"Big Eyes" Dramatic Bio -- Opening Dec. 25, 2014
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Amy Adams as Margaret Keane and Christoph Waltz as Walter Keane
By Lisa Reznik
Margaret Keane’s stunning revelation in 1970 that she was the creator of the critically lambasted but publicly adored Keane paintings led to a courtroom brawl, which is the subject of the new film “Big Eyes” written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karszewski.
The authorized story of the iconic Big Eyes paintings by artist Margaret Keane shows how Margaret’s then husband Walter Keane schemed to take credit for her work and made millions for the pair in the 1950s. Margaret Keane divorced Walter in 1965.
The genesis for this film exploring the major art fraud by Walter Keane began by chance, scriptwriter Larry Karaszewski told the audience, when his wife noticed a story in The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste about a husband who claimed credit for paintings by his wife. Intrigued, the writing partners decided to take on “Big Eyes” as a spec (speculation) script.
Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski met as freshman roommates at USC’s School of Cinema. The scriptwriters are best known for writing very unusual biopics with larger-than-life characters. They first worked with Tim Burton on the highly–acclaimed “ED WOOD.” They followed with “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” for which they won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.
“We sit in the room together on Larry’s eight-foot couch. We talk and I type if up,” Scott Alexander said of the method the writing partners practice.
With Big Eyes, Alexander and Karaszewski faced the challenge of researching events that occurred before the era of Internet. “We like to research. Much of the information we discovered for Big Eyes was on microfiche, at UCLA, “ Karaszewski revealed. The writers found information on Walter Keane but not on Margaret.
“Ten years ago, when we started, we knew the story rested on Margaret. She was 77 when we tracked her down. To make the movie, we knew we’d need to win the rights to Margaret Keane’s work and to accomplish this, we’d need to win her trust,” Karaszewski explained.
“When we approached Margaret Keane in 2003, she asked for creative control,” Alexander added. Understanding the sensitive nature of her relationship with Walter, the writers knew they had to convince Margaret they were to tell the story from her perspective. “We felt we had to maintain 100% creative control of the script,” Karasweski explained.
“In the earlier stages of this ten-year journey, we tried to direct the film and prepared to shoot in it New Orleans and then in Buenos Aires,” Alexander told the audience. He said the moral obligation the writers felt towards Margaret lead them to Director Tim Burton who had previously directed their successful film “ED WOOD.”
“Walter Keane is a marketing genius, not an artist,” Karaszewski said. “And Margaret faced the dilemma of not being able to talk to anyone, not even her friends, in order to not reveal herself as the painter of this body of work,” he added.
“We are very happy with Amy Adams’ portrayal of Margaret Keane. She had to be passive to Walter who controlled everything,” Karasweski said. Painting was her only salvation. She didn't know why she painted big eyes, but she finally figured it out: she was painting her own feelings into those eyes.
“We spent a long time on post-production,” scriptwriter Alexander said. “We felt we had to show Margaret her film and to see her reaction to it,” he continued. The scriptwriters arranged a private screening in San Francisco in the city’s biggest cinema.
Margaret Keane was gratified by “Big Eyes” and told the filmmakers when watching the film she felt like she was in a room with Walter.
The writers didn’t want Big Eyes to become a stuffy biopic. “We wanted to kick some ass a bit” Karaszewski admitted. “We thought Tim could handle the tonal mix of tragedy and comedy.” Big Eyes was shot in Vancouver, Canada in 16 shooting days in July 2013, with a budget of $16 million.
“Through our research, we understood Walter to be delusional. He was crazier in real life than in the scenes in the movie. For example, the judge wanted to put masking tape over his mouth,” Karaszewki recalled. “He got Wayne Newton to be a witness. It took incredible restraint on our part to omit this from the script,” he continued.
When Walter passed away in 2000 at 85, he had not produced a single Keane painting in the 30 years since their divorce. This independent film opens nationwide on Christmas Day.