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First Draft: Learn “Kaufman’s Folly” to Avoid Writing Fanciful Worlds That Aren’t Relatable (Video)

First Draft: Learn “Kaufman’s Folly” to Avoid Writing Fanciful Worlds That Aren’t Relatable (Video)

Charlie Kaufman I'm Thinking of Ending Things Antkind

First Draft

Rejection of the Film’s Reality

Finally, older—or more cynical—audience members will simply not connect to the movie at all. They have the ability to separate fiction from fantasy, and do so, failing to become emotionally-involved in the film.

This is a bad thing. When this ego barrier exists, a viewer can only treat the movie half-seriously, laughing off or ignoring the impossibly-perfect aspects of the world or people in front of them, and so failing to connect with the film in a way that the writer intended.

Kaufman’s Folly would not be a problem if it only occurred occasionally. But it is actually hugely prevalent, especially in blockbuster tent-pole films.

For example, consider the argument between Captain America and Iron Man in the 2012 Avengers.

Captain America asks Iron Man what he is without his suit of armor. Iron Man replies: “Billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist.” This, while both are standing on a multi-billion dollar jet, getting set to fight alien invaders.

Both the world and the characters are depicted as superior to the audience.

Now these films are still hugely successful, in part because they contain other elements that are enjoyable, and in part because the franchises have a pre-existing fan base. But a lot of newer would-be franchises make these mistakes, and so fail to become established.

Not only that, but even with a popular franchise, the audience may still show up, and may enjoy the spectacle, but without connecting on an emotional level as a result of Kaufman’s Folly, the films have very little long-term impact. The film is quickly forgotten, and the audience moves onto the next big thing.

If we are aware of Kaufman’s Folly, and can avoid it, then we can create worlds that audiences will enter into whole-heartedly. This is important for films of all budgets, from the smallest independent film to the next tent-pole blockbuster. So with that in mind, I would like to offer the following guidelines:

  • If you use a fantastic world, it must be visited by an ordinary main character.
  • If you use a fantastic main character, the setting of the story must be ordinary or flawed.
  • If a character is ostensibly better than other people, they must have an inner weakness or flaw which is evident to the audience.
  • If a world is outwardly more enjoyable to live in than our world, it must still have negative aspects.
  • If you have a fantastic world and a fantastic character, then that character should be a role-model, someone for a younger audience to healthily aspire to, rather than harmfully compare themselves with.

This subject of role models is something I address in another of my videos. Why not take a look?

Finally, remember that readers, critics, or audiences will often dislike a script or film due to Kaufman’s Folly, but won’t necessarily be able to tell you why they dislike it. This means the real problem is often missed in notes and reviews, and so you must take care to avoid it yourself. MM

This article originally appeared on the website Creative Screenwriting. Creative Screenwriting is “the best magazine for screenwriters” (The Los Angeles Times), publishing daily interviews and craft articles from the foremost writers in film and TV. Featured image photograph by Petr Hloušek.

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