Congratulations to Larry Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, winning the 2017 USC Scripter television category for the FX show adapted by Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson (read more here about the award via USC.org).
Film Courage: Larry, obviously this is not your first story about [someone’s public and private life], you’ve done films on filmmaker Ed Wood and Larry Flynt, as well. What attracted you to this story?
Larry Karaszewski: This story, it’s funny, because it’s the first time [writing partner] Scott and I’ve have ever written television and we basically do movies and we would have never done this story as a movie, because as a 2-hour package it would have just been telling people what they already knew about the O.J. Simpson trial. Whereas all the offshoots of it, all of the themes we could discover inside the piece, whether it’s gender politics or class relations or birth of the infotainment culture, you know. And sort of the black problems with the Los Angeles Police Department. And so there was so much we could do with this story that 10 hours felt like the proper medium for this story.
“I think we all remember where we were during the Bronco chase. We were writing a script for Disney at the time. And it was before cellphones and all of those things. And as everyone is leaving the building, there was a janitor downstairs with a little black-and-white television and it was like “O.J. Simpson is being chased!” And the entire building all circled around the janitor’s closet and watched the Bronco chase [on television] in his closet.”
Film Courage: Were you in Los Angeles during the whole [O.J. Simpson] trial and the Bronco [car] chase?
Larry Karaszewski: Absolutely. I remember exactly where I was when the Bronco chase happened. I think we all remember where we were during the Bronco chase. We were writing a script for Disney at the time. And it was before cellphones and all of those things. And as everyone is leaving the building, there was a janitor downstairs with a little black-and-white television and it was like “O.J. Simpson is being chased!” And the entire building all circled around the janitor’s closet and watched the Bronco chase [on television] in his closet.
Film Courage: Do you remember the day that the verdict came out and how the feeling around the City [of Los Angeles]?
Larry Karaszewski: Absolutely.
Film Courage: So how did this [writing] opportunity come to you?
Larry Karaszewski: One of the producers on the project, named Brad Simpson, was in a used bookstore and he saw Jeffrey Toobin’s book [The Run of His Life – The People v. O. J. Simpson]. And there was this little idea in Brad’s head like “Maybe I should take a look at this? Maybe it’s time to revisit the O.J. Simpson trial?” And he read the book and it’s a terrific book. Jeffrey is also nominated tonight. And the great thing about this particular award show is they give the person who wrote the book an award, as well as the person who adapted it.
It was one of those things where we were looking for a long time what would be the thing [project] we would do for television. Scott and I are usually very deliberate about our decision about the kind of projects we take. And in a second we were like “Yes!” in the room there. We want to take on Tobin’s book.
Film Courage: So from that time that you met with [producer Brad Simpson] how much time has passed since you got the show on the air?
Larry Karaszewski: It was a very long time. We didn’t treat it like traditional television. We really developed it and researched it and so it was about three years until it got on the air and now about a year since it’s been on the air.
Film Courage: When you wrote the beginning episode, did you have other people look at it [the script] for a tone and making sure that whatever your own bias was or your [writing] partner’s bias was not put in to the writing?
Larry Karaszewski: I would say we definitely had other people take a look at it, but we have our own tone, so I don’t actually think it was about us taking our take away from it. We were never coming right out and saying whether he did or didn’t do it. But there is so much evidence that sort of point in that direction. We were just presenting the case in a very unusual, satiric, comedic tone but the tricky thing in this was two innocent people died, so you never wanted that to be any source of humor. But there was an absurdity that was the O.J. Simpson trial and having The Kardashians be a part of it and things like that. So we were always conscious of trying to keep our tone and we always had great advice and some co-writers with us all the time to keep us honest. It was very important to us to tell the truth and do it in an very entertaining way.
Film Courage: I know all of the legal team became their own celebrity from it [the trial], Judge Ito included. How much research did you do [beforehand] on let’s say [prosecuting attorney] Marcia Clark or whomever?
Larry Karaszewski: We did an insane amount of research. I mean there is Jeffrey Toobin’s book but every single person involved in the trial wrote at least one, maybe two books, sometimes three books. There is thousands and thousands of court transcripts. There are hours of court TV so it was really just the most intense research project we ever had. Even the jurors wrote books.
Film Courage: So when you write a screenplay do you think that it’s finished after two drafts? How critical are you of your own work or your partner’s work?
Larry Karaszewski: Well, we’re very critical of our own work because by the time it gets to even first draft, that’s probably actually number ten for us. We’ve gone through it so many times. So we generally prefer the earlier drafts because they are kind of the most pure, but we’ve been in this business a long time so we do whatever it takes to get it on the air.
Film Courage: What book can you recommend to some of the viewers on screenwriting structure or adaption, anything?
Larry Karaszewski: I don’t really know? Certainly in the old days I would read something like Syd Field, but I have no idea if that would actually be something in today’s climate. I’d recommend a book that we wrote which was about our screenplay for MAN ON THE MOON, the Jim Carrey movie about Andy Kaufman. We not only include the screenplay but we include a very in-depth, how things change for the screen and young screenwriters can really look at that book and understand how a script changes from when you write it until it makes it on the screen.
Film Courage: And lastly, what film impacted you in terms of a true crime movie, like an Errol Morris film say THE THIN BLUE LINE, different films in a similar genre to what you’ve done here?
Larry Karaszewski: I mean as a young man I saw the black and white version of IN COLD BLOOD, Richard Brooks’ version of that. And that definitely had a gigantic effect on me, it terrified me. So that was the first thing that came to mind. Certainly David Fincher’s ZODIAC is an extraordinary film, because it’s about not solving the crime and it’s about how unsettling that is. The fact that no matter how horrific true crime stories tend to be, at the end there is some kind of closure and ZODIAC is about not getting that closure. And what that does to a person. How it tears you apart. So it’s a very interesting film.
Film Courage: Great! Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
Larry Karaszewski: Thank you!
Since 1988, the USC Libraries Scripter Award has honored each year’s best adaptation of the printed word to film. Scripter celebrates writers and writing, collaboration, and the profound results of transforming one artistic medium into another. It stands as an emblem of libraries’ ability to inspire creative and scholarly achievement. In 2016 the USC Libraries inaugurate a new Scripter award, for television adaptation. Nearly 80 shows are eligible, almost as many as feature films, and the Scripter Selection Committee will recognize the vitality of this genre at the awards show.
The USC Libraries actively support the discovery, creation, and preservation of knowledge. We inspire students, collaborate with faculty, and engage researchers from around the world, cultivating an appreciation of the knowledge of the past and its role in informing the scholarship of the future. In so doing, we contribute to the continued success of the University of Southern California. The proceeds from Scripter support the USC Libraries’ services, collections, and programs that inspire and inform the achievements of the university’s faculty, students, and staff.
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