Learning Curves

The film suggests that there's an aspect of your workshops that goes beyond technique, that it's almost therapeutic. It's not therapeutic.

But the Kaufman character comes away from the seminar saying he sees the error of his life choices, not just his screenwriting choices. One of the essential principles of my class is for writers to understand that stories are metaphors for life—that life is the source of what we do. We put life into a beautifully poetic form. To express what it is to be a human being—comic or tragic, grotesque, whatever. But it's a metaphor for life. Therefore, you cannot teach about story without referencing life. And what happens is the people in the class not only gain insight into the art of story, but through that glass, they see life. And they see it in a fresh way, and they get insights into their own lives. The lecture wakes people up to remember that we're not making movies about movies. We're making movies about life, and you better understand life if you want to write. The lectures are very moving for a lot of people, emotionally, because they have these epiphanies, where they go, "Oh my God!" And they suddenly understand something in a new way.

Your character cautions Charlie against using a deus ex machina in his screenplay, but in a way the film positions you as the deus ex machina—your appearance triggers the crazy "resolutions" of the third act. Did you appreciate the irony? I'm not the deus ex machina. The only deus ex machina is the alligator that comes out of the swamp.

What function do you play in the film then? In the education plot, there's a convention. There will be a teacher character. In American Beauty, there's an education plot for the Kevin Spacey character, and the teacher character is Teenage Drug Dealer. In The Accidental Tourist, Geena Davis is a teacher character for William Hurt. In Tender Mercies, there's the woman that owns the motel. In Harold and Maude, it's Maude. In the education story, there will be this teacher character who gives guidance somehow to get the negative-minded protagonist looking positive. That's the role that I play. Literally, I'm a teacher character, in an education story.

Read more meta-coverage

J. Hoberman's review of Adaptation

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