kung-fu-panda-kaufman

Your first reaction to that headline is probably going to be your jaw hitting the floor. But pick it up and relax. Yes, Charlie Kaufman has evidently done some script work on Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom. But it’s just a polish, not a major rewrite. Still, does this mean that we’ll see a wild sequence of exquisitely realized self-doubt in the film? Probably not (or probably not in the classic Kaufman mode) but read on anyway.

THR reports that Kaufman has just finished “less than two weeks worth of work” on the Kung Fu Panda sequel.

The thing to remember here is that, while the story makes for a great headline, this isn’t really unusual behavior. (And THR notes this, too.) Many writers, great and small, get work polishing scripts all the time, and Kaufman has, in all probability, done the same gig on quite a few other movies. We just didn’t hear about it.

In animation there can be more writers than usual. The first Kung-Fu Panda had quite a few. If you believe all the comments by Dan Harmon, one of the uncredited writers on the film, the DreamWorks process is to go through writers like Kleenex, often giving each one very specific goals. Back in 2008 he said,

I came in about four writers into the process. It’s kind of hard to write a “better” scene than the last writer when the rules are that you can only change 30 percent of each scene or completely change 30 percent of the scenes, per Katzenberg screening. So, for instance, in this scene, the panda comes up a flight of stairs carrying a bucket of water, slips on a banana peel, says something to two geese and does an air guitar. The good news? There can be anything in the bucket. Your mission: make the movie better.

And then, after not being able to change anything significant, he quit, or was fired…

They do this cycle like 30 times and the end result is a movie created over three years by 7 terrified directors and 20 pissed off writers, none of whom get any back end because it’s an “animated” film, therefore no matter how bad it is, it turns like an 8,000 percent profit, and they make another one and another one and another one…

OK, so Harmon wasn’t happy, but even if he’s exaggerating, there’s a protracted writing process with quite a few people involved. Where does Charlie Kaufman fit into that with the sequel? Probably nowhere significant enough that we’ll ever know while watching the film. At best, hopefully he scored a paycheck that will help finance one of his own projects. Hooray for Hollywood!

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