You are more than allowed to geek out when meeting Larry Karaszewski. I advise not attempting to pronounce his surname while doing so, but the unconditional judgment on your reaction still applies.

Not only are the screenwriting credits of Ka-ra-szew-ski enough to impress (Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, The People Vs. Larry Flynt) but he’s widely respected as a film aficionado. He frequently hosts American Cinematheque conversations and is a popular commentator for Trailers From Hell. He even took that show on the road, working with Warner Archives on a presentation at Comic-Con. Along with screenwriting partner Scott Alexander—equally geek- outable—he has taught screenwriting courses. It would be a hard fought battle between Karaszewski and Quentin Tarantino as to who is the bigger film geek. There’s also video on Youtube of his vast LP collection.

The screenwriting duo will be bringing the beloved Goosebump series to the screen in 2015. Currently their latest collaboration with Tim Burton, Big Eyes has its sight on bagging some awards. A strong contender judging by the positive reaction from their appearance at Deadline’s The Contenders, the film revolves around Margaret Keane’s pop culture phenomenon paintings and how her husband, Walter took credit for them.

Thanks to the Writers Guild of America West’s Behind the Screen 2014 Winter edition, I was lucky enough to geek out in meeting Larry and luckily contained myself enough to ask him a few questions.

photo credit: Michael Jones

As a film aficionado, do you feel that today’s screenwriters are knowledgeable about film history and film conventions?

The thing about people in the movie culture is that they are really into the movie culture. I think sometimes studios and executives aren’t steeped in the movie culture as I’d like. I think screenwriters in general tend to be film lovers. That’s the reason they’re doing it. That’s a place that I’ve always come from. Scott and I always write a movie we’d want to see as opposed to a movie we think we could sell or a movie that we think the marketplace is asking for. I want to write a movie that when I’m opening that newspaper on Friday morning and see that ad, I say, “Holy Christ, I want to see that.”

You mentioned marketing. How about understanding the culture of marketing films—do today’s screenwriters, in your opinion, understand that?

The screenwriters I know seem very well versed in social media. When I was growing up, people who were writers used to be nerdy. But because social media is such an important part of everything right now, if you can type clever, all of the sudden you’re a star. So the chubby funny guy now has a medium, and he’s the coolest guy in the school. When I’m on Facebook or Twitter, the funniest, most interesting people on that tend to be screenwriters because they’re looking at things a certain way… And when their film comes out, they’re a little less clever, and it just becomes a bunch of posters and stills for the next three months.

I saw you at Deadline’s The Contenders, and I was enthralled the instant I saw the clip.

We’re very proud. Scott and I have been pushing this up a hill for ten years. We really believe in the story. And it’s so gratifying for it to come together.

How did you find the project?

We were working on a science fiction project in which Earth culture is destroying another planet. And so were looking at examples of kitsch and silly things that Earth can send to another planet. We came across an article about the Keanes which talked about their court case. And the instant we read that, we thought, “That feels like a movie.” I was really good friends with Matthew Sweet. He was a rockstar and had big albums in the 90s. It turned out he was a gigantic collector of Keane’s work and Keane memorabilia. We were able to get the story and get the connection to the Keane gallery through him.

What about the persons themselves? How did you go about understanding how they collaborated on this deception and finally her stand in taking credit?

We really did our research and tracked down Margaret Keane. She’s a woman who is very sheltered and has had bad breaks over the years. So we approached her and let her know how sincere we were. She was really nervous that after all these years people still think that Walter was the real painter. And so we had to convince her that we weren’t going to do a ‘He said, She said’ kind of a thing. That we were really taking her side.

 

Big Eyes opens December 25.

Stay tuned for my interview with co-screenwriter Scott Alexander as well as 8 other amazing screenwriters I talked to at Behind the Screen 2014.

 

—Ken Choy

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