Charlie Kaufman Says Old Hollywood, Not Netflix, Killed Movies

From The Wall Street Journal:

“My box office has been terrible,” says screenwriter and director Charlie Kaufman, describing the commercial flop that led to his first novel, “Antkind,” a 705-page comedy about a failed film critic and a destroyed movie.

Mr. Kaufman’s playful, mind-bending screenplays for other directors, including “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” are among the most acclaimed of recent decades. But the two films he has directed were critical hits that made no money.

. . . .

The novel’s unreliable narrator, B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, exalts the work of Judd Apatow and considers Charlie Kaufman a hack moviemaker. Mr. Kaufman tweaks his own image here, as he did in his screenplay “Adaptation,” which depicts a fictional Charlie Kaufman as a down-in-the-mouth screenwriter. B. also has a tendency to fall into manholes. He discovers a stop-motion film that is three months long—yes, months—only to see it lost in a fire.

As he tries to reconstruct the film from memory, believing that will bring him the stature he deserves, he moves into imaginary worlds, fictions within fictions that include a slapstick comedy duo and a president called Donald J. Trunk. Throughout, B. reflects on his awareness of sexism, racism and his own white privilege, although his own thoughts suggest he might be more biased than he knows. “Antkind” also overflows with obscure references, some invented and many not, including a real 1914 film, “A Florida Enchantment,” in which a woman swallows a magic seed and becomes a man.

. . . .

Mr. Kaufman talked to the Journal about creating novels and movies. Edited excerpts:

. . . .

Why did you create a main character, B., who is a wrong-headed, self-involved, failed film critic?

I’m not questioning your description, but I want to make clear those are your words, not mine. I have a lot of sympathy for B. I feel like he’s distinctly human in all of his failings. I like the idea of impossible things, like when [the late science fiction writer ] Stanislaw Lem writes book reviews for nonexistent books, so I liked the idea of describing a film that does not exist and probably could not exist. That seemed like it would lend itself to a book about a film critic.

. . . .

Your new film is adapted from a novel. How did that project come to you?

I was looking for something that somebody would let me direct and it’s easier to get something made if it’s based on a book or a comic book or a movie that’s already existed. The producer I work with happened to have a deal with Netflix. I don’t know that Netflix knew going in that I was going to make it into something that was less of a thriller than the book, and I don’t think I knew that either. The book is leading you to a reveal, and I felt like that might be obvious and disappointing in the movie. Things are more mysterious in words than they are in images.

Was it easier to get an original screenplay made earlier in your career?

Definitely. Earlier in my career, I could play around and experiment, but the business has changed enormously, and it all happened around 2008 when studios stopped making movies and started making tentpoles. The reason something like Netflix attracts filmmakers is because there’s nowhere else to make those things. It’s infuriating to me when people say Netflix is ruining movies because—no, movies ruined movies, studios ruined movies, and that’s the truth.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG notes that the upcoming Netflix movie is based on I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid.

5 thoughts on “Charlie Kaufman Says Old Hollywood, Not Netflix, Killed Movies”

  1. Gee, I didn’t even know movies were dead.
    What with the freaking Billions being poured into new movies (and movie-budget series) by everybody from Netflix and Amazon, to Disney and WarnerBros.

    WarnerBros even set up an entire unit to annually produce 10-12 “medium budget” movies(around $50M each.). That’s JOKER territory. Any decent director can make a good movie with that to work with.

    https://www.engadget.com/2020-02-05-hbo-max-warner-max-movie-unit.html

    Video, like most content businesses is evolving and, with theaters going bimodal (cheap horror and faith-based on one end, and big “blockbusters” on the other) the kind of movies the OP favors are migrating to digital distribution and streaming. In some cases they are evolving into mini series, to maximize flexibility and give the story the room even a 3 hour movie can’t.

    (Anybody interested in seeing what the new services enable ought to check out AGATHA CHRISTIE’s ABC Murders on PRIME. It’s a three hour movie that no theater would have bothered with that the BBC broke into three episodes and Amazon picked up. Classic Christie, with John Malkovitch as an aging Poirot facing off against a “fanboy” serial killer and a skeptical police dept. Nary an explosion in sight.)

    Old Hollywood is in deep trouble but movies (and long form video) are heading into a new golden age. Far from dead.
    It’s just that it’s on streaming and not in theaters.
    There’s still insider sniffing that those aren’t “real” theater-grade movies (how familiar) but that’ll go away soon enough.

    • Somebody must be writing and directing all that stuff for my recent Netflix and Amazon virus binges.

      • Not Kaufman.

        The trend used to be for the most successful TV writers, directors, and producers to transition to movies but lately it’s the opposite because the really big money is going to streaming video production. Netflix, Amazon, and WB are on record as spending muktiple billions a year, of *their* money on content they can own, on top of what they can license. Some of the bigger names in movies have been signing up for streamhg deals. One got a half Billion.

        It’s long tail subscription economics taking over video.

        And with theaters shut down there’s no telling what’s next in ’21 and beyond.

        (First surprise is Wal-Mart is turning some of their parking lots into Drive-ins. Sounds like a good use for dead Malls.)

  2. It’s long tail subscription economics taking over video.

    Exactly the same as with books. Before, a book was either in the bookstores, or it wasn’t. It was either in print, or it wasn’t. Now there’s no excuse for a book to not be in “print”, and on the internet all books are “in stock”.

    Same with visual entertainment now. Before, a movie was either in the theaters, or it wasn’t. More recently it was either for sale, or it wasn’t. Now, movies and video are just “in stock” once they are created.

    • Ain’t it grand?
      I have a couple hundred DVD sets of shows for viewing.
      Most of which are on one streaming service or another. In HD instead of SD.
      Plus stuff I never bothered with before.
      Almost like the old QWEST Commercial:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAxtxPAUcwQ

      Music, too.
      And MS is doing it to games, though a bit more limited.

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