Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Tim Burton has reunited with his Ed Wood screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on a pair of projects. They will write The Addams Family, the stop-motion animated film that Burton and Chris Meledandri are producing for Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures. At the same time, Burton has come on to be a producer of Big Eyes, the fact-based drama which the duo wrote as a directing vehicle, based on artist Margaret Keane’s struggle to get credit for the line of paintings of big-eyed children that became wildly popular in the 60s. Burton will produce with Lynette Howell’s Silverwood Films banner.

The writers, whose scripts include 1408 and The People Vs. Larry Flynt,  actually made another move, to UTA. They were repped for two decades by Tom Strickler and became charter Endeavor clients when that dealmaker, Ari Emanuel and others left ICM to form the agency. They had been repped by WME since Strickler left before the merger. Alexander and Karaszewski board an Addams Family project that Deadline first revealed in March, when Meledandri bought the rights to the ghoulish, darkly humorous drawings that Charles Addams created for The New Yorker. Those drawings also formed the basis for the toned down TV show and subsequent feature film comedies and Broadway musical. Burton will direct a film that is one of the plum projects on Meledandri’s slate for Illumination, the Universal-based family film unit which launched this summer with Despicable Me.

“Both of these projects are based on artwork that Tim absolutely loves,” Karasewski told me. “The retrospective in New York of Tim’s own artwork showed how much of an influence Charles Addams was to him. We want the tone to be as darkly funny and subversive as the Addams drawings, and we’ve come up with an approach that nobody has ever done before.”

Alexander said while they were discussing The Addams Family, they showed Burton their Big Eyes script.

“It turns out he’s a big fan of Margaret and has commissioned artwork from her,” Alexander said. “We thought the movie would have been made by now, but just when we were ready to go 18 months ago, the indie market fell apart. We’d pulled it together in that equity/presale/rebate game, but the smartest thing we did was to hang on to the script and not sell it. That has allowed us to set the reset button with Tim, and having him helps a tremendous amount with the way the independent film world is right now.”

Big Eyes has a premise that deserves to be seen. Walter Keane became a national celebrity and talk show fixture in the 1950s after he pioneered the mass production of prints of big-eyed kids, and used his marketing savvy to sell them cheaply in hardware stores and gas stations across the country. Unfortunately, he claimed to be the artist. That role was played by Margaret, his shy wife. She generated the paintings from their basement and Walter’s contribution was adding his signature to the bottom. The ruse broke up their marriage, and when she tried to make it known that she authored the paintings, they ended up in a court battle after Walter called her crazy. The case culminated in a dramatic courtroom showdown. The judge put up two easels, side by side, and challenged each of them to start painting.  He begged off, blaming a shoulder injury, while she dashed off her familiar big-eyed creation. They will go out to cast and financing for a film that has a budget in the teens.

“I am excited to be working with Scott and Larry again,” Burton said in a statement. “I’ve always been a great admirer of Margaret Keane’s work and find her story intriguing.”

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