In 1999, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman went practically overnight from being just another former television writer trying to break into features to one the industry's hottest talents, all thanks to one film: Being John Malkovich. Being John Malkovich's surreal comic vision seemed to suggest an imagination that appeared practically out of nowhere, and in many ways that isn't far from the truth -- despite his sudden success as a screenwriter, Kaufman has remained notoriously tight-lipped about his life and career, and consequently not a great deal is known about him. Charlie Kaufman was apparently born in late 1958, and raised on the East Coast; he spend his early years in Massapequa, Long Island, and attended junior high and high school in West Hartford, Connecticut, where his family moved in 1972. (Kaufman once told a journalist that he "grew up in the equivalent of Levittown, that kind of post-World War II development.")
After graduating from high school in 1976, Kaufman briefly attended Boston University, but soon transferred to New York University, where he studied filmmaking. Kaufman made several short films at NYU and acting in student and community theater productions, but after graduating, Kaufman relocated to Minneapolis, where he worked in the circulation department of a newspaper, as well as a local art museum. In 1990, Kaufman pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles in hopes of establishing a career as a writer. His earliest credits after moving to the West Coast were as a writer for the offbeat television sitcom Get a Life; he later wrote for the variety series The Dana Carvey Show, and was both writer and producer for the comedy series Ned and Stacy, while also trying to pitch ideas for significantly odder pilots such as Depressed Roomies and Rambling Pants.
(Kaufman was also a producer for the short-lived sitcom Misery Loves Company). In interviews, Kaufman has preferred to downplay his television experience, saying that reading authors such as Flannery O'Connor, Samuel Beckett, Shirley Jackson, and Franz Kafka ultimately had a greater influence on his screenwriting, and adding that he only wrote for Get a Life in the show's second season, which he felt wasn't especially good. The screenplay for Being John Malkovich came together slowly near the end of Kaufman's years in television, and with time developed a reputation as a brilliant but unproducable script after making the rounds of the studios until Single Cell Pictures (founded by musician and artist Michael Stipe) optioned the screenplay, and noted music video director Spike Jonze stepped forward to direct. After Being John Malkovich became a surprise success (and Kaufman's screenplay was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, while winning prizes from the British Film Academy and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association), Kaufman suddenly became a hot commodity, and three films based on his screenplays were released to theaters in 2002: Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Adaptation. All three films were cited when the Nation Board of Review named Kaufman Best Screenwriter of 2002. If a Kaufman free 2003 was something of a disappointment to fans who had grown warmly accustomed to his quirky style, 2005 would prove especially satisfying when the screenwriter was awarded an Oscar for "Best Original Screenplay" award at the 77th Annual Academy Awards for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). An unconventional an hallucinogenic love story that takes place largely in the mind of its heartbroken protagonist, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind brought together all of the elements that highlighted Kaufman's previous works into a moving tale of love and forgiveness that was perfectly accented by director Michele Gondry's imaginitive direction. In 2008, Kaufman made his directorial debut, writing and helming the perplexing Synecdoche, New York.