Hey Cincinnati, Charlie Kaufman has a new movie opening this month…and we’re in it. Kaufman, the screenwriter behind the brilliant, off-kilter hits Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the writer/director of Synedoche, New York, originally created Anomalisa as a play in 2005.
A Kickstarter campaign secured over $400,000 to produce the film, which is set in Cincinnati, uses stop motion animation, and features the voices of actors David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. We spoke to Kaufman about how Cincinnati came to figure so prominently in his script.
Why was Cincinnati the right place to set a movie about a man whose monotonous life sets off an existential crisis?
I don’t think there was any reason. I originally wrote this in 2005. I’ve never been to Cincinnati but I liked the name and I wanted someplace in the middle of the country. Everything I know about Cincinnati, I just read stuff. I was looking for things for the cab driver to say as he takes Michael [the main character, voiced by David Thewlis] to the airport.
You read well, because you call out two specific points of pride: chili and the zoo.
The original play is set in the Millennium Hotel, but they would not let us use the name for the movie, so it was changed to Hotel Fregoli. But I ordered Millennium Hotel bathrobes as gifts for the cast. We did clear the name Cincinnati Magazine for the movie*, because it’s featured in a key joke. It’s one of the magazines in the hotel room. The cover says “Try the Chili” and he pushes it away.
Chili is the lifeblood of Cincinnati, so well done. Can we talk about the zoo reference?
Don’t give it away! But it should become the new zoo slogan. By the way, I wanted to ask you, do people call it Cincincity there?
No, I’ve never heard that.
You should start making that a thing.
I’ll see what I can do. This is your first film in seven years. You’ve talked about how hard it is to get movies made now. If you get any momentum off this and you could get one project into production, what would it be?
It’s a little early to tell, the proof is in the pudding if the movie does well commercially. I think there is more interest in us [Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson], since we’ve been getting positive press. I’m doing a rewrite on a script for a studio now and I have a script called Frank or Francis that I would like to make. But there’s no one banging down my door.
So if you get it made, can Cincinnati take credit?
I will give Cincinnati credit.
*The magazine that is supposed to be Cincinnati Magazine in the movie is actually called Cincinnati Issue.