Don't Say 'Pitch'!

Hello Mr. Lim,

I'm a freelance writer and I have an idea for you about the new Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze film, "Adaptation," based on Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief." Susan (Meryl Streep in the film) is sort of like a mentor of mine (I met her when she came to my college and have done research for her since then), and she's invited me to her personal "friends" screening. Since the film has all these themes of authorship and metafiction, I feel like I could write a really funny piece describing the event and the film in a way that would play on my personal connection. I don't know how open you would be to first-person stuff, and if you think this would be inappropriate, I can understand. But please let me know, because I think it could be really exciting.

Anya Kamenetz

Hi Anya,

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Sounds promising. Let's talk after you've seen the film.


Hi Dennis,

So I saw Adaptation on Friday night in the formidable Sony building with Susan and her friends. They all hooted, a little too loudly, when the book was described in the film, twice, as "sprawling New Yorker shit."

I'm hoping to sort of skirt the issue of whether the movie works, because I'm fatally compromised as a reviewer. Maybe I could do a critical essay comparing the character of "Susan" she creates in the book, and the character of "Susan" in the movie, combined with her own thoughts about experiencing the two types of surrender to an audience (does the book or the movie reveal her more? how did the movie change her relationship to her own work?)

Or I could write about how Susan seems to really be enjoying this whole fictionalized-crazily sensationalized-story-of-her-life thing. "Remember, it's only a movie," she told everyone before the screening, which got a big laugh. do you have any ideas for how to get into it?


Hi Anya,

I wonder if we should do something more playful (and more conceptual?). Talking to Susan about the various "Susan's could certainly be part of it, but I'm sure many Orlean pieces are going to function as some sort of behind-the-scenes demystification ("real" Susan discusses "fake" Susans), which seems to run counter to a film that's all about how conclusive interpretations are impossible. Maybe there's a way to not only incorporate your personal connection but somehow play off your "compromised" role?

Anyway, let me know what you think.


Hi Dennis,

Sure, I am definitely in favor of playful and conceptual. Maybe it could even start with me sitting at my laptop, sweating, eating muffins, striving in vain to describe the film without losing my mind. Or stepping out of the screening and walking directly into another movie shooting on Fifth Avenue (which really happened).


Hey Anya,

I've been talking to one of my higher-ups, and we thought it would be good to get some juicy personal stuff about Susan into the piece. (And if you don't have any dirt, you could always make shit up. I mean, that's what the movie does.)

What do you think . . . ?



I don't know what to say. you're basically asking me to exploit my relationship with Susan just to get a piece on the cover of the Voice. I mean, I've filed this woman's expense reports, done her lexis-nexis research, cleaned up her Welsh springer spaniel's anxiety-induced incontinence with joy, because I want to be like her, as a writer and a person. even if she weren't extremely happily married (just check the Vows section of the New York Times, November 2001) and a lovely person in general, I would have nothing bad to say about her.



OK, here's another idea. I know that you're skeptical about meta (as we should all be now that the Times magazine has identified it as a trend), but I think there's a way to structure this piece to mirror and address some of the film's themes, and work in your own concerns and conflicts too.

Give me a call when you can. I think I have an idea about how this could work.



Um. using e-mails to do the piece is an interesting idea, but isn't all this meta stuff just an evasion, like Derrida's infinite deferral of meaning? An excuse for not saying what you really think about something? i'm heading right into that trap, and it just doesn't feel right. I mean, the really weird thing to me about Adaptation is not the double-helix movie-about-script-about-book device but the fanatical reverence accorded to the book. Nicolas Cage carries it around everywhere; long, lyrical parts of it, about human passion and evolution, are read in voice-over; its wisdom, its integrity, its uniqueness are lauded (No wonder Susan loves the movie!) In fact—hey!—The Orchid Thief in Adaptation plays the same role as the ghost orchid itself in The Orchid Thief: as a unifying conceit, not the basis for a linear story.

But on the other hand, the book ended with the incredible disappointment (for me) of Susan never seeing the real flower in the flesh, but somehow that was OK, even beautiful, if only because that's what really happened. Adaptation started to lose me right at the moment when the true ending is stated and then contradicted—Meryl sees the orchid in the swamp, and from there the movie leaves behind the book's complicated delicacy and does whatever it wants—with very funny/touching/exciting results, but still, it becomes its own animal.

I wanted to do this piece because I thought I had a special perspective on the movie, but I see now I was just being literal-minded. Knowing Susan or knowing what "really, objectively" happened is way beside the point.

I'm sorry. Maybe you can give the assignment to somebody else.


Read more meta-coverage

J. Hoberman's review of Adaptation

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