong questions is part of the process.  Any question is part of the process.  But, if it has an easy answer, be suspicious.  Be suspicious of gurus making guarantees.  Be suspicious of people telling you the way.  No one can tell you how to live your life.  No one can tell you how to write the one amazing screenplay that only you can write.  Even though, sometimes, many of us wish it were possible.  There are no rules, guidelines or maps that will get you there.  The only thing that will get you to YOUR destination is the process.  Latch onto someone else’s rules, guidelines or maps and you will arrive at THEIR destination for you.  You must find YOUR destination.  But, in order to do so, you must go on your own journey.  You can share your journey with others, but the journey is all your own.  As it should be.  There is only one journey you get to take, in this lifetime.  Take yours.

And that’s probably some semblance of the advice you’d get from Charlie Kaufman.  The best advice, because it’s the advice you need to hear.  But, the worst advice, because it doesn’t provide an answer.  But, it does provide an answer.  The answer is: process.  Trust the process.  Learn to process.  Become a process.  Process stories.  Process life.

I’ve learned these lessons through grounded life examples, residing within the realms of Permaculture and Consensus Decision Making.  They are both about process.  As is screenwriting.  As is, in my estimation, life.  It’s why I’m always skeptical of someone who says, “I wrote six screenplays in a year.”  Because my natural thought, my first thought, is, “where was the process?”  Did you allow time?  Did you let things brew?  Did you let ideas marinade?  Because, as Charlie Kaufman says:

You’re thinking about it, whether you realize it or not.

Or maybe you’re not.  Maybe you have yet to learn the lesson of process and processing.  But, then, I’d argue, you’re not a true screenwriter, you’re not a true liver of life.  But, on the flip side, perhaps one can over-process.  But, I know one can under-process.  Especially in a world filled with instant gratification “hear-me-now”s.

Charlie Kaufman does not say “hear-me-now.”  Charlie Kaufman says, “Hear me later.”  Let this wash over you.  Think about it.  Let it sink in.  Let it brew.  Marinade.  And so, How and Why is relegated to the process.  The process of brewing around town.  What will happen?  How?  And why?  Maybe it’s all about the process.

It’s disappointing to hear the initial news, but not everything in the process is puppy dogs and sunshine.  It’s always darkest before the dawn.  I know this because on those days when I say “screw writing,” inevitably, by the end of the day, I always find myself writing.  It never fails.  Never.  And there have been many of those days.  Those days are microcosms of the process.  And those days always seem to elicit the best ideas, the best writing.  I’ve lived through those days enough to know what’s happening, even when I’m in that deepest despair.  It’s kind of weird – there’s more hope within that deepest despair, because I know exactly where it’s leading.  But, only because I’ve experienced it many times.  And, that’s the wisdom.

I have no doubt that Charlie Kaufman has this wisdom.  Some people I doubt it about.  But, then again, we all have to start somewhere.  Wherever you are in your process, welcome to the process.  I won’t say, “I hope the ride’s not bumpy,” because it will be.  I guess all I can say is, I hope it works for you.  And I don’t even know what that means.  I guess, I hope you make the best of it.

I suppose, I should just end with the best advice from Charlie Kaufman:

I can’t tell anyone how to write a screenplay, because the truth is that anything of value you might do, comes from you.

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