Big Eyes Movie News, Cast & Release Date: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski Discuss Tim Burton's Latest Work (Exclusive)
On Dec. 25, the Weinstein Company released Tim Burton's latest film "Big Eyes," about Margaret Keane and the story behind her paintings.
The film is one of the most anticipated Burton projects in years as it reunites the director with writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander. The three of them collaborated on the 1994 film "Ed Wood."
Since then, Karaszewski and Alexander have gone on to write a number of biopics, including "Man on the Moon" "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "1408."
Latin Post was able to talk to both writers on the experience of working with Burton and the challenges of making this biopic:
Latin Post: What inspired you guys to write this screenplay?
Larry Karaszewski: We have this fascination with pop culture and one of the things about this story was that the paintings are so iconic and kind of famous. Everyone sort of knows those big-eyed crying children, but nobody knew the story behind them. And the more research we did, the more fascinating we found that story to be. So the idea that you tell a movie where you're using these images, but also having this weird "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" melodrama comedy going really intrigued us. And what also really intrigued us was that Walter was such an amazing...blowhard character that we tend to put front and center in our movies -- whether its Ed Wood or of Andy Kaufmann in "Man on the Moon." In this case, he would be the antagonist rather the protagonist, and it would allow us to write a movie from a woman's point of view, something we had never done before. And we thought it would be an interesting challenge.
Scott Alexander: The fringy pop culture part was appealing to us because everybody sort of remembers these weird paintings, but nobody knows where they came from. Also, the backstage shenanigans of how Walter did this con and appropriated the art for himself and then figured out how he could make cheap prints and staple them into cheap wooden frames and sell them in pharmacies and supermarkets, hardware stores and gas stations, it was just a bizarre story. And suddenly he's on "The Tonight Show", and he's giving paintings to Joan Crawford, Natalie Wood and Kim Novak, and they're painting Jerry Lewis, and it was such a weird story.
LK: Also, the intersection of high art and low art always fascinates us. For example, "Ed Wood." By telling the story of someone who is known as the worst filmmaker of all time, you give this inherent drama that you wouldn't get if you were making a movie about a great filmmaker. Same way with the Keanes. Because so many people looked at their paintings with distaste, we were actually able to make a movie that really is about art issues. These characters don't stop talking about art, and it was a fascinating thing to tackle.
LP: Who did you actually speak with when you were doing research for the film?
SA: We started working on this project in 2003. Walter died in 2000, so we never got to meet Walter. But I'm sure we would have enjoyed meeting with Walter and hearing his story as grandiose and crazy as it may have been. Margaret and Jane are the only people we met. I mean we did a lot of research. But a lot of the behind the scenes pieces of the puzzle weren't making sense, and we really needed to sit with Margaret to understand how it happened and how Walter came to sell the first painting the first time that wasn't his. How it happened the second time and how it got to a point where she was now complicit, and she was agreeing to do this. And the only way to understand that was to sit with Margaret and hear her story. So with all the biopics we've written, we had actually never tracked down the person before and tried to get their life rights ourselves. And we needed Margaret's rights because we also needed the rights to the art. You couldn't make this movie without the paintings. And so we wanted to get her side of the story and wanted to get her trust so that we could get her life rights.
LK: The thing also was that Walter was the public face. When we did all the research we found plenty of stories about the Keanes, but they were sort of all the public stories of Walter Keane. That's how we ended up making that gossip column character played by Danny Huston. We were reading a column, and Walter had a guy in the newspaper who was printing whatever he said.
SA: They clearly had a tight relationship.
LK: But what we were missing were the private moments. By talking to Margaret and getting her trust she could tell us about her relationship with her daughter and how she ended up losing all of her friends because she was not a good liar and she didn't feel comfortable with people anymore. And that ended up being the heart of the film. And to get that information you had to win Margaret's trust.
SA: And then she started talking about how important the Jehovah witness was to her and she wanted that to be in the movie. That wasn't even something we had originally considered. As soon as she talked us through it, we sort of thought that was what gave her the confidence to out Walter. It made total sense to put it in the movie.
LK: We like to embrace the weird. For us, a lot of people would have been nervous about including the Jehovah's Witness section, but we loved it. We loved the idea that you're watching this movie, and all of a sudden you see these women walking up the sideway with a couple of bibles, and you say, 'Where is this going?" It takes the movie in a little of a weird place, but it brings home what the whole is about, which is standing up for yourself and speaking the truth. And standing up against a liar. So we embraced that section rather than run away from it.
LP: What was the process of working with Tim Burton, with whom you have worked with before, on "Ed Wood"?
SA: It wasn't vastly dissimilar. I mean, it's funny, both movies happened because Tim was coming off of a string of giant expensive movies that shoot for a very long time. I think in both cases he was looking to do something smaller and more nimble. I mean, we sort of maintained a relationship over the years. We did work on movies without credit and movies with Tim that did not get made. It had been an ongoing relationship. After trying to make the film, we brought in Tim as a producer to help us. So, technically, he came on the project five years ago as a producer and it still didn't get made. Then, two years ago, Christoph Waltz surfaced and we saw that it could be a real merchant for the movie. We had been so beaten down at this point. Our budgets kept getting smaller and smaller that it just didn't seem doable. And we told Tim about the idea of Christoph and Tim got really excited and we thought this was a huge opportunity. Tim could just wave his Willy Wonka magic wand and the movie would finally get made. We reached a certain point where we wanted the movie to get made and we knew Tim would do a great job. Tim seems to like our writing, he likes our tone and our mix of comedy and drama and sadness and the weird. And so we felt like this is the one guy we could hand off our script to and he would just do a great job.
LK: We had a great experience with him on "Ed Wood" where he famously shot our first draft. There weren't really any revisions. He kind of did the same thing on this movie. He shoots what we write but he turns it into a Tim Burton movie. So that is what makes an interesting collaboration. The other thing is that we felt a personal obligation to Margaret Keane. When we got her life rights she was in her late 70s and now she's in her late 80s and we wanted to get the movie made so she could see it and she could enjoy it.
LP: What was the experience of seeing Amy Adams bring your script to life? And at what point did she come into the discussion?
SA: She came in immediately. I mean in one of our earlier configurations we had chased her briefly. But as soon as Tim decided he was going to direct it with Christoph Waltz, we sat down with Tim a few days later, and she was definitely at the top of our list. And then she actually wrote a fan letter to Tim saying how much she identified with the material and how much she loved the part of Margaret and how excited she was with the idea of working with Tim. She chased the part. She was astonishing because if you watch the movie carefully she doesn't get a lot of dialogue. Christoph is the loud mouth. Walter gets to do all the chattering, and she has to approach it almost like a silent movie actress in terms of bringing all this emotion. And you sort of see all her transformation through the movie, and she has to do it with very little to say. She is an astonishing actress with how she holds out those moments.
LK: Yeah, so much of the movie is staring at her face as she looks at Walter, and you understand that she is in love with man but, at the same time, afraid of him. Thank god we got somebody that is so fascinating to watch.
SA: Because of the conceit of the movie, which is that there is big lie going on. There is nobody she can tell. Our character has a big secret, and the character is forced to communicate silently.
LP: How do you guys feel about the awards buzz that the movie has been getting?
SA: It's nice because people are actually seeing the movie, which is helped by all the buzz.
LK: We recognize that we write eccentric movies. And what's been really nice is awards buzz but also that the movie has been playing well with audiences. Like we had a screening with 1,600 people in one theater, and there were so many laughs and applause, which is really rewarding. I don't think that was something we were not expecting. People are so behind Margaret that when she stands up for herself, they burst into applause. I don't think we've had one of our movies play like a "Rocky." And of course we're really excited about the Golden Globe nominations for three very deserving people. Amy is amazing, Christoph is amazing, and the song that Lana del Rey wrote for the film worked so beautifully. We worked with her a little bit when she came by to see the film, and she was really a part of this.
LP: Can you guys tells us a little about the new Goosebumps movie that is coming up?
SA: Technically we worked on it in 2009, but what's sort of funny is that it's kind of a hybrid. All these years we've had two kinds of movies. We've written our biopics, which is sort of what we're known for and our favorite kind of movie. But we've also done a lot of family films. And we realized that Goosebumps is hybrid because the script we wrote is kind of a fake biopic of R.L. Stine. But it is a phony movie of Stine. When the studio said they wanted a movie about Goosebumps, we said, "Which book?" They said, "We don't know. Here is all of them." And they sort of dumped 800 books on our door step, and the problem is that each individual book is too short to turn into a movie. That is why they made them into 30-minute TV shows. And we were trying to understand how we could do a greatest hits and get most of the monsters in there.
LK: We thought, "How can we create a universe where all the creatures could live together?"
SA: So we had an idea. What if R.L. Stine writes a book and the monster becomes real? And then he has to contain it. That was the big idea.
LK: It is a movie about itself. The movie Goosebumps is about Goosebumps. That's definitely what we brought to the project.