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“‘Projective tests’ are psychological tests,” says Charlie Kaufman — a man once described by Roger Ebert as “the most creative screenwriter of his generation,” having earned Oscar recognition and spots on the WGA’s 2005 list of the 101 greatest movie screenplays ever written for 1999’s Being John Malkovich, 2002’s Adaptation and 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — as we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast and I ask him why he named his production company Projective Testing Service.
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You can listen to the episode here. The article continues below.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Keira Knightley, David Letterman, Samantha Bee, Hugh Jackman, Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Hart, Carey Mulligan, Seth MacFarlane, Amy Adams, Trevor Noah, Julia Roberts, Jake Gyllenhaal, Glenn Close, James Corden, Cate Blanchett, Sacha Baron Cohen, Greta Gerwig, Conan O’Brien and Kerry Washington.
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“Rorschach is the most well known example,” the 61-year-old continues. “They’re kind of ambiguous images that are shown to people, and their reaction is the thing that tells you who they are or tells you what their issues are or something like that. So I thought it was kind of interesting, because that’s sort of my philosophy about any kind of art — that when you create something, it exists as a conversation between the person who created it and the person who’s interacting with it. And so that’s what I try to do with my movies. Which is why I don’t want to talk about what they’re about to me, because it’s kind of irrelevant what they’re about to me.”
In more recent years, Kaufman has ventured beyond writing scripts for others to direct into directing films from scripts that he has written. He started with 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, which Ebert called “the best film of the decade”; then came 2015’s Anomalisa, a stop-motion animated film which Kaufman co-directed with Duke Johnson; and the most recent example is I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which he adapted — with major changes — from Iain Reid‘s 2016 novel of the same name, and which debuted on Netflix on Sept. 4 (less than two months after the publication of Kaufman’s acclaimed debut novel, Antkind).
Over the course of our conversation, Kaufman discusses what led him to abandon his passion for acting to pursue writing and directing; what his writing process is, and how each of his scripts evolved; why 12 years elapsed between the first live-action film that he directed, Synecdoche, and the second, I’m Thinking of Ending Things; and much more.