Rarely is a screenwriter allowed to contribute to a yak track, unless he or she also happens to be the film’s director and/or star. One notable exception worth a listen is the Special Edition of Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), with scribes SCOTT ALEXANDER & LARRY KARASZEWSKI on hand to guide us through their Golden Globe and WGA award winning screenplay as it plays out on the screen, scene by scene. The result is a master’s level class on how to write biopics from the guys who also brought us Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, and American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson.
“It’s Capra with porn,” a studio exec told them after their forty minute pitch. And before spending hundreds of dollars for two minutes with a junior executive at a “pitch fest,” be sure to listen to this track to find out what a professional Hollywood pitch really sounds like.
|A page from the People vs. Larry Flynt screenplay.|
We also get many great examples of why and how to composite characters and events in order to meet the demands of condensing a person’s life into two hours and three acts. Anyone who has ever complained about a factual inaccuracy in a movie like this (for instance, Edward Norton’s character was not gunned down with Flynt in real life) needs to listen to this commentary to understand why these “mistakes” make it all the way into the final cut. Ironically, the writers did such a convincing job fictionalizing elements of the story that Flynt’s own autobiography ended up inadvertently including things Scott & Larry had made up for the movie.
To hear the writers’ more pertinent thoughts, look for the 2003 Special Edition DVD, the 2010 Special Edition DVD, or the Blu-ray. You can also hear them discuss their 2014 script, Big Eyes, on Jeff Goldsmith’s Q&A podcast.
(A version of this post was first published on Five Sprockets on March 23, 2009.)