Charlie Kaufman Makes Fiery WGA Awards Speech: ‘We Are Trained to Believe What We Do Is Secondary to What They Do’

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Being John Malkovich” screenwriter Charlie Kaufman took dead aim at Hollywood’s power structure in his remarks at Sunday’s Writers Guild Awards, where he was feted with the top honorary film award.

“We trained to believe that what we do is secondary to what they do,” Kaufman said, with quiet intensity, referencing executives who make decisions out of fear in order to preseve their jobs.

“Our work is to reflect the world, say what is true in the face of so much lying. The rest is window dressing at best, ‘Triumph of the Will’ at worst,” he said.

Kaufman didn’t elaborate about the guild itself or the tense contract negotiations that are expected to start on March 20 with Hollywood’s largest employers.

Kaufman invoked the work of poet Adrienne Rich. “Adrienne Rich wrote, ‘I do know that art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”

The room grew quiet as Kaufman continued: “The world is beautiful. The world is impossibly complicated. And we have the opportunity to explore that. If we give that up for the carrot, then we might as well be the executives.”

Then Kaufman got more personal. “I have dropped the ball, I have wasted years seeking the approval of people with money. Don’t get trapped in their world of box office numbers. You don’t work for the world of box office numbers. You work for the world. Just make your story honest and tell it.

“They’ve tricked us into thinking we can’t do it without them. The truth is they can’t do anything of value without us,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman thanked the WGA for prompting him to think about the nature of writing for Hollywood with the decision to bestow the Screenwriting Laurel on him. It gave him “the opportunity to reflect on what it is that’s important to me about the work that we do,” he said.

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