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From South Bend to Hollywood

Megan Kozak | Friday, February 11, 2011

Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television and Theatre, in association with the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and iNDustry Alliance, will present tonight award-winning screenwriter Larry Karaszewski as a special guest in the FTT Talks lecture series.

Karaszewski, a South Bend native, said he discovered his passion for film at a very young age.

“It’s strange, but I wanted to make films my entire life,” Karaszewski said. “I grew up in South Bend, my mom was a waitress, my dad worked in a factory, but for some reason, I was always obsessed with films.”

By the time he was 11, he had his first subscription to the entertainment magazine Variety. As he entered his teenage years he started producing Super 8 movies with the neighborhood kids. But it was in high school where Karaszewski started really learning the craft of filmmaking. While attending Riley High School in South Bend, he joined a student television group that was based out of WNDU. This group wrote, produced and directed a show called “Beyond Our Control,” which was a 30-minute sketch comedy that aired on the weekends.

“It was there that I really learned the craft,” Karaszewski said. “It taught me how to be professional and get stuff done. We would write scripts on Monday and Tuesday, cast them on Wednesday, build props on Thursday, shoot on Saturday and air on TV Sunday afternoon. It was an amazing experience.”

His experience working on “Beyond Our Control” would be the launching pad for his career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. The show also launched the careers of others, such as Daniel Waters, who wrote “Heathers” and “Batman Returns,” and Dean Norris, an actor on the television series “Breaking Bad.”

After high school, Karaszewski attended the University of Southern California where he met his future writing partner Scott Alexander. The duo would eventually write the screenplay for the 1994 Academy Award-winning film “Ed Wood,” for which they were also nominated for Best Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America. In 1996, Karaszewski and Alexander would win the Best Screenplay Golden Globe for the film “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”

To this point in his career, Karaszewski has written around 13 screenplays. Other projects he and Alexander have worked on together include the Stephen King story “1408,” “Problem Child,” “Agent Cody Banks” and Milos Forman’s film “Man on the Moon.”

However, of all the films he has been a part of, his favorite project to work on was “Ed Wood.”

“That movie really is about amateur filmmaking and the passion people put into what they love,” Karaszewski said. “That movie was probably my favorite experience because it was personal, and it was the film that really put my writing partner and I on the artistic path. It led to making odd films like ‘Larry Flynt’ and ‘Man on the Moon’ and ‘Auto Focus.'”

“These are all one-of-a-kind motion pictures that I’m very proud of. They are movies I would want to see even if I had nothing to do with them.”

Karaszewski is currently in the pre-production phase for his next movie, “Big Eyes,” a biopic that centers on the life of artists Walter and Margaret Keane. He and Alexander will direct the film while filmmaker Tim Burton has signed on to produce it. Karaszewski is also set to write “The Addams Family” for Tim Burton.

In addition to writing, Karaszewski also makes commentaries on vintage trailers from cult films on the website trailersfromhell.com. He also is the host of a monthly film series at the American Cinematheque called “Larry Karaszewski Presents.” At this event he presents a themed double feature and brings in directors and actors for an onstage discussion about the films.

“He’s kind of a curator of cinema,” FTT Faculty member Ted Mandell said. “Larry’s a very down-to-earth guy. He has such a vast repertoire of films that he has done and knowledge of the history of film.”

When asked what one piece of advice he would give aspiring screenwriters, Karaszewski said, “Write what you would love to see. Don’t write what you think other people want. What you have to offer is your vision. Don’t hide that.”

Screenings of Karaszewski’s films “Ed Wood” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” will take place tonight at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., respectively, in the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Karaszewski will introduce each of the films and discuss the process behind making them. In addition, he will talk about his life as a screenwriter and his experiences working with directors like Tim Burton and Milos Forman.