Charlie Kaufman has ideas, which for A screenwriter is rarer than you would think. And not just obvious ideas like killer aliens or making your children really, really small. Kaufman's ideas for movies (Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) come from the part of your psyche you avoid. His scripts upend time, logic and the laws of physics, and in the process of writing them, he has upended many of the conventions of Hollywood films. But what makes Kaufman, 45, the screenwriter to watch in Hollywood isn't his ideas or that he has created sadly sweet protagonists more convincing than Woody Allen's; it's that Kaufman writes movies like they're poems.
The three-act structure of most movies, Kaufman proved, may be satisfying, but it doesn't unearth honesty. "I don't know what the hell a third act is," says Kaufman, a former sitcom writer. "It's not a concern of mine." So after being embittered by George Clooney's conventional direction of his script for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the painfully shy Kaufman (who until last month's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show didn't show his face in the media) is going to write a new script, pick his own actors and ask a studio to let him direct it. "I have a tendency to hire people who tend to be unattractive to the studios," he says. "Maybe this is a bad idea." Which, of course, will only make him like it more. --By Joel Stein