This is a treat for Charlie Kaufman fans: An extensive Vulture interview with the filmmaker (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Anomalisa).
It seems that you would be an ideal person for an Amazon or a Netflix to throw a lot of money at and say, “Hey, make us a distinctive, Charlie Kaufman–esque show.”
I had a pilot at HBO that Catherine Keener was going to be in. The whole series takes place on one day. The premise of the show is that there are so many different accidents in your life that lead you in different directions, and as you look at someone’s life from birth to, let’s say, 50, there are so many different versions of that life that could have happened. My idea was that you take this woman, she is this age on this day, that’s the only given, and then each episode is based on a different route. Maybe it broke off here and the difference is very small; maybe it broke off when she was a baby, in which case it’s a completely different life. In the course of the series, you start to recognize, first of all, there’s clues given as to what these things were that happened that changed the course of her life. But there are also similarities in all these different versions of herself — about who she is. What I thought was really cool about the show, in addition to the premise, which I really liked, is that there’s no one right version of it. You can watch this in any order, and it’s a different show. The example that I like to use is that in one episode, she’s married to this man and you see their life together. In the next episode, she’s divorced from this man and you see her life having been divorced from this man. In a third episode, she and this man walk by each other on the street, clearly have never met. And depending on which order you watch the series in, there are different a-ha moments.
So what happened with it?
I wrote a first episode, and then they wanted to see a second episode because they weren’t sure what it was going to be. So I wrote a second episode. And I decided to make the second episode very, very different, so that they could see how it could be very, very different. The response I got from them was, “Well, I don’t see how this could be the second episode. It’s so different.” And it’s like, “Well, no. I’m not saying it’s the second episode. I’m saying it’s another episode. This isn’t like the order that the show has to go in if we want to establish the premise.” It may not be the real reason they didn’t want to do it, but they could not remove that idea from their head. Ultimately, they didn’t go ahead with the series.
That sounds frustrating.
I think that’s a really good idea for a show. I thought it was a really interesting, novel version of a TV series. It would be fascinating, and I think it would get an audience, and I think people would be challenged by it. But it was an unusual show, and they wouldn’t do it, and I was really frustrated with that. When I pitched the idea, there was a bidding war between FX, Showtime, and HBO. We went with HBO. After HBO said no, they put [it] into turnaround and allowed us to take it to other places. Nobody bought it, and that includes Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, AMC, and Sundance.
You also had a pilot at FX, How and Why, that didn’t get picked up for a series. Do you think TV is evolving in the direction where someone might be willing to take a chance on this kind of show in five years, but just not right now?
Maybe. I can’t predict the future. I feel like the interest in this movie, to bring it back to Anomalisa for a second, came only after the thing was done. I don’t think we ever would’ve sold it. People seem to really like it now. Obviously, Paramount really likes it now. But we wouldn’t have sold it to Paramount as an idea. There’s absolutely no way.
What’s the biggest obstacle for a project like this?
I feel like what studios look at, to a certain extent, is precedent. When we pitched Eternal Sunshine, and there was a lot of interest in that, and the thing that we heard back: “It’s a new way to tell a love story.” That was what they saw. That’s not what I thought about when we worked on the idea. But they fit it into this model. It’s a love story. People like love stories.
Here is the trailer for Anomalisa:
For the rest of the interview, go here.