Greta Johnsen (Nerdette Podcast) interviewed Charlie for the Chicago Humanities Festival, and your resident BCK guy was lucky enough to catch it. (Thanks to Stephanie and Chicago Humanities Fest.!)
Charlie seemed relaxed and happy during the fairly informal chat, so that was good to see. The focus was on Antkind, of course, but a bunch of areas were covered. Some highlights and stuff worth noting:
- Charlie is currently reading Yoko Ogawa's 1994 novel The Memory Police, because he's been offered the job of adapting it. (This does not mean he'll take the job, and it doesn't mean it'll definitely hit cinemas, but still.)
- He has "a few jobs that I'm working on right now."
- He's already considering writing a second novel; has some stuff percolating, and was going to spend the evening post-interview mulling it over. There are "a couple of areas that I want to explore."
- Charlie has an interest in doing "not a podcast, but something like a radio serial" and he's an admirer of Joe Frank's work, calling it "evocative."
- Kaufman was given essentially carte blanche to write whatever he wanted. "They basically said 'Do what you want' and I gave them some vague ideas, some of the ones I just told you, and a couple more, and then they said 'That's fine.'"
- It took around 5 and a half years to write, while he was working on other things simultaneously. He tried writing it in the 3rd person, and the 2nd, before settling on first person because he liked writing in Rosenberg's voice. When he started out, Charlie intended to write a serious novel, eventually turning instead to a comedic one. He has no real writing routine--no daily goal, no set "writing time"--but in the last days and months of writing Antkind, he'd go to a coffee shop when it opened at 6:30 and write for 3-4 hours, getting a lot done.
- There are no real deleted scenes lying in a drawer. Everything he came up with ended up in the novel, in one form or another.
- There was a lot of research involved in writing the book, given the number of cultural and historical references that appear in Antkind. Sometimes Kaufman would serendipitously encounter things--like the Kentucky Meat Showers, which played directly to a recurring motif in the book--and in they'd go.
- When Charlie started the novel, he says he was "kind of interested in talking back to film critics," citing the odd one-way relationship that usually exists between artists and their critics--critics can talk about you, but you generally don't get to talk about them. Charlie cites artist/critic Robert Henri as saying that critics "should never write about anything that they don't love." Says CK: "…and I can't figure out the hole in that stement.[…] It seems to me that what criticism, for me, when it's helpful, is that when I read it it opens me up to something that this person understands in a way that I don't yet. There's no point in telling me 'This is awful, you'll hate it.' Unless I'm trying to figure out what movie to go to on Friday night, I don't need that." He prefers criticism as more of an art form and a means of imparting why you enjoy something. He spoke of Mark Rothko's art; Kaufman says he isn't normally a fan of expressionist art, but Rothko's leaves him feeling "really affected, really moved." Kaufman's father--an artist himself--never liked Rothko's work, and Kaufman wishes he'd had the vocabulary to explain to his dad why he likes Rothko.
- On that note, Charlie is no fan of ranking things. He finds it a "Bizarre, aggressive and wrongheaded way to look at a piece of work. It moves you, it doesn't move you, why do you need to compare it to some other piece of work?" Rosenberg, the lead character in Antkind, is a big fan of ranking things.
- Kaufman: "I disagree with most of what he [Rosenberg] says. He's not based on me, he's based on people that I've known," and he remarks that the book isn't used just as an exploration of critics but of a general type of person he has known.
- Though he set out to write an unfilmable book about an impossible movie, now Charlie is thinking Antkind could probably be turned into a limited series on TV. Having said that, he's not sure how he'd do it, because there are many ambiguous things in the novel which you'd have to make concrete on the screen. Which is why he'll only do it if he can direct it, assuming that he comes up with a way it can be done.
- Charlie thinks his best solution for writers' block is just to let things percolate. If you do get blocked "I feel like one has to accept that that's part of one's process." He feels bad for wasting lots of time, but adds that there's value to it--or tells himself there's value to it--because it leads sometimes to solutions. Even if it feels like you're not working, your subconscious is often doing stuff behind the scenes. Charlie has attended artist retreats a couple times, which he finds very helpful for focusing on the work.
- He doesn't listen to music when he writes.
- He sometimes writes by hand before transcribing his work to computer; the process of transcribing it leads to him writing essentially a second draft, because he makes changes as he transcribes.
- Charlie has become a vegetarian, thanks largely to living with his daughter for a bit in New York. When cooking, they would sometimes dance in front of the kitchen windows.
- Though it might appear Charlie is interested in puppets (Being John Malkovich, Anomalisa, the puppets in Antkind) he is not in fact unusually interested in puppets. Anomalisa just happened to involve animated dolls because the owner of an animation studio wanted to make the film, and Antkind involves stop-motion animation only because Charlie needed a way for the character of Ingo to make a movie entirely alone, without anybody else seeing it.
- Charlie is fine(ish) with the notion of sticking to fairly similar themes and ideas from film to film. (i.e. Kaufman is cool with being Kaufmanesque.) He's not interested in writing things just to prove to people that he can write them. That approach is too "outwardly directed" for him.
I THINK THAT'S EVERYTHING. If the video is published publicly at all, I'll be sure to stick it on the site.
Thanks again to Stephanie and CHF.