Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski will direct “Big Eyes,” a drama they wrote.
Pic explores the relationship between painter Margaret Keane and her husband, Walter, who took credit for her work. He lived the high life while she toiled in relative anonymity in the Bay Area.
Andrew Meieran will fully finance an under-$20 million budget through his Bureau of Moving Pictures banner. Production begins early next year.
Bonafide partners Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa (“Little Miss Sunshine”) will produce with Meieran and Dan Halsted.
While Alexander and Karaszewski are coming off the horror hit “1408,” the Keane saga brings them back to the milieu of their fact-based scripts “Ed Wood,” “Man on the Moon” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”
Walter Keane made his mark in the late 1950s with stylistic paintings of big-eyed children, mass producing prints sold cheaply in hardware stores and gas stations. While huge sales made him a regular “Tonight Show” guest, there was one problem.
“He couldn’t paint a lick,” said Karaszewski. “He was a genius businessman who desperately wanted to be an artist, and who married an artist with a self-image problem and took full advantage. He kept her in the basement and signed his name to her work.”
The ruse broke up the marriage. After Margaret became a Jehovah’s Witness and embraced that faith’s prohibition against lying, she finally blew the whistle on her ex.
“Her rebellion coincided with the feminist movement, and when he began calling her his crazy ex-wife, she sued him,” Alexander said.
The 1965 court case climaxed when the judge put up two easels and challenged plaintiff and defendant to get up and paint. Margaret did, but Walter brushed off the challenge, blaming a shoulder injury.
The writer-directors made their own life rights deal with Margaret, and their Endeavor reps brokered a spec package to financier Meieran, who develops real estate and nightclubs in downtown L.A. and will make “Big Eyes” his first fully financed production.
“We’ve looked through hundreds of scripts, but this felt like just the right project to launch a brand,” said Meieran.