I love Charlie Kaufman. In case you don’t know who Charlie Kaufman is - and I’m guessing there is a very good chance you don’t - he’s the genius behind some of the weirdest and coolest post-modern films in the last couple decades such as: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among others.
Picture: Charlie Kaufman Being Awesome
These movies were great because, like the Coen Brothers, Charlie Kaufman has a singularly original voice and vision for the films he writes and helps create. And besides, any guy who can get his imaginary brother nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay is a winner in my book.
But here’s the thing with Charlie Kaufman: While I love his stuff, most people actually don’t. Kaufman’s crazy self-referential creations are not for everyone, and his lack of super-wide appeal is probably a big part of the reason why he hasn’t done a whole lot in the past decade.
In fact, there’s probably not alot of studio execs who would disagree with me that Kaufman is a genius, and yet if you ask most of these folks if they’d bankroll a Kaufman movie, most would probably say no. Why? Because while Kaufman scripts are great, that usually doesn’t mean great returns.
Of course, another reason Kaufman probably hasn’t done alot in the last few years is the fact that someone like him doesn’t exactly take kindly to artistic compromise, which is kinda difficult in the movie business. If there is more of a decision-by-committee creative business than that of show business I don’t know of one, and it’s writers - who are often solitary and usually at the beginning of the process before the suits and the director starts to impose their will - which may have the hardest time with this.
Enter Kickstarter and crowdfunding. Kaufman and some other top notch folks have launched a campaign for a new stop-motion animated film called Anomalisa, and for a guy like Kaufman (not to mention the other members of the Anomalisa team), this new form of creative funding may be exactly the type of solution needed to not only sidestep the normally corrosive intrusion of Hollywood’s creation-by-committee disease, but it also could help alleviate - or eliminate entirely -significant financial pressure to perform on those who create the kind of work that doesn’t hew to a particular success-by-numbers formula.
Kaufman is an example of how someone with a unique voice and enough of a an established track record to gain a following can potentially achieve success through crowdfunding, but he’s by no means unique. Brett Easton Ellis, (the author of American Psycho) has teamed up with Paul Schrader (screenwriter for Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and The Last Temptation of Christ) to successfully crowdfund their contemporary thriller The Canyons, while other Hollywood types have started to tinker with Kickstarter to fund pet projects.
As I’ve written before, chances are Hollywood studios don’t need to worry about crowdfunding just yet, as it’s hard to replicate what the traditional studios bring to bear in terms of resources, access, and distribution. But those who create films, those who want to have their voice heard, they’re the ones looking to crowdfunding today. And while the vast majority of crowdfund campaigns don’t reach their targets, those who have established themselves enough to get their “1000 true fans” or more are likely those who can succeed in crowdfunding.
Ironically, it may be the type of up-front elimination of risk that crowdfunding provides that will create better work in the long run, or at least work that is truer to the vision of the writer and creator, and that may result more financial success for alot of these works. After all, I think while studio executives with funding power are inclined to replicate success through replicating movie formulas, I think it’s the movies and creative work that is unique, the does something new, that we talk about.
In other words, it’s works like those by Charlie Kaufman that people talk about, and if crowdfunding enables more of those in the long run (and I think it will), we’re all better off in the long run.