Films about Writing: Adaptation

Films about Writing: Adaptation

Writing and Cinema

Over the years, innumerable films have been made about writers—some great, some less so. While many of these films succumb to a romanticized view of writing, others provide valuable insights into creativity, the craft of writing, and “the life of the mind” (á la John Goodman in one of the best films on writing, Barton Fink by the Coen Brothers). 2002’s Adaptation, by Hollywood’s golden-boy screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, is one such film.


This wild, meta-film “dramedy” gets a special spot on the list because, although it was directed by Spike Jonze, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman gets the spotlight. This is a film that gives writers a lot of attention, both with its subject matter and with its own screenwriter recognized as the creative centerpiece. Kaufman not only received significant attention for screenwriting the film, he even wrote himself as the protagonist. The movie follows Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) as he attempts to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief, for the screen. Kaufman fabricated a number of fictitious narrative elements for the movie, which slowly devolves into a parody of an over-dramatized, Hollywood-type adaption of the quiet, meditative book on which it is based. Nicolas Cage also plays Kaufman’s (fictitious) twin brother, Donald Kaufman, who is officially credited as a co-writer of the actual film’s screenplay.

Writers, Writing, and Nicolas Cage

Beneath—and partially because of—the film’s layers of meta-fiction and self-reference, lies some truly profound meditations on the nature of writing and being a writer. Kaufman the character struggles through procrastination and self-doubt in truly poignant portrayals of a writer stuck in a creative drought. Kaufman’s decision to divide his character into twin brothers provides a hilarious and pointed examination of a writer’s split desire to tell a captivating, accessible story but also to do something new, original, and artful. While the Kaufman character is stuck trying to write a movie about flowers—manically shifting his approach from starting the script at the creation of the world, to writing a story where nothing happens, and, ultimately, to writing a script about himself writing the script—his twin confidently creates an easy, uninspired Hollywood mind-bender of a screenplay.

The twin, Donald, takes a screenwriting class and follows its rules religiously, constructing a story about a serial killer with an easy twist ending. Kaufman the real-life screenwriter mixes the two fictional twins’ approaches in the film, with the first half of the story condemning the idea of adding tropes like an affair, drug-running, and murder into the story… and the second half doing exactly that. Of course, these additions become so over-the-top (the action includes a surprise alligator attack) that the audience is forced to consider the benefit of typical “excitement” in a film, even while they are moved by some of the emotional turns the film takes. The result is a humorous, sad, continually surprising reflection on the nature of writing and story.

Hire a Ghostwriter and Avoid Kaufman-esque Meta-madness

If you walk away with just one impression from this movie, it’s that writing is challenging. Just because the process is difficult and requires expertise, however, doesn’t mean that you should give up on your ideas for a book—or film—be it fiction, memoir, self-help, business-related, or otherwise. Hiring a ghostwriting to act as your skilled technician can be a great way to make sure that your ideas reach the world in the expert way they deserve.