The Kaufman Approach to Neurotic Living

Not too long ago, a friend recommended Adaptation, a film about the struggles of screenwriting and film in general. Months later, in my Film and Literature course, we wrote an analytic piece on Adaptation.  I love the entire concept and the meta, and I feel that the performances really add up and belong to this production. However, something about this film’s omnipresence in my life has me wondering if some cosmic phenomenon is attempting to make me conscious of a great truth, and I’d like to share a finding/epiphany with you guys.

In short, the film is about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) attempting to create a book-to-film adaptation (hence the title) of a Susan Orlean book called The Orchid Thief, but he finds himself unable to draw any inspiration from his source material. Discouraged, he turns to his twin brother Donald (also played by Nicolas Cage thanks to the wonder of video editing), who wants to turn the book into a Hollywood blockbuster affair, full of chase scenes and hidden romances. Donald is quite confident that his version will sell and have great success in the box offices. Charlie, however, sees the book as something else: a book where not much happens. He finds it beautiful and poetic and syllogistic to “real life.” Operating under the assumption that this is what Orlean had intended, Charlie sloshes through the thick mud of writer’s block, hitting every obstacle along the way.

This struggle is amplified by the fact that he lives in a dining room comprised of an Ikea dining set, and nothing else.

Out of desperation and nearly out of time, Charlie visits a writing seminar led by big-time screenwriter Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox), where he asks how to make a movie with no conflict and no resolutions work for an audience. What he gets is an earful that he, and I believe the audience, really needs to hear. Be warned of the obscene and passionate language.

The reason this monologue (would you even call it an exchange?) is effective is three-fold: there is something said about filmmakers in general, Charlie in general, and, in he most polarizing fashion, the audience.

As an audience thus far, we see that Charlie is really struggling to adapt this book into the film. His methodology with films in general is to make something “different,” which he’s showing the viewers via the meeting with the publishing company administrator (played by Tilda Swinton) and shooting down Donald’s lucrative-sounding pitches. Charlie’s efforts to make this film a passionate and poetic standout piece become understandable when we see how much he cares about making the production different from the bog of Hollywood blockbusters weighing down cinema. When he goes into this seminar, he is hoping for some advice from an expert on how to tailor this picture into something along those lines. That’s when McKee lays into him. McKee tears Charlie’s pitch into pieces, declaring an insurmountable list of things going on in the world right now, and how such a different movie is near impossible. Charlie cannot argue with what had been said.

McKee’s making a statement on the status of Hollywood, where people make these experimental films that are different and go against the grain, but instead of being meaningful and poetic, they are just different for the sake of being different.

When Charlie proposes his idea for The Orchid Thief movie adaptation, McKee is quick to shoot down the idea because it is meaningless to him. Even though the box office is full of vapid productions, like nostalgic adaptations and watered-down formulaic horror, their strengths are due, in part, to the fact that they follow the stream of things intended for a general audience. As McKee states in the above video, “movies as commerce has never been better.” McKee is making a statement on how film’s success is now determined by viewership. In more simple terms, you make a movie for an audience, not yourself. If your movie is so alien and polarizing that people don’t want to watch it, you’ll create a flop of such epic proportions, and you’ll waste so much time doing so.

This is also a statement, I feel, on behalf of Charlie’s character. Charlie’s plight is made worse by his neurotic nature and his inability to understand what he sees in Susan Orlean’s book. The basic premise of what he wants is something different from the rest, the opposite of Donald’s proposed blockbuster production. Charlie wants something that captivates a beauty in the book that he can see. He sees that not much happens in the book, and nothing gets resolved. Up to the workshop scene, the viewers come to understand that Charlie’s idea of a loose-end movie is a translation of how Charlie feels about life. Lost in his own thoughts, Charlie spends most of his time keeping to himself, pounding away at a typewriter to get this perfect idea that he so desires. He finds that if he doesn’t type all that much, not much has happened that day. The reason McKee’s wake-up call puts Kaufman in such a state is because he accuses Kaufman of “not knowing crap about life” if Kaufman honestly believes not much happened in a given day when the real world is riddled with tragedy and comeuppance.

Kaufman’s approach to life is essentially shot down by an expert, and the impact of this verbal slaughter is so effective that Charlie cannot even rebuttal it. He simply gives a scared “okay, thanks” and sits in silence for the rest of the seminar. The fact that Kaufman was so deeply perturbed by McKee’s statement is an internal revelation that this neurotic and insulated state of living was affecting his ability to not only write, but to live a full life. His behind-the-scenes, not-much-happens mentality cost him recognition in film, as seen in the opening scenes of Adaptation (where Kaufman was told to get off the set because it was “film crew only.”) Notice that, throughout the rest of the film, Charlie begins to become more accepting of offers and options, and much more happens throughout the span of a day. His life becomes filled with chase scenes, romance, conflict, and action. It’s ironic, then, that as Charlie begins accepting Donald’s idea for a fast-paced “action-porn type” movie, Charlie’s life becomes riddled with equally intense action.

This, I believe, is where we the audience should pick up a bit of life advice. If your life, or at least your outlook on life, is anywhere near as neurotic and insulated as Charlie’s is, maybe McKee’s advice is more for you. The Kaufman approach is such an extremely introspective form that he isn’t even a part of his own production. He also works on something simply for the sake of being different, without acknowledging a world of possibilities that exist in a brave new world he has yet to explore. Does this sound familiar?

I know for a fact that I too have slammed the door on the world and tried to blow people away with just being different. There’s nothing wrong with being different, but if it’s all you do, you shouldn’t expect to get this praise that you desire for being a “maverick” or a “contrarian.” Like writing, fashion, and most of all life’s concepts, the uniqueness doesn’t come from being something no one else has seen before, but rather from taking something and making it individual and “you.” Charlie’s revelation came from this amazingly powerful scene, and in a sense, he also achieves his goal of making a movie that’s totally “him.” Not Orchid Thief, but Adaptation! The bizarre look at a struggling writer is indeed penned by the subject, and it totally suits him. It is an enjoyable experience to stare into the meta and realize how we interpret the film ourselves, as +1300 words depict here, and essentially make the film our own.

Remember to be open to all experiences, and do not strive to just be different. Strive to be the best “you” you can be.

Okay, thanks.

Take care,
(LBOP)

The Kaufman Approach to Neurotic Living

Shower Thoughts(?)

Positive thinking will let you use the ability which you have, and that is awesome.”
– Zig Ziglar

In my introduction, I stated the purpose of the blog was to air out the et cetera that’s floating around while I go about my everyday life. One anomaly I referenced was “shower thoughts,” which I’m not sure is a well-known medium of thinking. To avoid confusion, I’m just going to briefly explain what “shower thoughts” or “shower thinking” is, and why it’s a useful tool to your everyday creative process.

For those who already know, here’s a catalog of the most entertaining shower thoughts I’ve ever read.

Essentially, anything I do in the way of work, schoolwork or otherwise, involves some modicum of creativity. To tap into this creativity, I need an atmosphere where I am comfortable. A select few have the capacity to work under tough conditions, but I find it very hard to complete things under pressure, or at least produce something I’m proud of. Deadlines far too often interfere with the ability to express oneself to the fullest. The overwhelming of failure and incompletion often intercepts any availability of having a stream of consciousness and putting the good thoughts down. My advice?

Take a shower.

There is something therapeutic and relaxing about the shower. There is no pressure, there is absolute seclusion from the world. Your asylum lies between the decimal of an inch thickness of a curtain. And while you’re in there, tasked with only getting clean, why not take a moment to recuperate and think about what lies ahead? Often times, the concept of taking a shower is the most control you could be allowed in a day. If things get too hot, you can lower the temperature with a turn of a handle. Use these minutes of pure control to arrange what will transpire next.

One of the most important things, however, is getting out of the shower. A lot of times, you’ll give yourself the old “five more minutes” routine, which of course lends itself to squeeze ten from five. The key factor is time allocation, which isn’t to say that you have to work all the time and have your day scheduled out for you. You just need to give yourself a small amount of time that is applied to relaxing, allowing your brain to refresh without the constant constraints and pushing. Imagine the brain as a computer: it performs best when it’s not overheating, doesn’t it? Cooldown time is key, and the shower is the best place to do it.

“So, ‘shower thoughts’ are basically what you think of when you’re cooling down?” Essentially. The importance of “shower thinking” lies within your capacity to think more than what you’re thinking of. Isn’t it amazing how you can have a revelation with just a little heat and water? All that serves to relieve your stress and allow you to think effectively and efficiently. Force never needs to apply to these situations when you shower. Everything just flows if you allow it.

Which brings me to my final and most apex point: whatever it is that you want to do, you can do it. If you have the will to think and the capacity to let ideas flow to you for you to arrange, then you can fully utilize the amazing power of the human mind. All you have to do is allow yourself to breathe in that steam. You can do it. No one can arrange letters on a page or words to the mind quite as uniquely as you can.

That’s a shower thought.

Take care,
(LBOP)

Shower Thoughts(?)

So, what is all this?

Hello, readers! My handle is Looked Better on Paper (LBOP), and this here’s a blog about, well…the most intriguing things I can think of.

This blog is a labor of love for the people in my life who tell me I am a fantastic writer. If I could relegate the last four years of my life to a phrase expressed by my friends, family, colleagues, and associates, it would be, “Whoa, man.” This sense of expression from people really fueled my interest in critical thinking, and it’s come to my attention that often times the art of communication isn’t quite enough to wholeheartedly discuss a concept in life.

Oh, but this isn’t to say everything on this page is going to be a Schopenhauer or a Marx or a Sagan. Far from it. This is the place where I can write down those shower thoughts or theories that I accumulate from living life. It’s my belief that the unexamined day is a wasted day, and what better place to put my observations than the written form?

Prepare for an inconsistent barrage of video game thoughts, political commentary, theories, musings, advice, and the et cetera.

Thank you, and take care.

(LBOP)

So, what is all this?