Anomolisa: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson Interview

Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman at the Toronto International Film Festival

Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman at the Toronto International Film Festival

No one can accuse Charlie Kaufman of being unprolific. The screenwriter, producer, director, and lyricist has given us some of the most innovative and unique films of the 21st century. His critically acclaimed films Being John Malkovich,(1999), Adaptation (2002), Confessions of A Dangerous Mind (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) garnered major attention from moviegoers and critics alike. He made his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York in 2008 and now he brings us the universally acclaimed Anomolisa based on an original screenplay he wrote (under the name Francis Fregoli) as a radio play.

Kaufman has been nominated for three Academy Awards: twice for Best Original Screenplay for Being John Malkovich andEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (winning for the latter), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Adaptation. Three of Kaufman’s scripts appear in the Writer’s Guild of America’s list of the 101 greatest movie screenplays ever written.

His latest film, Anomalisa is what some might say odd, but it is true to what fans would expect from Kaufman. At the start, it comes across as strange and unsettling; mainly because its actors are all felt puppets. Anomalisa premiered in Telluride before going on to the Venice Film Festival, where it won the grand jury prize. The film is written by Kaufman, and jointly directed by him and Duke Johnson, a specialist in stop-motion animation. The movie then made it’s way to the Toronto International Film Festival where it was bought by Paramount Pictures. The studio is mounting an awards campaign that has already yielded a Golden Globe nomination for animation and four Independent Spirit nominations; including best feature and screenplay.

Anomalisa is basically a study of loneliness and focuses on two main characters – Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a depressed, middle-aged author who ispained by his mundane life experience. While on a business trip, he meets a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who might even be even more alone and lost than he, and together they discover a lot about life and themselves. The film took three years to complete and was even partly funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

It began as a stage play in 2005; part of a series of “sound plays”. The show was performed with foley artists creating sound effects live on stage and three actors – David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan. That trio now comprises the film’s entire voice cast: Thewlis and Leigh play the two leads while Noonan does all the other characters.

Anomolisa is currently playing at a limited number of theatres and will open wider through January 2016

I spoke with Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson about working together on Anomolisa and the complexities of the stop-motion animation process.