Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hollywood screenwriter tells how it's done this weekend

You may not know it, but you know Larry Karaszewski. 

This is the guy, who with his longtime writing/directing/producing partner Scott Alexander, has written the screenplays for "Ed Wood," "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man in the Moon" among others.

The two won the Best Screenplay Golden Globe and the Writers Guild of America's Paul Selvin Award for "Larry Flynt." The film, produced by Michael Hausman and directed by Milos Forman, was shot in the Memphis area and was recruited and assisted by the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission with special assistance provided by then-Tennessee state Senator Marsha Blackburn.

"Larry Flynt" left the largest direct spend of any film ever shot in Memphis:  $7.642 million during the shoot that lasted from January to April, 1996 according to Film Commission records. Stars such as Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love called Memphis home for months, and the Hon. D'Army Bailey — then of Shelby County Circuit Court — received co-star billing. 

The Karaszewski/Alexander writing team also received a Best Screenplay nomination from the WGA for "Ed Wood." Other credits include the Milos Forman/Michael Hausman film "Man On The Moon," a biopic about performance artist Andy Kaufman — particularly the Memphis-flavored wrestling phase of his career when he butted heads with Jerry Lawler.

Karaszewski is in town this weekend for the Indie Memphis Film Festival. He'll be introducing the screening of "Ed Wood" Saturday at 10:30 p.m. He will also be part of the "Script to Screen" panel at 3 p.m. Saturday with another top screenwriter, Matt Lopez ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice"), and they will discuss the realities of the scriptwriting process and how things change from original concept to finished film. 

Karaszewski's appearance was made possible by Adam Hohenberg and is sponsored by Alarum Pictures.

In an interview this week, Karaszewski talked about screenwriting, passion and the Memphis connection. 

Q — Between "Larry Flynt" and "Man on the Moon," Memphis keeps showing up in your life. How did that happen?

A — It's just a coincidence. We shot "Larry Flynt" there because Memphis was a fantastic location for us. We needed someplace that could pass for the 1970s and the downtown Memphis area had kept its dignity I would say. It hadn't been knocked down for a bunch of Banana Republics or had Gap stores put in. So we wound up shooting in Memphis for that film because it had a beautiful look. Films are shot in Memphis because Memphis is a great place to shoot. The people were really cooperative and we had a great time filming in Memphis.

The Andy Kaufman movie, Memphis wound up being such a big part of Andy's life. At that time the wrestling circuit had many different regions and when Andy decided to become a wrestler he hooked up with Jerry Lawler and was focused on that area, so that was a complete coincidence. 

But Memphis is a very lively community and that's why there's always so many fascinating things going on there and that's why I'd keep on coming back. 

Q — How was the dynamic between Jim Carrey who played Kaufman, and Jerry Lawler who played himself?

A — Jim Carrey was a very method actor and really wanted to be Andy Kaufman or Andy's various characters. So he would treat Jerry Lawler as if he were actually having a feud with him. He would act like there was a giant wrestling war between the two of them, so that made the set very interesting. On days when Andy was a wrestler, Jim would come in and totally be the same character the entire day. That was a crazy movie.

Q — What led you to make "Ed Wood"?

A — That film was really exhilarating because we had been stereotyped by Hollywood as writing crappy little-kid movies. For us, "Ed Wood" was a coming out as filmmakers where we really tried to embrace the passion of Ed Wood as a filmmaker. Until that time, people had used Ed Wood as a punching bag, calling him the worst filmmaker of all time and always making fun of him. We decided to embrace him and show how he was an early American independent filmmaker who made films that were quite personal. You can make fun of "Glen or Glenda," but this is a guy putting his story up on the screen, embarrassing as it is. He's trying to be as honest about it as he possibly can. 

We got harsh critical reviews for our early movies and we came to the realization that nobody starts out trying to make a bad movie, everyone's trying to make a good movie. Obviously there's a lot of humor in "Ed Wood" but we don't go out of our way to make fun of the guy who is a true innocent spirit and just loves, loves, loves movies and gets his band of little kooky people together to help him create a dream. 

And that wound up changing our lives because as we were writing, it showed up on Tim Burton's desk and he loved it and loved our approach. So it turned out to be this thing we were very good at, taking real life, odd true stories and turning them into films and that became what we did. It gave us the cachet to make a movie like "Larry Flynt" and a movie like "Auto Focus" (about actor Bob Crane). We were making very indie style movies but through the traditional Hollywood system.  

Q — What's the most important thing for a screenwriter to know?

A — It's a cliche, but you've really got to write from your heart. You've got to write something you want to see. If you're trying to second-guess the marketplace or write what you think is going to sell, that always winds up biting you in the butt. We wrote Ed Wood because we really wanted to see Ed Wood. We really wanted to see Larry Flynt. These are the movies that if we had nothiing to do with them and we opened the paper on Friday and saw they were coming up, we'd be first in line. 

It comes to having passion about your subject matter. If you're writing it just to sell it or just as a sample, it's going to read like that. Write something that you just can't wait to see as a motion picture. That kind of passion comes through on the page. Maybe it won't be something that sells for a lot of money but they'll read it and say this guy or girl really has feeling in their writing. That gets noticed out here, those kinds of scripts get passed around. 


Other Karaszewski credits include adapting the Stephen King story "1408," and producing Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus." Upcoming projects include writing "The Addams Family" for Tim Burton and directing "Big Eyes," a biopic about the 1960s artists Walter and Margaret Keane. Larry's humorous commentaries on cult films can be seen on Joe Dante's website

--Karaszewski and Lopez will participate in Indie Memphis' first-ever "Pitch Session" (noon Saturday at the Brooks) and "Mentor Sessions" throughout the weekend.

--The "Script to Screen" panel is Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Festival Cafe @ Playhouse on the Square. Free.

—"Ed Wood" screens from a 35mm print Saturday at 10:30 p.m. at Studio on the Square. Sponsored by Adam Hohenberg's Alarum Pictures. Arrive early for a live in-theatre performance by Warble. 

For tickets, go to And for all the info you need about the panels and conversations at the 13th Indie Memphis Film Festival, go to

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