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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Big Eyes

by director Tim Burton

Long before the idea of making Big Eyes ever came about, I’d been an enormous fan of Margaret Keane’s work. I was born right around the time that her work, disguised as her husband Walter’s of course, was starting to become the art world’s biggest sensation in years. A lot of people point out (and they’re correct in doing so) that you can see a great deal of her influence in my own visual style. There’s something so undeniably haunting, and yet tongue-in-cheek, about those saucer-eyed waifs in her portraits. At the time, there were a fair share of those who called the work too kitschy, but if you ask me, you can’t help but stare back at any Keane painting. And that’s a major part of the message that attracted me to this film—the notion of outsider art that doesn’t need to be legitimized by critics in order to be powerful.

Originally I’d come on board this movie just as a producer. The incredible Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski approached me about the project, as we’d worked together years ago on a film called Ed Wood. It didn’t take much to sell me on the film after reading the screenplay, as it did what Scott and Larry do better than anyone else: tell a slightly unbelievable story about slightly unbelievable characters.

The inconceivable lie that the Keanes had pulled off for over a decade fascinated all of us. Here you had a man who was claiming credit for art with popularity on par with that of Andy Warhol’s, when in reality he’d never painted so much as a brushstroke on them. His wife Margaret was the real artist all along, churning out paintings by the hundreds from a closed-off room in their house. She would take Walter to court eventually and come out triumphant, so on top of this bizarre art hoax there was also an amazing look into the feminist movement. Once Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams agreed to be cast, I was convinced that directing the film was the right choice. I’d been waiting to make something a little smaller and more personal for a while, and this was the perfect opportunity.

One of the most gratifying parts of making Big Eyes has been earning the support and trust of the real-life Margaret Keane. She was generous with her time during the production process, helping us to understand her very easily misunderstand story and character. She’s been just as generous with her time afterwards, joining us in discussing and celebrating the movie on both coasts in recent weeks. And if you pay close attention, you’ll notice she even makes a cameo appearance in a scene near San Francisco’s Palace of the Arts. She’s the lady sitting on a bench, just enjoying the day. She’s a captivating woman, and we’re all honored by this chance to pay tribute to her.