EW's Jeff Jensen struggles to make sense of the scripting of 'Adaptation.'
The cursor blinked mockingly. The screen radiated a sickly shade of electronic white. And there sat my friend and colleague, Entertainment Weekly senior writer Jeff Jensen, suffocating in sad silence. He was supposed to be crafting a vivid, incisive story about how the oddball Hollywood screenwriter Charlie Kaufman came to pen himself into the new mind-melting meta-movie Adaptation. But on the eve of an unforgiving deadline, all he had to show for it was a parched Microsoft Word document, thirsting for letters, sentences, ideas…
He had no clue how to begin.
”Having trouble with your Adaptation article?” I said, standing in his doorway. ”That’s a tough assignment. Whaddaya have so far?”
”Well,” Jensen mumbled, rubbing three days of chin stubble, ”I wanted to open with a grabby-yet-literary scene setter, but I’m hosed. My primary interview subjects — Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman — were so cagey and elliptical about their process, they gave me almost nothing to work with. As Spike said, ‘I like going to see a movie where I don’t know everything about every detail, where I can experience it and have my interpretation, as opposed to being told by the people who made it.’ I swear, it’s frustrating dealing with…artists.”
”Wait — I’ve got it,” I said. ”Your story is supposed to be about how Charlie Kaufman struggled to write a screenplay about Charlie Kaufman struggling to write a screenplay based on a book, right?”
”My brain hurts. But continue.”
”Why don’t you write a story about how you, Jeff Jensen, struggled to write a story about Charlie Kaufman’s struggle within a struggle?”
”I dunno,” Jensen said. ”Sounds…self-indulgent.”
”The whole movie is self-indulgent — that’s the beauty!” I said. ”Look, you’ll still include the usual information. In the first section, mention that the film stars Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper; that it’s directed by Jonze and written by Kaufman, you know, ‘the team that brought us 1999’s surprise Oscar contender Being John Malkovich’; that it’s a hyperambitious noodle-cooking dark comedy that toys with convention and the audience. But just like the movie, turn this story against itself and you’ve got fun and fresh.”
”Like…I could have a part where you come in here and find me all bummed out,” Jensen mused. ”And then I can make us tall and handsome and stuff…” A slight smile crossed his chiseled face.
”See? I love it!” I said, my head grazing the ceiling.
”Oh, who am I kidding?” moaned Jensen, tugging at an errant nose hair. ”I’m not nearly clever enough to pull this off. But what if you write about me writing about Charlie writing about the whole blah blah blah?”
”You know — wow,” I said, ”I wish I could, but I’ve totally got to crank out this Fred Dryer Q&A for the TV department this week.” What I wasn’t telling him, of course, was that I would never want to do that story anyway, because it would require way too much work.