“My box office has been terrible,” says screenwriter and director Charlie Kaufman, describing the commercial flop that led to his first novel, “Antkind,” a 705-page comedy about a failed film critic and a destroyed movie.

Mr. Kaufman’s playful, mind-bending screenplays for other directors, including “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” are among the most acclaimed of recent decades. But the two films he has directed were critical hits that made no money. In “Synecdoche, New York” (2008), Phillip…

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