anomalisa interview

When I first saw Anomalisa at Fantastic Fest, a friend described the humor of the movie as a life preserver in a hurricane. When you make a movie like this, how does the comedy come out? Do you strategically place it to keep things from getting too heavy or are you just natural comedians?

Kaufman: I don’t know what a natural comedian is, but I like funny things and I like writing funny things and that appeals to me. It’s always been part of my work and it probably always will be. It’s got to come organically out of the piece that I’m working on. You can’t just put in jokes. I’ve written for sitcoms and I’ve written jokes that are just jokes for jokes’ sake. On my own stuff, I don’t want to do that. I want it to feel organic.

Johnson: It just occurred to me that when we were translating the stage play to a feature film, there was stuff that had to be added, visual stuff to fill out the silences between things. Almost all of the things that we added were jokes. They ended up being humorous things. I don’t know what that means.

While the movie is very funny, it taps into some dark truths. I don’t want to ask if it’s inspired by you guys in any way, but it does feel like you’re staring at a confession. How do you tap into that kind of storytelling?

Kaufman: My obligation as a writer is to be honest and to say things that seem true to me. In doing so, I make myself vulnerable and naked. If I don’t do that, I’m not doing my job. So I do that. I try to do that. I do it as well as I can in the moment I’m doing it. I always try to get better at it. What anyone has to give in a world of creativity is themselves. If you’re not giving that, you’re not doing it.

You never let David Thewlis’ Michael Stone off the hook for some really unhealthy behavior. He’s a fascinating trainwreck of a character. Were you ever tempted to make him more more instantly relatable or, dare I say, likable?

Kaufman: I would never be involved in any production that would try to make any character more likable. This goes back to the thing I said just previous to this. It’s the wrong thing to do. It’s thinking about the eventual audience and not the work that you’re doing. Not being true. We had zero conversations about making anyone likable. I think some people are more likable than other people in this movie. You say this is damning of Michael and I feel that’s your interpretation of it. I’m not saying you’re wrong. In fact, I’m saying you’re right. That’s your interpretation of it. That’s not the only interpretation of it. That’s an interpretation of it. I try, and Duke tries, to have things be layered enough that what you bring to it as a viewer is supported. Your interpretation is going to be supported. This movie doesn’t come to any conclusions about anything. It puts Michael through a weekend. From his point of view, you get to see that weekend.

The sex scene at the center of the movie could have been silly. It could have been Team America. Instead, it’s realistic and moving in a way that most live action sex scenes are not. So, I have to ask… how do you make a great stop-motion puppet sex scene?

Johnson: Lots of Silica! I think that… I don’t know the secret to making a great stop-motion sex scene, but I can tell you that what we did is just try to remain true to the characters and the scene and the emotional trajectory of that moment. The scene starts with them entering that hotel room and it culminates with them having sex. We wanted that moment to feel authentic to that progression and for it to be a natural progression to get there. Once you’re there, how they’re interacting with each other should feel like Lisa and Michael interacting with each other in that moment. That’s just what we tried to be. Be honest.

What does the set look like for a movie like this? How do you stay sane when you’re literally only getting seconds of footage a day?

Johnson: I’ve blocked it out of my mind. You’re spinning many different plates. You have the animatic, which you’ve worked out ahead of time. All of the creative design and development is worked out ahead of time. The blueprint of the animatic exists, which is basically an edited version of the movie. You know what you’re aiming for. You’ve spent months talking through every beat of the film and how you’re going to achieve it and what you want each character to feel from one moment to the next. It’s really about having to execute that. There are hundreds of technical challenges that have arisen and all of the stages are in various degrees of production. You’re just running around, dealing with a bunch of tedium. You should already know at that point what you’re attempting to achieve at least.

Since I only have time for one more question, I’ve got ask – what are you two working on next?

Johnson: I’m actually interested in live action as well. I plan on doing a live-action film next. But I’m not done with animation and Charlie and I and our producer Rosa Tran have talked about doing another animated film if the opportunity presents itself.

Kaufman: I’m working on a rewrite of a script that I wrote and I’m working on a novel. And that’s all I’m doing.

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Anomalisa is in theaters now.

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