What I Learned About Screenwriting from Watching Charlie Kaufman Films…

In the world of novelists and screenwriters there are bags of folk out there willing to share their wisdom and witchcraft on perfecting the art of writing. Particularly if you’re happy to hand over some cash. Watching Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Adaption’ for the second time I was reminded of how futile this whole industry can be. While certain aspects of writing can be taught to an extent, many just can’t and trying to catalogue the parts and labour of the writing process into a selection of tick-boxes is pretty insane.

Charlie Kaufman breaks every rule written about screenwriting in his own way. Sometimes it seems to glitter like a glimpse of a whole new solar system. Other times it seems to spiral into a deconstructed hole of self-effacing, labyrinthine navel fluff. Both still kind of work in their own way, because it’s Kaufman. He can get away with this shit.

I wrote a novel off the back of an art education, so I’m guessing I can write a film off the back of a career in bartending. I worked out how to write a novel because I’ve read some. And my favourites wormed their way into my subconscious and fly vomit smeared itself onto the pages. In writing ‘Dogtooth Chronicals’ I was creating the ultimate thing that I would like to read. That’s a work of passion and I’m being blasĂ© here about technique and structure and dialogue, and so on. Especially when I, myself, peddle writing advice on this very blog, now and then. Hell, this is probably writing advice. And having someone else feedback on your work through the process is essential.

So if the shaggy dog could sniff out the point I’m trying to make, he’d conclude that we can’t all be Charlie Kaufman (nor would want to be). But you adapt and evolve as a writer through your process. If you want to throw money into sitting in a lecture theatre listening to someone spout big truths, knock yourself out (I made an exception for Paddy Considine, yes). But you may well learn more by reading screenplays, by watching films and by writing, writing, writing.

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