Last year in the lead up to its early screenings, Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa” seemed like a slam hit. It won a special prize at the Venice Film Festival, and it was tipped for an Oscar nomination along with great critical reviews.
It achieved all that, even if it wasn’t the unanimously embraced slam dunk some were hoping – some critics just weren’t as swept away by it as others, though almost all seemed to appreciate it. The box-office was on the other hand was dismal, the film earning just $3.75 million in the United States from a reported production budget of $8 million – and that was despite an intense publicity campaign by Paramount.
Half a year on, Kaufman is being honored with the President’s Award at the 51st Karlovy Vary International Film Festival where he spoke to The Playlist and was quite blunt about the results:
“Y’know I’m disappointed it got these great reviews and it didn’t do any business. It doesn’t make me dislike the movie. I still really like the movie and I’m still glad we made it, but I was thinking when Paramount took it on I thought, ‘Well, O.K., this is gonna make some money and this is gonna help my career.’ I don’t think it hurt my career, but I don’t think it gave it that thing where it’s like, ‘O.K., this guy is viable. We can make a movie and people will go and see it.’
And I think especially because the reviews were so extraordinarily good, because with ‘Synecdoche’ it was divided. There were great reviews and then [other] people hated it. It’s like you could sort of see why people wouldn’t go to it because of that. This was like, ‘Why this time?’ And I don’t know the answer and I never will, but it’s frustrating to me in that regard.”
Kaufman says overall he’s still really proud of the film, but admits his type of films are struggling to even get independent financing these days with him struggling for six years now to get funding for his current script “Frank or Francis”. He says: “I think if ‘Anamolisa’ made money and it had a modest budget for an animated film and it made $20 million it would be a different thing.”
Kaufman also recently finished a screenplay for Paramount and Steve Carell but reportedly doesn’t sound that optimistic about its chances due to the current legal battle over Viacom’s future. He also tried getting two TV series made – one for FX that went to pilot but was rejected, another which HBO scooped up but then dumped and which no-one else is interested in. Kaufman admits it can bruise one’s ego:
“It’s been so difficult and demoralizing to try and get stuff made. Especially after I had this period where it was easy to get things made. I had this period where it was hard to get things made and then I had this period after ‘Malkovich’ where I wasn’t the director, but my scripts were getting made. It was a different time and so it felt like that was the way [the creative side] was going. It was a momentum. You loose momentum really fast in this business I think. People forget you and more people kind of crowd in to where you were and it’s been hard. I need to be able to make a living in addition to all this other stuff, but the great reviews or people who write these thoughtful things about my movies where they are expressing something intellectually or emotionally that they experienced in it means everything to me.”
“Anomalisa” is now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD everywhere.