Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Tim Burton
Genre: Biography, Drama
Running Time: 104 minutes
Synopsis: From the whimsical mind of director Tim Burton, Big Eyes tells the outrageous true story of one of the most epic art frauds in history. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, painter Walter Keane had reached success beyond belief, revolutionizing the commercialization of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. The bizarre and shocking truth would eventually be discovered though: Walter's works were actually not created by him at all, but by his wife Margaret. The Keanes, it seemed, had been living a colossal lie that had fooled the entire world. A tale too incredible to be fiction, Big Eyes centers on Margaret's awakening as an artist, the phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband, who was catapulted to international fame while taking credit for her work.
Release Date: March 19th, 2015
In 2003, writing partners Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski learned the stranger than fiction story of Margaret and Walter Keane, the top selling painters of the 1960s. Intrigued, they began to research a story that would take ten years to finally go into production.
'It's a great piece of history that nobody knows," says Scott Alexander. 'If it weren't true, I wouldn't believe it."
'There were a lot of reasons why we wanted to make this movie," says Larry Karaszewski. 'We thought Margaret Keanewas a great female character that embodied the beginning of the Women's Movement. It starts with her as a 1950's housewife who does everything for her husband. Through the course of the story, she learns to stand up for herself." Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have a tremendous track record with biopics, having written films about comedian Andy Kaufman (Man On The Moon) and publisher Larry Flynt (The People vs. Larry Flynt) and producing one about actor Bob Crane (Auto Focus). 'Scott Alexander and I are very attracted to these sorts of biographies of people who you initially didn't think were important and who were marginalized." He notes that Ed Wood, their first film with Tim Burton, 'was about someone who people thought was the worst filmmaker of all time. And there are some people who think the Keanes are the worst painters of all time. We thought by making this film we could tell a very great personal story, as well as discuss issues of the art world and the Women's Movement."
The writers were spellbound by the Keane's story. 'Walter really invented the mass marketing of art," says Larry Karaszewski. 'He wasn't accepted in galleries and by art critics so he built his own galleries, put out his own coffee table books. He figured out how to make the paintings so cheap that the average man could buy them and he totally revolutionized the art world. Certainly, people who came along later, like Peter Max or Thomas Kinkade, borrowed from his playbook, and even Andy Warhol acknowledges stealing a little bit from Walter Keane's philosophy. But what's amazing is the secret behind it all: the paintings were his wife's and he manipulated her into letting him put his name on them and taking all the credit. We were totally fascinated and thought this was a great American story that hadn't been told."
The writers spent weeks at libraries and pouring through San Francisco newspaper stories in microfiche archives, trying to piece together the sensational tale of the Keanes. 'It was hard to get a straight story," says Scott Alexander, and they set out to meet with Margaret. 'We needed to be able to earn her trust and show that we had integrity."
Keane agreed to a meeting and the writers flew up to her in San Francisco. 'We had a really nice lunch," says Scott Alexander. 'We asked the questions that the newspaper stories didn't answer, which were: How did this happen? When was the first time Walter said he was the painter? What did he tell you? Why did you agree? And, as this went on for year after year after year, why did you continue to let him do this? Psychologically it didn't make a lot of sense. We started to understand though that she came out of a 1950's housewife mentality where the man was in charge of the household and laid down the rules and, in fairness to Walter, he promised a lot of things that came true. He said they'd become famous, make a lot of money and live in a big house. Years later, Margaret still says that without Walter nobody ever would have discovered her art. She still gives him a lot of credit."
Margaret Keane agreed to sell Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski the rights to her life as well as her art. 'It took us one more year to work it out so Margaret would be comfortable," Scott Alexander says. 'We didn't want to do anything that was going to make her feel bad about the film. We had to earn her trust at all times."
Today, Margaret Keane is 86 years-old and lives an hour out of San Francisco. Walter died in 2000, several years before the screenplay began to take shape. Margaret says, 'Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were so enthusiastic and they really wanted to do it the same way that I did, so I really felt secure with them. I had already gotten four other offers and turned them down, which is very difficult to do, but I couldn't trust what they would do so I said no."
'They made it come alive," Margaret Keane says of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's script. 'They found humour and tragedy in it. It's just marvelous. I feel like I'm being showered with blessings, having a movie. It's such an honour, and really sort of a humbling thing because I don't think I deserve this. I just paint and all of a sudden this is happening. It's like a dream. It's surreal."
Margaret Keane and Tim Burton knew one another before a screenplay was even in the works. 'Tim Burton commissioned me to do portraits and then he bought several of my paintings. I couldn't help but like him. I can't imagine anyone better than Tim Burton directing this film."
Margaret Keane makes a cameo appearance in the film in a scene filmed in San Francisco at the Palace of the Arts. 'I was supposed to be a little old lady sitting on a bench, enjoying the day. It was so touching. Tim Burton came over and handed me a little Bible and I thought to myself, -How kind he is – he knows how much I like the Bible so he gave me one to read while I was sitting there.' It was a day I will always remember."
While developing Big Eyes, the plan had been that Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski would also direct. In 2007, with a draft in hand, they set out to make the movie. 'It seemed to have a black cloud floating over it," says Scott Alexander. 'It almost got made several times, and it kept falling apart," says Larry Karaszewski. 'But the smartest thing that Scott Alexander and I ever did was never sell it. In all those various versions, we maintained control. And it finally worked out." Having worked with Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on Ed Wood and being a fan of Margaret Keane's art, Tim Burton came on board as producer early on. 'Tim Burton loves Margaret Keane's art," says Scott Alexander. 'He identified with the idea of outsider art, and why does art have to be legitimized by what critics say. And that's really what the movie's about. The idea of outsider art, of primitivism art is what we did with Tim Burton on Ed Wood and he really identifies with that, so it was always very close to him."
Executive producer Derek Frey is a long-time collaborator of Tim Burton's and runs the filmmaker's company. Derek Frey says one of the reasons the Keane art resonated in America is that 'It came at a time when art was at the forefront of society and maybe Keane art was a nice, comfortable introduction for mainstream society to enter into that world. You can't have a kinder or more approachable subject than a child or a pet." Tim Burton grew up during the heyday of the Keanes and was familiar with the work. 'Margaret Keane was certainly someone that Tim was familiar with for a long time," says Derek Frey, 'and he had such an interest in her art, he hired her to create a number of pieces for him, long before there was even talk of this project."
In addition to being the filmmaker behind a slate of spectacular motion pictures, Tim Burton is also a noted visual artist. His own work and the unique look of his signature style were influenced by the paintings of Margaret Keane. 'A lot of people have drawn parallels between her art and his," says Derek Frey, who edited the comprehensive and award-winning publication, 'The Art of Tim Burton," and worked closely with MOMA curators to create the recent Tim Burton exhibit that toured internationally. 'A lot of his characters have large disc eyes and that's more than a coincidence. I think growing up it's something that he gravitated towards. He found a connection to characters that have that certain look and the Keane art was definitely the first time that was ever seen in mass culture, so I think it must have had an impact on him."
Big Eyes was a perfect vehicle for Tim Burton. 'People tend to associate Tim's world and his work with darker subjects," says Derek Frey, noting that before the art exhibit, he was seen predominantly as a director, but now he is recognised as a visual artist as well. 'Big Eyes explores the turmoil and a darker side of the art world and I think it's something that even a handful of years ago might not have been right for Tim Burton. But I feel like it's a nice, mature next step in his career. It makes sense. He found it a challenge, and a welcome one. Coming off of some larger films in recent years, I think this is something that he was looking toward to bring him back to earth and back to his roots and beginnings. It isn't visual effects-driven, but rather story and character-driven and I think that was something he welcomed. He hasn't made a film of this budget or scale since 'Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and it excited him to be able to tackle a project like this at this point in his career. It was refreshing for him."
'Tim Burton always felt the role of Walter was one that would be particularly challenging," says Derek Frey, 'because he's not the most likeable character. It needed to be right."Tim Burton and Christoph Waltz, the actor recently lauded with Oscars for tour-de-force performances in Quentin Tarantino's last two pictures, met during awards season in early 2013, and it was kismet. 'Tim Burton passed the script along to him and, immediately after reading it, Christoph Waltz called and said, 'I love it, I get it, I'll be in it – but only if you direct it." Pretty much on the spot, Tim Burton said, 'okay." It was quite interesting how quickly this came together after many years of trying to get it off the ground. It really was with that connection with Christoph Waltz that Tim Burton felt the pieces were coming together, and once he came into play, it didn't take more than a few days and then we had Amy Adams on board. It just seemed so perfect. I've never seen a film come together so quickly once that first role was put into place. Tim Burton was excited by that and we couldn't have dreamed of having such a duo as these two people together on one film. They're so perfect for these roles."
Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski agreed that Tim Burton should take the helm. Larry Karaszewski says, 'Tim Burton wanted to make a smaller, more personal film and he's actually a big fan of Margaret's work. So there was this weird thing that after falling apart a bunch of times, all of a sudden it all seemed like the stars were aligning." Scott Alexander says the decision was easy. 'Tim Burton loved it and was the only person we would trust with it. We'd had 10 years of us trying to direct the movie, but if there was one person we felt comfortable we could hand it off to, who we knew would just nail it, it was Tim Burton." Tim Burton and Christoph Waltz met in February 2013 and, five months later in July, Big Eyes went to camera. While five months may seem fast, Scott Alexander quips, 'Yeah, fast after 10 years!"
Producer Lynette Howell says, 'I was just fascinated by these two characters and that this relationship existed and by how Margaret could have let this deception go on for so long. But then, I understood the kind of woman that she was and the kind of man Walter was, and the relationship between them was what led me to telling the story. But ultimately, it was based on a fantastic screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski."
A passion project for Lynette Howell, she worked closely with the writers for five years. 'It went through many stops and starts and ups and downs, as lots of independent movies do," she says. 'And there's always that surprise when suddenly a director like Tim Burton says I actually want to direct that movie. And six months later, you're on set, wondering how did this happen? To work with a legend has been great for everybody, and as a producer, it's terrific. In addition to being so excited that this movie is finally getting made and that the screenplay I've cared about for so long is finally coming to life, it's that fact that it's being brought to life by somebody that is truly gifted in this arena. It's really wonderful to watch your crew so inspired by your director."
Four-time Academy Award-nominee Amy Adams had read the Big Eyes screenplay early on, but she wasn't prepared to do it at first. 'I thought it was very interesting, but I was at a time where I wanted to play really confident characters and wasn't sure how I would find my way into Margaret Keane." However, when she next saw the script, things had changed. 'I'd become a mother and had a totally different perspective on the character and I understood - it wasn't lack of confidence. I was attracted to the story from the beginning, but at the end it was Margaret Keane that I really got pulled into. Margaret Keane is complicated, like most human beings. She's definitely a little shyer, and she's very humble. That's one of the qualities about her that I think allowed her to be manipulated."
Amy Adams did a lot of research to prepare for the role. 'When you have a story that has two very different sides and people who write about it that have different perspectives, it's really hard to put your finger on what the true story is. I read what Walter Keane said about Margaret Keane, then I read what other people said about her, and there's not a lot in her own words." So Amy Adams travelled to San Francisco and spent a day with Margaret Keane at the artist's gallery. 'That was most beneficial, to see this woman and understand that yes, there is this humility, but there's this strength and this sense of humor. I didn't want to pry, but I wanted to get an understanding of who she was and how this could have happened. What I came to was her gentle nature."
The actress and the artist spent half a day together. 'It makes me nervous when people look at me," Margaret Keane says, 'but she wanted to watch me paint, and she made it painless and was so down to earth. It was wonderful." Margaret Keane was delighted with the casting of Amy Adams, who sports a vintage blonde bob in the picture. 'When I first saw her with the wig on it was a shock. It was like seeing myself 50 years ago! She was absolutely perfect."
While Walter Keane was a fixture on the talk show circuit of the era, Margaret Keane was much more in the shadows. 'There's only a little bit of footage of her," says Amy Adams, 'so I didn't have a lot to pull on who Margaret Keane was." So Amy Adams based her performance on the elderly woman she actually met, and, she notes, 'In the end, you can really only go with the text because everything else, all of our memories, even of ourselves, are skewed. So going with the text, trying to help tell the story but at the same time being mindful of who she was as a person and what's important to her now. I talked to her about why she would be willing to tell this story. She is a Jehovah's Witness and that is why she wants to show that these things can happen in our life but we can find redemption at the end of it and strength within ourselves, so I felt like that gave me permission to tell her story, with my artistic interpretation, while understanding her a little better."
'I always wanted to work with Tim Burton," says Christoph Waltz, 'and we kind of ran into each other, and he said -yeah, there's this thing,' and I didn't want to tell him that I don't care what it is, I'll do it! - because you don't do that. This story really is about a relationship, a straightforward, almost conventional story, yet with very unconventional ingredients and a very unconventional filmmaker so that juxtaposition I found very attractive."
While Amy Adams did extensive research, met Margaret Keane and wanted to get to know the real life person she was portraying, Christoph Waltz had a different approach and relied strictly on the script. He says, 'I stayed away from everything that might resemble real life in reference to Margaret Keane and Walter Keane and this whole thing because what am I supposed to do with it? I'm not making a documentary, I'm playing a part and I think drama has a different purpose in our lives and our society."
Scott Alexander considers Walter Keane a genius. 'He was the guy who said, why can't you sell art in a supermarket, or a hardware store or a gas station. The art was mysterious to people and a big part of the mystery was that Walter Keane was being presented as the painter. Here was a masculine guy painting crying children, and a great cockamamie story abut the orphans after World War II, the skinny fingers and big eyes and sad faces, but something seemed off. Once you know the real story, which is that Margaret Keane was sad and she was painting sad children, suddenly, it legitimizes the art. The art became so popular there was a whole movement of rip- off art. If you were a kid in the 60's, you would see this art everywhere. He recalls his own introduction to the art as 'Those kind of spooky paintings I'd see at my aunt's house."
While Keane was the top-selling artist, his work was not accepted by the conventional art world and considered 'kitsch." The literal, sentimental portraits of stylized children were a far cry from the abstract expressionism that ruled the art world in the late 1950s. Larry Karaszewski says, 'Tim Burton doesn't make fun of these kinds of things. He understands that there's a lot of heart in these paintings. As an artist himself, he understands what goes into this and why it's important. It's similar to Ed Wood, a character that most people just laughed at. We wanted to concentrate on his passion and figure out a way for people to understand that it's not a joke. That's sort of what this movie is too: Margaret Keane is not a joke and it's a very important story to tell."
Producer Lynette Howell wasn't familiar with the Keane art before reading the script. 'When I first started to look at it, I was really fascinated by it. I think her earlier work is very sad and has a lot of soul and a haunting quality. It's interesting to see how her work changed over the years, based on her mood, and her later work is much more colorful and brighter and has a lot more joy in it. I don't think her work is simple. There is a complexity to it and I really love some of it. One of the biggest questions this movie raises is what is art. It's so subjective, who's to say that something is a masterpiece, who judges that? I think everybody's individual opinion is of value and that's what I think this movie is about. What is good art, what is bad art and who are any of us to judge – if it touches you then surely it's art."
'Art tends to be pretentious and serious," says Scott Alexander, 'and we love the idea that in our story people can argue about art and yell at each other. The head critic of the New York Times (Canaday, played by Terence Stamp) hated the Keanes so much and it made him crazy that they were making all this money and on TV and he just wanted to stop them because it was terrible."
Amy Adams says, 'Margaret Keane became identified with the big eyes and she was able to express her pain and sadness and her questions. I think that's why people respond, because there is such an openness and a questioning and a vulnerability and this amazing quality that children have and she's really able to capture that." Walter appropriated Margaret Keane's waif paintings and declared them his own, and they came to be known as the 'Keane" paintings. As Margaret Keane developed as an artist, she continued to paint 'Keanes" attributed to Walter, but she also created elongated psychological paintings of women, often self-portraits, which she signed MDH Keane and publicly claimed as her own.
Christoph Waltz says, 'In the late 50's and early 60's, something changed and mass production of art became the standard." He adds, 'There's a funny little scene, more like a line, where one of the girls says, -oh you're like Warhol' and Keane says -no, he stole my act. I had a factory before he knew what a soup can was.' It was still pretty honest that he was after commerce, he used the commodity, art, for his commercial enterprise."
'Amy Adams is so wonderful to work with," says Christoph Waltz, 'and Tim Burton was interested in making this movie and that's how we work, and that's why this triangle, if you want to call it, is so wonderfully-balanced and energised and more or less ego-free."
Of her co-star, Amy Adams says, 'Christoph Waltz is fantastic. He's an amazing man and an amazing actor. It's so hard to cast someone that can be menacing and charming at the same time, within 10 seconds of dialogue, and so you can be threatened and charmed at the same time and you're not sure what just happened."
'Christoph Waltz is such a treat," says Scott Alexander. 'He's very musical in his talking. Walter is the devil, but he's very charming. Christoph Waltz needed to be magnetic and you have to love him initially, and then you have to go, wait, there's something kind of off here and Christoph Waltz brings all those qualities. He isn't afraid of going for that darkness. Walter loved to pontificate," says Scott Alexander. 'Walter loved the soap box and would do loony speeches about himself and art and he would talk about himself in the third person."
Larry Karaszewski says, 'Walter Keane is a larger than life character and is so full of it but Christoph Waltz anchors it in reality, but he's also not afraid to have a little fun."
Lynette Howell says, 'Walter Keane is a complex character, because he's not a straight-ahead villain, and Christoph Waltz really brings a lot of depth to him. He brings a charm to him which is very important because you have to understand why Margaret Keane fell for Walter Keane in the first place."
'Walter Keane is one of those great bad guys," says Larry Karaszewski, 'he doesn't understand why he's a bad guy, which I think is the key to it. He can't understand why she's complaining. They're making so much money, they're a success, people are loving her paintings, she can paint all day long in their beautiful house, why does it matter that people know the truth?"
'Walter Keane took a painting and found a way to enable everybody to hang that painting in their home," says Lynette Howell. 'And he did that by mass producing posters and cards and mugs and anything you could think of. That's pretty genius."
Scott Alexander says, 'There are not a lot of great parts for women in Hollywood movies and this was a great story. Margaret Keane's journey is so interesting and a lot of actresses chased this part over the years, and it's amazing to think that somehow, the planets lined up and wow, we got the perfect one. Watching Amy Adams was like a master class in acting where she'd find the moments in between moments. It was really magical."
'It's very easy to write off Margaret Keane as just a woman who lets a man walk over her," says Lynette Howell, 'and of course that's not true in real life and certainly not true in the way that Amy Adams portrayed her. There is a quiet strength in her, which I think is true of the real Margaret Keane, and I think that Amy Adams has really played that with such delicacy."
When Walter Keane first claims Margaret Keane's paintings as her own, she is shocked. But she's so enamored with Walter Keane, she allows herself to be swept along by Walter Keane's charm. But as the paintings become more and more popular, Walter Keane's ego grows out of control. And the bigger the lie becomes, the greater their risk of being found out. Walter grows fearful, and while he schmoozes with celebrities, Margaret Keane is miserable: she's become a virtual painting factory, trapped in her home.
At first, says Amy Adams, 'It's kind of a whirlwind. I think she has a romantic idea of them painting on the weekends and it being an artistic, loving relationship, and she understands that he's a fantastic promotions man and salesman, so it's a great yin and yang partnership, in her mind. When she finds out that he is claiming her work as his, she's confused, and then feels kind of stuck. She's pulled because of being a single mom in the 60's and being unsure if she's going to be able to support her daughter on her own. And he sort of convinces her that he is a better face for the work and that her nature would not represent the art as well. He does a number on her."
Fact And Fiction
Having written a slate of biopics, Scott Alexander discusses the writers' responsibility to fact. 'The obligation is really tricky, because our primary goal is to write a good script that's going to be a good movie. We do lots of research. It might take an entire year to write a first draft of a biopic, and half of that time is researching and interviewing people. We try to get it right. However, you have to fit it into two hours. We stay away from combining too many characters or changing dates too much. It becomes very different when the real person is alive and you're working with them. We wanted to work with Margaret Keane and it became a little bit of a dance because she had certain requirements and things that were important to her. When she read the script, she was touched and said, -That's my life.'"
'This is a genre that we really, really love," says Larry Karaszewski. 'We like to stay as close to the truth as possible. We're attracted to these offbeat stories because truth is way stranger than fiction, and it allows us to tell a lot of really interesting, weird things that we wouldn't get to tell if it was purely a work of fiction. These stories are almost an alternative history."
'Tim Burton is perfect for this," says Scott Alexander, 'because as anyone would say, he understands outsiders. But that's sort of the glib answer. The idea of artists and the struggle to put across your own feelings through your art is really important to him. He's fabulous with actors and has a great sense of tone. He's not trying to jazz things up, he's just trying to tell the story and get the best performances. This is not a big budget movie, and we're all doing it because we love it. We didn't have millions to recreate San Francisco in the early 60s, so Tim Burton had to be very judicious with his choices, and it's really beautiful."
Larry Karaszewski concurs. "He's really good when just two actors are in a room talking and he gets to the truth of the scene. I think that's why Scott Alexander and I really love him to direct our stuff. He's not afraid to make something funny in the middle of a serious scene. The mixture of tones is something we're really attracted to."
Lynette Howell says, 'It's inspiring to see Tim Burton walk into a location and know exactly what he wants to do with it. This is a departure for him because a lot of his movies are bigger in budget or scope or more visual-effects driven. This is the smallest movie Tim Burton has done in a long time but it's different in the sense that it's very much character-driven. He knows exactly what he's doing and he's adapted the way he needed to."
Amy Adams says: 'There are not enough superlatives in the English language to explain my experience of working with Tim Burton. I've always wanted to work with him, since Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Even before I wanted to be an actress I was attracted to his work. On Big Eyes, we were working very low-budget and fast. He was so steady. We had lots of fun. He was very encouraging and very communicative and patient."
Danny Huston, who plays newspaper columnist Dick Nolan, says: 'To be working with somebody like Tim Burton is a dream come true for me. He's such a visionary and has a way of telling stories that reminds me of a fairy tale. He's able to encompass subjects no matter what they are and turn them into something unique and special. Tim Burton has a gentle spirit about him. He says thank you after you've done your day's work. He's attentive, and mentions your previous day's work, and gives you a certain amount of confidence and free reign, but he is also extremely attentive and notices what you are doing and harnesses it. He is probably the most polite and wonderful director I've ever worked with in that regard. Big Eyes is a fascinating film for him to be making at this point in his career. It doesn't feel like anything he's ever done before, but if you scratch the veneer, if you scratch those little shiny eyes, there's a similarity thematically."
Self-confessed 'Tim Burton geek" Krysten Ritter, who plays Dee-Ann, says: 'I'm just googly-eyed. It's so incredible. He's so warm and encouraging. When you idolize somebody and you meet them and they turn out to be just great, it's the best. He's one of the most talented, interesting and original people ever."
'Margaret Keane and Walter Keane live in the hippest place in the world, but there is nothing hip about them," says Scott Alexander. 'Walter Keane is a business man and Margaret Keane is a prim housewife and they're hanging out with beatniks. The hungry i was probably the hippest place on the West Coast: it was jazz and comedy and folk songs and new thinking." Club owner Enrico Banducci, played by Jon Pulito, is noted as the first impresario to showcase comedians against the backdrop of a brick wall. The hungry i promoted some of the top acts of the day, including Jonathon Winters, the Kingston Trio, and Cal Tjader, whose Latin jazz is featured in one of The hungry i scenes.
'The hungry i is really cool," says Larry Karaszewski. 'It was sort of the prototype that nightclubs became. I like to joke that Banducci invented the brick wall, and it sounds silly, but before that, when you went to a club, it was fancier. But Banducci just took over a basement and had performers stand in front of the brick wall that is now ubiquitous and in every comedy club in the world."
Jon Polito was especially excited about the role because it's one of the first times he's played a character based on a real person. 'Enrico Banducci is historic in what he did with his club," he says. 'He helped the career of the Keanes, putting up their art and then sort of pulling a coup which made them famous – not necessarily because they were on the walls but because of all the fuss that happened around them being on the walls."
Another fixture at The hungry i is gossip columnist Dick Nolan, played by Danny Huston, who meets Walter Keane after seeing him get into a fight with Banducci. Danny Huston says: 'Dick approaches Walter Keane and says, -I think we can make this work for each other. I'll have a story and you'll have a little notoriety.' Walter gains fame and Dick gets a story."
Thus the career of the Keanes is launched at The hungry i. Walter Keane convinces Banducci to rent him wall space for his paintings, but a fistfight breaks out between them when they disagree on how close the paintings should be to the bathroom. Walter Keane realises that if he's in the papers, people will buy the paintings and he no longer needs galleries or critics. 'He was a very modern fellow, using the culture of celebrity to push his art," says Larry Karaszewski. To heighten his own notoriety, when a celebrity visited San Francisco, Walter would show up at their hotel and give them a free painting. Scott Alexander describes Nolan as an old school Walter Winchell gossip columnist. 'Our take was that Walter Keane would buy Dick a few drinks, and Dick would keep putting Walter Keane in the paper. Dick was a bit of a mysterious figure, but he was sort of in the middle of that world that if you buy him a drink, he'll type you up."
'Walter Keane knew how to manipulate things and he was constantly in Dick Nolan's column. It helped build the empire," says Larry Karaszewski.
Nolan was a columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. 'He's probably not all that interested in the art, but possibly more interested in characters around the art," says Nolan. 'He has a little power, which Walter is able to abuse and use to their advantage. As they become friends, Dick starts to suspect that there may be more to it, but he also sees that as an opportunity to write yet another story. And that's really all he's interested in.
'There is a sort of hyper-real quality about the film and when I say Tim Burton makes wonderful fairy tales, there's something about the film that is not completely realistic," says Danny Huston. 'To inhabit that world, you have to know what Tim Burton films are." To prepare for his role, Danny Huston looked at his favorite Burton films again. 'I tried to figure out how I could be real and slightly hyper-real, without being too arch or falling into caricature. I didn't want them to fall into caricatures. I wanted to stay real and that's not difficult to do when you're in the company of Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams. I just had to go along with whatever they were doing and that's the way I found my grounding."
Krysten Ritter, who plays Margaret's bohemian friend Dee-Ann, admits that working on the film was a dream come true. She describes the character she plays as 'a beatnik, new on the scene in San Francisco. She changes her name to sound cool. She's a little more unconventional than the other gals. She's sort of the voice of reason because she's skeptical and suspicious and she knows something really wrong is happening with her friend. She doesn't get why she's letting herself be treated like a doormat, but she does know that Walter is up to something. Dee-Ann is an interesting character in that she's more of a modern woman and a hipster."
While most of the characters in Big Eyes are based on real people, Dee-Ann is a composite. Scott Alexander notes: 'We made up a composite friend character for Margaret Keane: Dee-Ann, played marvelously by Krysten Ritter. She represents the new, 60s woman and she's not afraid to speak her mind." Larry Karaszewski says, 'Dee-Ann is that voice that's trying to steer Margaret in the right direction." Lynette Howell says, 'She's the voice of women's lib. She's a free spirit, and she pushes Margaret Keane, but Margaret Keane has to shut her down because she's completely under the thumb of her husband."
The Gallery Owner
Art dealer Ruben, played by Jason Schwartzman, turns down Keane's paintings and shocks Walter Keane because he genuinely believes that Margaret Keane has a real talent. 'Jason Schwartzman plays Ruben with such poise and dignity," comments Lynette Howell. 'It's easy to take some of these characters to caricature land, and he didn't. He played him as a very real man. He was excellent."
Scott Alexander says: 'Ruben represents the new way of thinking, which was very contemptuous of the old. He thinks so little of Walter and his carload of crying children." Larry Karaszewski adds: 'When the Keanes tried to be part of the modern art world and Ruben's gallery, they were sort of laughed at." He notes the scene in Woody Allen's Sleeper, when many years in the future, the Keane paintings are the only art that has endured. 'The joke is that this thing that no one takes seriously is actually the thing that survives."
One of the hardest things for Margaret Keane is lying to her daughter about her painting. The role of Margaret's daughter Jane, the little girl featured in many of Keane's early paintings, is played by two young actresses who are both making their feature film debuts. Ten-year old Delaney Raye plays Young Jane, while 16 year-old Madeleine Arthur plays Older Jane. While both girls adored working opposite Amy Adams, their on-screen mother was equally appreciative. 'Delaney is amazing," says Amy Adams. 'She's very precocious and not phased by being on set. She's great energy for Jane, because the way Margaret Keane is requires that Jane be more grown up. Delaney Raye has that quality; you just kind of believe that she can wander the streets of San Francisco and get herself home."
The first scene Madeleine Arthur filmed was Margaret Keane and Jane driving after having fled Walter Keane. 'We hadn't shot the earlier scene," Amy Adams says, 'and suddenly we have to be completely distressed, crying and hysterical, and it was our first scene together. That's hard for me – that's hard for any actress to take it out of context and be on a green screen rig and just play it for truth – but she was fantastic. She is very poised, and this was her first film. She had this wonderful composure and quality about her. She was really able to capture the emotions of this relationship, which are so heightened and messed up."
Lynette Howell says, 'I think Tim Burton has a really great eye for children. He spotted Delaney Raye off a tape and just knew she was perfect for the role. She's sort of this presence throughout the movie and she's always there with these great big eyes." About Madeleine Arthur, Lynette Howell says, 'It's crazy how much she looks like Delaney Raye. The two of them next to each other look like the same person, which again is down to Tim Burton's eye."
Throughout the 1960s, one of the most influential voices in the American art world was that of John Canaday, art critic for the New York Times. Academy Award-nominated actor Terence Stamp portrays Canaday, one of the Keanes' greatest detractors. 'Terence Stamp brings a gravitas to the character," says Lynette Howell. 'He only filmed for a couple of days, but he brings a weight to the role. To this day, the New York Times review is the one that you want and that's the review that Walter Keane never got."
Production designer Rick Heinrichs recalls reading Canaday's books on modern art while studying at art school. 'To actually see Terence Stamp as that character, making his pronouncements about Walter's work, which was actually Margaret Keane's, was such a jolt and felt so appropriate and incredibly wonderful for our film," he says. 'It was great to be able to make connections to elements of my own past as well from all the historical research we pulled together."
'Tim Burton obviously is an artistic director but he does rely a lot on his team and he is very devoted to the people he works with," says Derek Frey. Frequent collaborators Rick Heinrichs and Colleen Atwood each have won Academy Awards for their crafts on Tim Burton films. 'The circle of people that he works with continually, film after film, have an unwritten language that they understand," Derek Frey adds. 'On a film like this, without quite as many resources as usual, the people one works with become even more important. You really need to have that unwritten language understood to carry everything out within the limits put on a project like this. Having Rick Heinrichs, Bruno Delbonnel and Colleen Atwood on board was really important and key to keeping intact a certain look and feel that people expect from a Tim Burton film. No matter what the subject matter, audiences expect a certain level of costumes, production design and cinematography. It's very clear that those elements are on show in this film."
Rick Heinrichs won the Academy Award for his production design on Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, and he also worked with the director On Frankenweenie, Dark Shadows, Planet Of The Apes, Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
Three-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel also previously worked with Tim Burton on Dark Shadows. 'His lighting is exquisite, his framing is beautiful and his composition is great," says Lynette Howell. 'He's another stellar artist we're very lucky to have on this movie."
Rick Heinrichs says: 'We were very interested in capturing the environment and feel of the 50s and the early 60s, which has a very pungent, almost tactile sensibility. We were interested in playing with how the camera reveals the character. I think it says a lot, in a fairly subtle way, about Walter Keane in particular. Walter Keane is somebody with something to hide and I think that Tim Burton and Bruno Delbonnel played a lot with hiding and revealing and how to visually support the narrative. They played with the idea of Walter's need to hide. One of the things that's great about working with Bruno Delbonnel is his eye for transparencies and elements that you can see through, but not quite see through. He is a great craftsman with imagery and light, and it's just fun to watch him play with period elements that can reinforce this idea of hiding and revealing what we're trying to put forward."
For production designer Rick Heinrichs, Big Eyes was especially interesting for several reasons. 'It's about the scene of art and it's about the act of creation. There are a number of different artistic styles and elements that we put forward. The 50s was a time of abstract expressionism and the kind of art that Walter and Margaret put forward was very out of fashion, literal and figurative. It was interesting to deal with characters who are the outcasts and who are making outcast art. What they're championing is popular culture: in certain ways, it's not real art in the way that other artists are considered. The whole conflict between what's considered cool art and what isn't was an adventure."
'It's the first time I've worked on a film that had such a precise and well-documented history," says Rick Heinrichs. Obviously a large number of paintings were required for the film. Rick Heinrichs and his team did an immense amount of research, especially studying the arc of Margaret Keane's career. They needed to nail down the points at which she was discovering her early inspiration for the big-eyed waifs and to capture how her work developed along with Walter's duplicity. To produce the on-screen paintings, many were reprinted on canvas, but for images that appear close up, actual paint was applied for texture and brushstrokes. 'It's a really unique situation to have the blessing of an artist to recreate their work and something we don't often get to do," says Rick Heinrichs.
The producers worked with Margaret Keane and her gallery to get copies of her art and permission to reprint. As films are not always shot in chronological sequence, some paintings in the film required as many as 10 versions to depict the work in its various stages of completion. 'I don't think anyone was psychologically prepared for what a gigantic job that was," says Larry Karaszewski.
'There was always a painting somewhere," says Lynette Howell, 'and that was really, really fun. They were everywhere."
'We had to track over 200 paintings through the course of our story and say this appears here, these appeared in this show, that show got sold out so we can no longer use these paintings," says Rick Heinrichs. The film depicts several gallery shows, and Margaret ends up frantically painting in factory mode in several different studios. There's the early waif look and the later MDH Keane look, and all these elements appear in their proper order in the final film. 'We had to pick it all apart and figure out what ought to go where. It was like a brain puzzle."
There were also countless drawings, as Margaret Keane used developmental sketches for her paintings.
'We had our own Margaret Keane," says Amy Adams, referring to Lisa Godwin, the on-set artist who created and recreated so many of the Keane paintings in the film. Margaret's daughter, Jane, was a frequent model and the artist's paintings were influenced by her daughter's looks. While captivating, Delaney Raye, the actress cast as young Jane, does not look exactly like the real Jane did, so the art department needed to transpose Margaret's style using Delaney Raye's features – literally creating original Keanes. The production was lucky to find Lisa Godwin who, Rick Heinrich says, 'has an amazing ability to assimilate and take herself into Margaret's being. It took a while, but eventually she was able to knock out fabulous Keane sketches." To dress Margaret's studio at the Woodside house alone required some 65 paintings and twice as many drawings. In all, the film required some 300 paintings, hundreds of sketches, and there were only two months to prepare before filming began.
The 'Walter-style" paintings, which he produces early in the film, were created specially for the production and are not depictions of any specific artist's work. Heinrich notes: 'It wasn't difficult to come up with the concept of what an art student in Paris would paint. What was difficult about it was that it couldn't look bad. It needed to have something to it because you have to believe that Margaret saw something in Walter and believed that he was the artist, so while his work may be somewhat hackneyed, it wasn't badly done."
One of the most celebrated costume designers of our time, Colleen Atwood has won three Academy Awards (Alice In Wonderland, Chicago, Memoirs Of A Geisha) and been honored with another seven nominations. She has worked extensively with Tim Burton and Big Eyes marks their tenth collaboration. Colleen Atwood says: 'Tim Burton is an amazing artist in his own right and it's a respectful collaboration that works with images and conversations. We just get on with it and don't beat it to death."
While Big Eyes had a much smaller budget than many of their previous films, Colleen Atwood notes that it was not a small film – there were a number of scenes involving many people and the wardrobe department fitted some 2,000 people with period costumes. 'Big Eyes is not a movie with -the' dress; it's more one where you capture a mood of a period and characters, rather than a big statement kind of movie," the designer says. 'It was about these people and that time and place, and fitting it into their world without duplicating images of the Keanes themselves." Colleen Atwood says that while they lived in the Bay area at the fringe of bohemia, the Keanes were 'kind of straight and narrow in their own personal style. My research was based on reality stuff and magazines from San Francisco at the time, rather than the fashion angle."
'Colleen Atwood's kind of a marvel," says Amy Adams. Before filming began, Atwood visited Amy Adams at her home, armed with several dresses. 'The next time she came, she had five more dresses that fit me perfectly. It's all about the details. She constructed some pieces that were just absolutely lovely. She tells the story with the clothing, with the colors."
Colleen Atwood made 90 percent of the principal costumes for all the leading actors, while many of the vintage costumes for crowd and background performers were rented. She says, 'Amy was becoming her version of Margaret Keane, and there was a kind of sweetness to Margaret's personal style that was simple, real and understated, so we went with that. We created Margaret's costumes for Amy Adams with a feeling of a controlled palette. We wanted them to look comfortable and real."
Krysten Ritter says that at her first fitting with Colleen Atwood, 'I was like a kid in a candy store. She put a dress on me and then she sat back, looked, and then she cut and changed the look. With one look she knew which neckline would work on me, and she redesigned an entire dress while it was on me. I was like, whatever you want to do, I'll be your Barbie doll. It was so exciting and fun to look different. Working in the period, the clothes inform your posture and they helped me be prim and proper."
Lynette Howell says, 'Working with Colleen Atwood has been a real treat. She really got the period down but her looks are also so unique. She really knows how to dress everybody to the best of their ability. But I also felt like I hadn't seen any of the stuff before. Her work is very original and every time I'd step on set and see what the actors were wearing I was blown away. It was very specific and allowed the actors to feel like they were these characters."
In the summer of 2013, Big Eyes filmed on location in Vancouver, Canada, as well as San Francisco and Hawaii, where the film is set.
Vancouver locations included historic Stanley Park and the Gastown district. The hungry i was recreated at the Penthouse Nightclub. The courtroom scenes were filmed at the Art Gallery of Vancouver. The Keanes' magnificently 'modern" Woodside home was created in a house in the Southlands neighborhood.
'The locations were key," says Derek Frey. Big Eyes is set in San Francisco and Hawaii in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 'They're very specific exteriors. There's something about the city of San Francisco that you can't recreate and there's something about the look of Hawaii and the light that you just can't duplicate – no matter how hard you try. We had to be focused on what was shot in those cities. Luckily, the weather cooperated. We had locations in San Francisco that – relatively speaking – look as they did 50 years ago." San Francisco locations included the majestic Palace of the Arts and the North Beach neighborhood.
In Hawaii, locations included the Honolulu Federal Court House and the landmark Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. While the landscape surrounding the hotel has changed over the past decades, Frey says. 'Once you entered the property of the Royal Hawaiian, you really got the feel of yesterday. We were able to pick specific angles that sell it on film, so you really believe you're at this location 50 years ago."
Release Date: March 19th, 2015