Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander scored a huge success as the writers of PROBLEM CHILD (1989) and PROBLEM CHILD 2 (1990), but fearing being pigenholed, they changed track and wrote ED WOOD (1994), which was filmed by Tim Burton. The film was the first of a series of projects that looked at the lives of dysfunctional, troubled and brilliant creative people (Larry Flynt in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, Andy Kaufman in MAN ON THE MOON, Margaret Keane in BIG EYES, O.J. Simpson in the current TV series AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON, and Bob Crane in AUTO FOCUS, which they produced). These people are distinguished by their charm, drive and the outlandish events they became part of. The writers tell their stories with humour, pace, a strong dramatic sense and a great deal of warmth and empathy. I spoke to Larry about the making of THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996), a film that dramatises the incredible life of Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson), owner of the Hustler Magazine porn empire and a man who not only endured amazing highs and lows in his personal life but ended up a key defender of every American person's right to free speech. The film won Larry and Scott the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. In part one we discuss the writing of the script and the coming together of the movie.  

Part 2.       

How did you come to write the movie? 
When Scott and I were in college, it was the same time period as in the movie when Larry Flynt was in court wearing diapers and throwing oranges at the judge. We used to joke that Flynt had hijacked the Metro section of the LA Times, because every day there'd be a story about his antics during his trial. You couldn't help but laugh because he had turned the court into a Marx Brothers movie. When we managed to get ED WOOD made, we started thinking about what we should do as a follow-up. Hollywood had typecast us before as the PROBLEM CHILD guys, so we thought we should make another odd bio-pic, especially as it might get made in the Hollywood system with us having heat off of ED WOOD. We wanted to make a movie about Larry Flynt, and we were a little nervous because we knew how risky it would be, but our agent really embraced it as something we should do. 

How did Oliver Stone become interested in the project? 
The way we got ED WOOD made was by hooking up with Tim Burton. Hollywood could grasp our script being made by a filmmaker like that. We looked at the landscape of the time and asked ourselves which director could get a film about Larry Flynt made. Who was a filmmaker that we admired who was making films that were controversial and took on the system? There was really only one obvious choice, and that was Oliver Stone. He was making movies like NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994) and J.F.K. (1991), and was on fire when it came to making films that were brilliant, and examined America and shook its fist at the same time. We heard that Oliver didn't like to hear pitches so we sent him a letter with an outline enclosed. After we hadn't heard back from him for a while, we decided to do a kind of 'dress rehearsal' series of pitches. 

What were the nature of these 'dress rehearsals'? 
We knew the LARRY FLYNT script was complicated, so we didn't want to make mistakes with people who might buy it. We took it to people who we thought would probably not be interested. That way we could learn where the pitch got boring or where stuff needed to get cut out. Columbia Pictures had asked us to come in for a meeting. They told us that even though they had put ED WOOD in turnaround after Tim wanted to make it in black and white, they still wanted to work with us. We expected that because LARRY FLYNT was an even odder project than ED WOOD, they wouldn't want to make it. To our surprise, the meeting turned out to be probably the best meeting we had ever had in our lives. They were apologetic about what had happened with ED WOOD, and the meeting had more executives than usual, so when we the pitched LARRY FLYNT, we had actual decision makers in the room with us – people like the President of Production and Amy Pascal, who was Head of Development at the time. They instantly got what type of movie we wanted make. A great moment was when Amy Pascal said ''This is Columbia Pictures. The home of Frank Capra. We are always trying to figure out how you make a Capra film for today's audiences and you guys have just delivered just that. It's a Frank Capra film about pornography and the freedom of the press. '' They bought the pitch and the next day Oliver Stone called and he wanted in. Originally, he was going to produce and direct, but there wasn't a screenplay at the time. 

Oliver Stone had not done anything so comic at that time. Did you envisage the film as a comedy? 
Oliver is not known for his comedic touch, although there are comedic parts in NATURAL BORN KILLERS, which came afterward. I think Scott and I envisage everything we do as a comedy. But I think a lot of people would watch THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT and actually say it wasn't a comedy. What happened was that we went off and did a lot of research and by the time we handed it in, Oliver had gone off to make NIXON (1995). Although he really wanted to make the movie, he accepted that we had to take advantage of the fact that Columbia was so gung-ho to make it right now, and he let us go out to other directors. What was funny was that when we went out to other directors, the studio did want us to go after comedy guys like Ivan Reitman and Ben Stiller. We were getting passes from everybody because the film was neither a straight comedy or a straight drama. We were in some meeting, and Scott and I threw out the name Milos Forman. Everybody else's response was ''What? Really?'' At that point, Milos had not made a film in six or seven years, but even before that he was not really on studio lists. He was considered an auteur who did his own thing. 

Why did you think of Forman? 
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) is one of my favourite films of all time, and is a great example of a film that successfully mixes tones. It's really funny, sad, honest and human. We thought he'd do a great job, and God bless the studio, they decided to go for it. We sent the script to him, but he wasn't so interested because all he knew about Larry Flynt was that he owned Hustler Magazine. After his agent told him that it was Oliver Stone producing it and that he was waiting for an answer, he read the whole thing and he ended up loving it. He totally got it because he had grown up through both the Nazi and the Communist regimes and had seen firsthand the extreme things that can happen when the government gets involved in what people can print and what people can say. He thought that by telling the story of someone who was rather crude and maybe didn't always have the best intentions, he could make a film that celebrated every single person's right to be protected by the First Amendment. He was very eloquent about why he wanted to make the movie, and when we first met with him he proved to be a fantastic human being to spend an afternoon with: very intelligent and very funny. 

With this new heat you and Scott had, was this also a chance for you to make a political message? 
We loved the fact that we had such an immense amount of freedom to do whatever we wanted and tell the story the way we wanted to tell it. Our first draft of the script would have ran for three hours. The studio was always supportive of the project, even after it took some really odd turns. I don't think that we were crusading really hard for the political message. We really wanted to make the movie as entertaining as possible. It had a message despite itself at times. We were also intrigued by the idea of telling the story of someone who winds up protecting your rights, but is a person you don't necessarily agree with when it comes to everything he believes or represents. It was a different way of doing an American Hero story.

What was it about Flynt himself that fascinated you the most as a lead character? 
The thing that always excited us about the Larry Flynt story was that you were never really sure if he was on the level. Is he a pure businessman? Is he a charalatan? Does he give a shit about the First Amendment? Is he just exploiting it just to make money? Does he love women or hate women? 

Did you have any particular actor in mind when writing the character of Flynt? 
Usually when we write a script we don't write with an actor in mind. If it's a true story we write about who the real person is. But when we were writing this, we kept coming back to Bill Murray. We had worked with Bill on ED WOOD, and he's actually a very sweet man, but in the film and in real life he definitely has that quality where you can't get a take on his sincerity. He makes you think ''Are you fucking with me?'' That was perfect for Larry Flynt. 

Why didn't he do the movie? 
Bill dances to his own tune. He only makes movies when he wants to, and he'll only return phone calls when he wants to. He lives his own life and he is not on a studio schedule. I admire that quite a bit. We happened to be going into production at a time when he wasn't particularly paying attention to his Hollywood life. We definitely pursued him, but it just never happened. 

Is it a sense that a story has the potential to be fun that propels you to write a script, even though it might have dark elements? 
I think so. It has to excite us. Certainly the darker elements sometime excite us, especially now as we know how to navigate things. But there's always that element of ''Oh, this could be cool. '' Often people write movies because they are what the market wants to see or what they think the market wants to see, and that is the reality of the profession. You have to take the jobs you're given. I remember when ED WOOD was opening and I opened up the newspaper and saw a full page ad that said the film was opening the following Friday. I thought ''Holy shit. If I hadn't worked on this movie, and I opened the paper and saw this, I would be so excited about seeing it. '' Scott and I feel the same way about LARRY FLYNT, MAN ON THE MOON (1999), and the film we produced, AUTO FOCUS (2002). 

Is it the challenge of trying to make a movie out of a difficult life and timeline an interesting challenge too? 
Yes. That's the art of the biopic - how to look at someone's life and figure out how to shape it into a drama. It's all about what to omit, to be honest, because you cannot include everything. Sometimes people will suspect sinister motives as to why a biopic took elements of people's lives out of a film, but you only have a two-hour time block to tell the story of someone's entire life. We wound up doing a lot of research on LARRY FLYNT but the three act structure came to us very quickly. For example on page seventeen, he starts Hustler Magazine. On page thirty he gets arrested for the first time. In the middle of the first act, he gets shot. At the end of the second act, he's in jail, he's being sued, his wife is dying of AIDS, and he decides to take on the court case. We have always been against 'cradle to the grave' biopics where they tell someone's entire life story. We always look at the minimum amount we can tell. With Larry it felt like the story was from the start of the magazine to the court case decision, which was about fifteen years or so. We thought that was manageable. It forced many decisions upon us. 

Was there a particular point where you realised you had cracked the way to tell the story?
There was a chunk of time where he and Althea became drug addicts and the story just died. We knew we wanted to jump over it, and one of our proudest moments as screenwriters was when we solved it. When they start taking drugs, they are basically living in a vault in Larry's mansion. Althea decides to join Larry in his drug addiction. They lock the door, and five years go by. When they open the door you realise they have basically been doing drugs in that room for five years. It ended up being a really powerful moment because not only did it get us over a dramatic hump, it emphasised the dilemma – when you become a drug addict, time goes by so fast and everything in your life is a mess. It turned a negative into a positive.

We also decided that we wanted to end the movie with the Supreme Court. At the Supreme Court, the client doesn't get to testify -your lawyer does it for you. In our research we found that Larry's lawyer, Alan Isaacman, had testified very eloquently, and so we wanted to end the movie with a beautiful soliliquoy at the Supreme Court. In order to do this, we needed to make Alan a major character in the film. We tend not to do composite characters but we decided to make all of Larry's lawyers into one guy. We certainly kept the relationship that Alan has with Larry. He was his lawyer for the longest period of time and Larry had this contentious relationship with him. They got along and were friends, but they caused problems for each other. In reality, Larry got arrested many different times in so many different states, and when you go to State Court in the US, you have to have a lawyer from that state on your team. So, for a lot of those early court cases, Larry had a different lawyer each time, and we didn't want to have to change to a new character each time as it would be a hurdle to audience involvement. We did the same with the editors from Hustler magazine. There were a lot of staff that Larry kept on, but he would fire and re-hire a lot of editors. We decided that once he created a team in the newsroom we would keep it. We still had Larry fire them during several times in the movie, but after he fires them, they still stick around.

I spoke to Larry by telephone on 28th August 2012 and would like to thank him for his time. 

Larry on ED WOOD.  
Larry and Scott Alexander on BIG EYES. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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