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Charlie Kaufman Says Zany, Outrageous 'Frank Or Francis' Is About "Online Film Criticism"

The Playlist By Edward Davis | The Playlist September 30, 2011 at 8:19AM

But "In The Broadest Possible Sense Only"; We've Read It And Have Details On This Wonderfully Ambitious & Bizarre ScriptScreenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman is a busy man. After taking a detour to give a script polish on "Kung Fu Panda 2," the writer behind "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" and the director of "Synecdoche, New York," is back at it in full force. The filmmaker has two scripts in the can: one, an untitled political satire that his old co-hort Spike Jonze is going to direct starring Joaquin Phoenix, and another that Kaufman will once again get behind the camera for called "Frank or Francis." We already know that it will star Nicolas Cage, Steve Carrell and Jack Black and that it's a satire of Hollywood where a film director feuds with a blogger.
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But "In The Broadest Possible Sense Only"; We've Read It And Have Details On This Wonderfully Ambitious & Bizarre Script



Screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman is a busy man. After taking a detour to give a script polish on "Kung Fu Panda 2," the writer behind "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" and the director of "Synecdoche, New York," is back at it in full force. The filmmaker has two scripts in the can: one, an untitled political satire that his old co-hort Spike Jonze is going to direct starring Joaquin Phoenix, and another that Kaufman will once again get behind the camera for called "Frank or Francis." We already know that it will star Nicolas Cage, Steve Carrell and Jack Black and that it's a satire of Hollywood where a film director feuds with a blogger.

But it's about oh-so-much more than that too. We've read the monumentally wacky and out-there script and Kaufman also recently described some of it in brief to Time Out London.

"In the broadest possible sense, it’s about online film criticism, but as usual, the world that I’m writing about is not necessarily the world that I’m writing about," Kaufman tried to explain. "It’s just a place to set it. There’s a lot in there about the internet and anger: cultural, societal and individual anger. And isolation in this particular age we live in. And competition: it’s about the idea of people in this world wanting to be seen. I hate to use the word 'about,' as it implies that what I’m doing is an analogy and that I’m trying to say something. I’m not. That’s for the audience to do."

It's a wildly ambitious script and Kaufman says he doesn't even know how he's going to pull it off, but that's because he doesn't ever like to rein himself in during the writing stage.

"If I look at some of the things in the script that I’m about to embark on, I’d have to say I don’t really have any idea how we’re going to do it," he said. "I’ve been pretty good at keeping logistics away from the writing process. It’s important when you’re writing to not bridle yourself with pragmatic concerns. The movie I’m about to do has got a lot of scenes and a lot of characters. And the scope of it and the world it inhabits is very, very large."

Amen. But Kaufman's comments can almost be construed as disingenuous as reducing "Frank or Francis" to be "about film criticism" is well, reductive. Likely it's more that the filmmaker doesn't want to give much away, but has to try and explain it briefly. As you might expect from Kaufman, especially given the surreal largess that was his debut picture, "Frank or Francis," is a sprawling, super ambitious and hyper meta-textual. It's also hilarious, completely bizarre, multi-layered, dense and therefore the ne plus ultra of Charlie Kaufman-esque.

"Frank or Francis," in our estimation, feels like a deliciously good and contemptuous (though self-aware) screed/send-up of the film industry, not only, the graffiti-with-punctuation bloggers, but the entire machine: fatuous filmmakers, vapid PR people, self-absorbed writers, blowhard actors, and last but not least it serves up a jiujitsu-like takedown on the ego-driven, vacuous meat-parade that is the Academy Awards. No stone is left unturned nor is there much of any kind of hero in the story as everyone is as equally moronic and narcissistic as the other. Still, as Kaufman denotes, it also says a lot of things about society, culture, human nature (and race) and human behavior -- albeit some of it in his patently strange and sometimes baffling way.

As the title suggests,"Frank Or Francis" is a ridiculously (relatively) epic story, built around two parallel characters, Frank Arder, a pretentious, self-important screenwriter-turned-filmmaker whose feature-film "You," becomes a sensation in Hollywood after it's nominated for a record-making 29 Academy Awards. Hard to explain in this space -- audiences do see some of it in the film -- and large in scope and scale, "You" centers on a homeless man played by Arder. In fact Arder plays every character in the film including women and children and characters of many races including African Americans.

Francis Deems is an online blogger -- no, that's giving him far too much credit. He's a loser, but a self-important, arrogant film-blog commenter who lives in his parents attic and his scathing critiques of Hollywood have earned him a bit of a following (we swear he's modeled after LexG on Hollywood Elsewhere, but that's likely a coincidence). There's then actually one more "lead" character, Alan Modell (also known as the Emcee in the script due to his Oscar hosting duties), a comedian with a faltering career who is known for his wildly popular, immensely moronic "Fat Dad" roles (not dissimilar to "The Fatties" from "Tropic Thunder").

These three stories run in parallel, only peripherally connected and then conjoin in the film's wickedly funny and outrageous conclusion. This all feels like just the tip of the iceberg. As there are two love stories for both titular leads, singing throughout (more on that in a moment), a Romanian waitress and two talking ghost-like thumbs who have a Romanian political agenda. Yes, it's very WTF-??-esque too.

Confusing matters more is Robert, a robot head programmed by Jonathan Waller, the director of a hit epic called, "Hiroshima." When "Hiroshima" fails to win Best Picture, Jonathan and his brother Richard create Richard's Head, the superwiz computer-brain programmed to write a screenplay that mathematically examines every successful screenplay in the history of movies and then makes one super-perfect script called, "God" (no, really).

And what makes this already bonkers story all the more bizarre? Half the dialogue, especially when people are writing on the Internet is sung. Yes, half it is sung aloud, and of course for no particular reason either, other than it's perhaps Kaufman's homage to movie musicals where characters break into song when they want to deliver the expository true feelings of their character (which makes this idea rather brilliant, given all the built-in movie references). It's hyper meta: movies within movies of movies, credits for "Frank Or Francis" run in parallel to credits for other films on screen, it's a bit hard to follow on the page, but it's an outrageous riot. In some sense, it's such a scathing indictment of Hollywood, it's surprising anyone would ever be willing to make it, but it is Charlie Kaufman after all.

Sources close to the project tell us that Steve Carrell is in line to play the director Frank Arder. In our minds this must mean that Jack Black is set to play Alan Modell and Nicolas Cage would play Francis, in what would be a pathetic-character role not unlike the one he played in "Adaptation." But that's obviously not written in stone or fact. One obvious caveat, Francis is a 20-something blogger/film commenter, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time a screenplay was changed to fit someone's age (see Leonard DiCaprio's role in "Django Unchained" for a very recent example).

Sounds like spoilers? Not even close. The aforementioned love stories are super integral to the script, but we've barely scratched the surface about where they go. Alan's story trajectory is just wickedly surreal and we haven't even disclosed that at all. All of this will will likely be found in a standard synopsis. A trailer, whenever it arrives will make this confounding story make -- a little -- more sense. Suffice to say, goddamit, yes, let this movie be made and maybe there won't be a need for any movies after it.

This article is related to: Films, Frank Or Francis, Charlie Kaufman